The Unstandardization of Caltech: Bathrooms

After arriving at Caltech, one of the first things I noticed about the campus once I finally had time to wander around was that, from what I could tell, this place lacked a consistent architectural style. There’s a mix of Spanish-style architecture like Beckman Institute, more modern-looking buildings like Chen, and silly guys like the Beckman Hall (and also ugly ass ones like Downs-Lauritsen). This mixing of styles continues inside, with some buildings like Bridge keeping their old-fashioned style but Gates-Thomas deciding to modernize. That’s all neat and cool, but it goes a little further than what you see walking up and down the halls. The place I noticed these tiny details is a sacred place where you have time to yourself, a place free of distraction, a place of relief: the bathroom.

It all came to me during the summer during SURF, where I would sometimes do work in South Mudd. Of course, I eventually had to use the bathroom (I go to the toilet three times a day, but I’ve heard some people only go once every couple of days, which is crazy to me). I walked to the nearest men’s bathroom, and it was your standard double-stall setup (with the big gaps on the bottom). Until I saw the toilets themselves, making me verbally say, “Boy, what the hell?!”

The seat for the rightmost toilet looked like it was over 20 inches above the ground. Yeah, it’s nice that there’s a toilet that may be more comfortable for a taller person, but it’s weird that this is the only place I’ve seen one like that; it is not a typical accommodation found at Caltech. Someone short could get unlucky and poop with their feet dangling like a little baby boy. After the summer, I tested my theory with my bud Daniel Brito, and yeah, it is possible. It was a silly experience using the bathroom while on my tippy toes, but I did not regret it.

After that breakthrough, I started wandering. I walked into one of North Mudd’s men’s bathrooms, which was vastly different. Instead of hard plastic or stainless steel stalls separating the two toilets, they were granite walls that didn’t allow you to see your neighbor’s feet, with a lovely wooden door in front with a gap so you could see if it was occupied without knocking, in my opinion, great use of gaps while still allowing more privacy. The bathroom pulls a bold move by using those urinals that go down to the floor but … WITHOUT DIVIDERS. This is a prime example of the shit I’m talking about. The toilets create this above-average pooping experience with the extra privacy. Still, the urinals go the other direction and make you get to know your peeing neighbor, and to top it off, the two sinks have two vastly different faucets for no reason, which isn’t bad or good, just silly. It just sometimes feels like whenever a part of the bathroom breaks, they send someone to Home Depot and get the first thing they find that gets the job done, which honestly, I don’t blame them like who cares (though I do). At the moment, I was like, “Man, just add a fricking divider in between the urinals, then this place would be perfect,” but now I disagree. Going to different bathrooms in different buildings and having a varying experience each time is fun. It adds just enough sparkle into life to keep things exciting while using it.