Let’s say as a building contractor, you are told to provide eight urinals at a private housing estate. No problem. Your cocky response quickly changes its tune as you realize you need to put all these porcelain fittings in a room that measures just 2.5 square meters (26.9 square feet).

Yes, the plan can still be implemented. But once it’s ready to serve the public, some users could be put off and prefer to wait for one to finish his turn (risking his bladder functions) than squeeze himself into that cramped facility.

The basic premise of Choice of Urinal Protocol dictates that for every male making a choice of which urinal to use, the next in line will instinctively pick the one farthest from anyone else. But the case of urinal layout for Celestial Heights, a private housing estate in To Kwa Wan, seems to defy this convention. For one, the U-shaped layout was a result of the limited area of the washroom. Also, users of adjacent urinals could easily rub shoulders and such experience could prove “psychologically uncomfortable”, as Dr Michael Siu, an ergonomics expert at Polytechnic University school of design and vice-chairman of Hong Kong Toilet Association would put it.

Photo credit: SCMP

Only 16.5 cm of space separates each urinal on the sides, and even shorter (10 cm) distance separates between urinals constructed perpendicular to each other. These measurements are way short of the recommended 30cm distance between urinals set by Restroom Association Singapore in 2002. So perhaps architects, building managers and planners may want to consider borrowing the guidelines from Restroom Singapore before laying out their washroom ideas into blueprint.

The facility doesn’t have enough space between users, let alone space for the so-called “modesty boards“, a divider that could have been installed if space permits.

Vincent Ho of Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors echoed Mr Siu’s sentiment. “Having a sufficient number of urinals does not really mean they have fulfilled the legal requirements, since these urinals cannot deliver their intended function,” he said. There are laws that specify a minimum number of toilet facilities such as bowls, urinals or water basins based on projected number of users. Developers and contractors may follow these guidelines but sometimes lack sensitivity on how their works are being used by the public.

Still, this problem pales in comparison to the chronic lack of toilet facilities for women which, until recently, is a perennial issue among women forming long lines before toilet bowls in shopping malls and public toilets.

In a crowded city like Hong Kong’s this is certainly not the first news item that highlights the lack of space between urinals. But shall we continue to use this excuse?