Men and Urinals…Time for one of them to change

Urinals – do they need to go? (1st pun)

I just don’t understand why urinals are the way they are. The function they serve is obvious and I am pretty sure that the invention of the first urinal was one of those Eureka! moments when necessity and opportunity collide. Like all really good ideas, they are simple and based on addressing a perceived issue or need (i.e. Let’s invent a toilet that take advantage of the fact that men will pee just about anywhere and on anything). As time has gone by, it is the functional parameters that seem to be dictating the direction of urinal design; as a result, they have become more efficient and streamlined (2nd pun).

There are building and plumbing codes that dictate how many urinals you can put into a bathroom. Somewhere, scientists are evaluating statistics, data and trends to develop ever evolving codes based upon use (restaurant, retail office, etc.) and occupancy, in an effort to predict how many people are going to need access to those urinals at any one singular point in time. Building codes limit how close urinals can be placed next to one another while developers limit how far apart they can be placed from one another. It is empirical data that has driven the modern day developments of urinals but along the way, the basic experience of using a urinal has been overlooked, or at the very least, so far moved down the priority list that its consideration is a non-factor.

There is some basic knowledge that everyone should have when entering a conversation about urinals (at your next party or social gathering perhaps?). First item is the guy code of proximity spacing when it comes to using urinals. It’s pretty basic and comes naturally to most men without having to discuss the specifics but I have included a diagram here to illustrate the spacing sequence. It does become more tricky with an even number of urinals but the logic is the same.

Secondly, some urinal layouts provide screening between the urinals and take consideration to place something at eye level. This eye level distraction can be many things but most commonly it is something in a glass fronted display cabinet containing something to look at – like a page from the sports section. This distraction exists primarily to aid the awkward social situation of where to look when using the urinal (do I look down or stare at the wall just a few inches from my face..? It doesn’t really matter as long as you don’t look left or right).

These solutions solve problems (where to stand and where to look) that I consider to be low hanging fruit (3rd pun – it’s almost too easy); those are easy problems to fix. The one singularly important, yet completely unresolved issue that remains, is an issue that could affect every single person in the civilized world. Yes – I am talking about urinal splatter. With all the different shapes and sizes of urinals available, men have to make snap decisions of how to deal with the inevitable splatter that happens when standing immediately in front of a urinal. Aim high or low? Into a corner or just to the side? Go left and shade right or go right and shade left? Don’t forget to consider the proximity of possible additional patrons. If it’s been awhile, what about force and velocity? You now have NASA level calculations that need to be solved in the time between entering the bathroom and covering the distance to the urinal. The number of variables is staggering: force, mass, acceleration, compound angles, trajectory, distance, etc. Striking a balance to all these variables will hopefully result in dry pants and shoes (or feet in the case of sandals – ugg).

Every situation is different – as is every possible solution. Is this why older men take so much longer? Are they searching for new variants in the geometry? Is the math harder? (consider flow rate versus additional arch in the back…)

All you have to do is look down at the area around a urinal to see the long term effects of splatter (looks slippery down there doesn’t it?). That stuff is getting onto your pants and shoes! How long have there been urinals and this issue is still unresolved? The only time splatter isn’t an issue is when a trough is used for a urinal (like at the ballpark or at the football stadium) or the urinal factor has been eliminated altogether, i.e. exterior landscaping. Those solutions evolved based on need and both have solved the splatter problem without requiring you to calculate compound angles or determine trajectory. What we have now are urinals that are derived through number crunching and space requirements.

It’s probably a safe assumption to think that men design urinals because there are certain hands-on (4th – so easy) knowledge they possess and containing splatter – which literally translates into cleanliness – isn’t one of the stronger qualities of most men. Sadly, we have a problem here that I don’t see a solution happening for a long time, at least not until women start using urinals.

update: Urinal Fly is a company that makes stickers to place on the inside of a urinal which is supposed to reduce splatter by up to 85% by giving men something to aim for. They even have a blog dedicated to their stickers. This may not be the long term solution urinals the world over need but at least it is some clever thinking by some people who recognize that splatter, as a problem, isn’t going anywhere other than your pants, shoes and the floor.

Original Article from Life of an Architect

Cite: Borson, Bob. "Men and Urinals…Time for one of them to change" 20 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • Joaquin

    Interesting subject that could be made fun and architecturally relevant, the text however is pretty dull.

  • Julie Hinecker

    Myself being a WOMAN cannot AGREE more with this ARTicle! A PUBLIC washroom IS the DIRTIEST Place for GERMS! So YES why not USE a different CONCEPT as I believe it IS Frank Cunha 3 SUGGESTING! I have SEEN the sticker Method used for CHILDREN learning to POTTY Train! MEN are not Children! I AGREE putting some FORM of ART picture at EYE Level will make the AIM much more FUN & Cleaner! Ok Now I see this is Bob’s Article. I hope a WOMAN’S point of VIEW Helps!

    • Sam

      Please don’t write like this

    • jason

      it’s like reading tourettes

  • Alex

    Most of urinals are designed almost like parabolic antennas: no matter where you aim splatter reflex right back at you. This has to stop.

  • Arno m

    Being creative doesn’t mean everything has to be questioned to its core.
    This sounds like a first year arch-student paper who just re-discovered fire.
    Fire him (1st pun).

    • brb001

      Fire him? We should be so lucky.

      Unfortunately, ArchDaily seems incapable of playing to their strength (i.e., posting pictures of the latest architectural projects) and keeps insisting on the promotion of lazy, talentless writers.

      • Pierre

        So, you work for ArchDaily?!

        Don’t be a hater:
        If you don’t like it here, go away.

    • Dennis Moss Jnr

      the article’s a joke… where’s your sense of humour?

  • Jonsi Honaki

    I have no problem, when you pee just try to match the tangent of your urinal stream with tangent of the urinal curve surface in the point of contact, and the direction of the stream. Best if peeing in the part where those curves have bigger radius, where sudden changes of the direction of urinal flow are less possible.

  • Albe

    This articles pissed me off… Hahahaha. Dear author, maybe you should use the women’s restroom next time, or better yet, use the handicap stall and sit on the toilet when you pee. Don’t forget to wipe…


    what nonsense!. Read this is wasting time

  • Mark Genest

    In terms of privacy, I don’t understand why privacy screens are still considered optional for urinals. They should be as mandatory as the cubicle walls for toilets. I mean, we don’t ask women to squat on toilets in front of other women do we? A little consideration for the fact that men are not cattle would be appreciated.

  • CP

    I’m glad I’m a woman…
    but when I’m designing I have to provide 1.5 toilets for women for each urinal / toilet for men so the code is even more restrictive for us (Florida Building Code) in certain applications

    • Sam

      Well, that’s because of the huge lineups at the stalls.

      I’m interested in developed concepts for unisex bathrooms.

  • Digitus

    You mention a company, which sells stickers for better aiming.
    Try the german word “Klokicker” on Google, you will see a much better option. It’s kind of a soccer thing.

  • archi

    Oh, come on. If we got rid of these old fashioned urinals, how would I be able to proudly show other men just how large mine is?

  • david

    This article made me pee in my pants.
    The best urinals were the old ones that went
    all the way down to the floor

  • guy

    haha lighten up people!
    i think it’s time james dyson diversified into plumbing fixtures

  • average urinal user

    I would disagree with your diagram… in my experiance no.1 normaly gravitates towards your no.4 possition. Who wants to hug the wall while they pee in the remarkably streemlined urinal, this is something that needs space for admiration! It also causes quite a conundrum with the third person having to rub shoulders with either no.1 (approaching the post urination, prepantzip stage which can get messy) or no.2 who has only just arrived and may be destressed by the pressance of a companion. I find this the only flaw in an otherwise water tight arguement.

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  • ashish

    i think the use of urinals is extremely personal in public space so kinda hard to control or design as per designer’s perception… we must concentrate on hygiene and little bit of privacy! and rest up to the user !

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