Les Toilettes CERN

This is intended to be a woman wearing a skirt.

The problem of gender


In the 21st century, it can sometimes be difficult to tell men and women apart. Of course, if you spend enough time with a person, you can discern their gender based on a variety of social cues. However, when it comes to toilets, it seems to me that the role of a sign maker should be to accentuate, celebrate, and make abundantly clear the differences between the male and female body, so that the reader knows exactly what is going on at first glance. The last thing any of us wants is an unwelcome intrusion of the opposite gender while we are doing our business.

The highly stylized man and woman icons shown above are apparently not clear enough for the occupants of building 40. In their typical can-do mindset, these physicists have taken matters into their own hands and added some explanatory signage.

This home-brew solution of adding signs and annotating existing ones, while effective, seems a bit overwrought. Where can we look for better answers? One shining example is to be found just outside the Main Auditorium, where the men’s room door demonstrates in no uncertain terms just which kind of human may enter, while simultaneously discouraging riff-raff from degrading the premises with anything less than a suit, bowtie and dress shoes.

Stick figures can also be identified by a more direct method of course: by drawing the genitalia. While we have not yet found it at CERN, this method is being used nearby in western Switzerland.

I would like to thank lovehurts for providing the last photograph. He took it while urinating … standing up.

Cisterns directly above toilets

Dripping liquid on head after urinating: Toilet Design Awards 2010


Recently I “drained the dragon” in one of CERN’s plumbing-oriented establishments, choosing a urinal as my preferred receptacle of the day. As I looked down, flushed, and set about the generally onerous task of negotiating my considerably out-sized family jewels back into their boxers, I felt liquid dripping onto the back of my head. Leaping back, I looked up in shock and terror to see that

  1. each urinal has its own tank (I’m told this is called a cistern),
  2. each cistern is mounted on the wall directly above the urinal,
  3. there is apparently no cover for the cisterns, allowing what I hope to God is clean water to slosh out.

I always thought that, even if they are clean (and I’m not convinced of that), toilet-related liquids should be kept inside pipes, and under lids, as close to the ground, and as far away from my head as possible. Just another preconceived notion smashed by CERN plumbing innovation.

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