Some office buildings have communal bathrooms (British English: lavatories). By this I mean bathrooms for use by the tenants and guests of all the offices on that floor, as opposed to bathrooms under the lease of one tenant.

Such communal bathrooms are, in my experience, generally near the elevators. Is that simply because bathrooms should be centrally located, and elevators should be centrally located, so they wind up near each other, or is there more to it? (Or is my experience exceptional, and they're not generally near elevators at all?)

  • 1
    They should have a Stack Exchange site for architects...
    – Dvir Adler
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 14:25
  • @DvirAdler The Architecture proposal has not gained much traction as of yet. Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 19:37

6 Answers 6


Not entirely sure this is UX related, but...

It's typically done for efficiencies in construction. Most buildings are built around a central core that will contain the building's primary heating, electrical and plumbing runs (and, at times, the core also acts as the primary load bearing structure...the elevator shaft often supporting the cranes during construction).

Stacking 20 floors of bathrooms on top of each other rather than scattering them across each floor is a huge savings in plumbing costs.

  • 5
    Corporate bathrooms often contain some nice UX failures (generally to do with taps). Don Norman talks about tap examples in the Design of Everyday things.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 0:05
  • 7
    Anyone who played SimTower would know this, of course.
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 1:12
  • 3
    Having a father who is a large industrial plumber I can verify this as fact. Centralising plumbing next to each other or directly under one another saves costs in running pipe work. Even in family homes. Check out homes that you know. Placing pipe work in elevator shafts provides ways of running pipes so they are hidden and also outside of buildings in a central column that is already built. This reason was the reason most plumbing areas are near shafts in victorian buildings because lifts came out at the same sort of times as interiir toilets, most of which were commmunal because of the
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 0:52
  • 1
    expense. Finally a lift shaft also allows easy access to all pipe work providing a space that allows for multiple workmen and large bulky tools. This was not a reason for using lift shafts in older buildings but definitely a design consideration for modern buildings.
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 0:52

When you come out of a lift at the centre of the building (for the reasons of construction that DA01 mentions), then you typically have options of going in 2 or 3 directions in order to get to your room.

A communal convenience should therefore naturally be placed where it's equally convenient for a person, irrespective of the direction of their room. To position a convenience somewhere along one route, makes it less convenient for people on other routes, who continually have to deviate.

It aids discovery - subconscious discovery each time you pass, lets you notice it even when you don't need it at the time, but you recall where it is when you do. It also naturally follows that you position them in the same layout irrespective of the floor number so that guests or tenants always know where to find it on any floor they happen to be on.

Additionally, few people want a communal convenience next to their own room, so centralizing such services including storage and cleaning rooms close to the elevators ensures that no one guest or tenant has to suffer the frequented footfall and use (or abuse) of conveniences 'in their own backyard' so to speak.

  • A good point about keeping the location consistent irrespective of the floor number. I once worked in a building where the floor layouts where inconsistent - and it was easy to keep going to the stairwell which didn't exist at that level.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 10:31

I think there is another factor, at least in UK office buildings. Often the "central" lift column - along with all of the services - are in the centre or back of a building, the latter especially if the building is backed onto, so there are no windows at the back.

This leaves the outside of the building, with the windows, to the offices, so providing natural light to the main working area. The services - including storerooms and kitchens - are sometimes without windows, because they are located where there are no windows. It is good use of space, and good use of windows.


I would say all of the above, and also that it enables you to quickly find an alternative when you find out that all the toilets are occupied on your floor: you probably prefer the elevator to another floor instead of using the staircase to prevent additional stress to your bladder.

  • Well, perhaps. +1.
    – msh210
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 23:06

The layout of offices get change often when the floor is sublet to different companies and divided in different ways.

Where else could the bathrooms go so as to leave as much flexibility on the layout of a floor as possible?


While I agree with the other answers regarding the practicality and cost of construction, I would think keeping the communal bathrooms near the elevator would keep visitors from roaming the floors of the building where they shouldn't be.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.