[In genteel Canada we actually say washrooms, but since the civilized world doesn’t really know that word, I went with bathrooms here. When you get down to it, the two terms employ the same euphemism, anyway.]
I know what you're thinking: Bathrooms, TRH? Really? Shouldn't you get an anonymous blog to write stuff like this? Isn't this Jack's domain? Just read, and you'll understand. I hope.
My family took a trip to California when I was 14; we went to LA and San Francisco, and we drove the coast in between. I vaguely remember visiting relatives, and I’m sure we saw some sights as well, and I think the view on that coastal drive was probably impressive, but my main three memories from that trip are:
(1) The awful smell in the kosher restaurant that was located right above a Buddhist temple (Was it called ‘The Lotus Garden,’ or am I making that up? This was the latter part of the '80s.),
(2) The scary roller coaster hills of San Francisco, and
(3) The bathrooms at The Madonna Inn.
This last item might well have been the highlight of the trip – we went there just to see those bathrooms, then drove on - and I know it is the highlight of others’ trips, too. Don’t believe me? Google “Madonna Inn” and bathrooms and look at all of the video and still photographs, not to mention the essays on the scatalogical facilities at this hostelry.
Why do I mention this?
1. Because one of the lessons I learned in the synagogue rabbinate was that your facility should be attractive, out of respect for its religious function. Not in the sense of, “Let’s waste money on making sure we have the fanciest moldings and a three-story Aron Kodesh,” but in the sense of, “We want this building to be at least as beautiful as our homes.” [There is much discussion on this point, in terms of the halachos of shul-building.] If our homes have attractive, clean bathrooms, then so should our shuls.
2. And because people who come to shul should find a building designed with daveners as well as davening in mind. People need certain things – good signage, appropriate seating, helpful lighting, well-managed air conditioning, perhaps page number indicators, and, yes, good bathrooms. Providing these elements says that we are thinking about the needs of people who come to daven.
3. And because bathrooms, as in the case of the Madonna Inn, are an easy opportunity to impress people, since they are not even looking to be impressed. Impressing people with your décor is challenging, because everyone has seen magnificent shuls. Impressing people with your programming is challenging, because everyone has programming. Bathrooms, on the other hand, are low-hanging fruit.
So what do you need, to impress with your washrooms? Not much. I would include:
• Good signage, so guests don’t need to be embarrassed when they are forced to ask for directions
• Clean facilities
• Accessible facilities – good lighting, handicapped accessible, changing areas for babies, child-friendly urinals, and so on
• Facilities affording privacy, in terms of both external access and internal function, while maintaining safety as well
• A good space for netilas yadayim outside the bathroom
• And, yes, perhaps something aesthetically unique.
Start here for ideas.