The Best Museum Baths According to Museum People – American Alliance of Museums

Row of bathroom doors surrounded by a living plant wall

Baths at Longwood Gardens. Image credit: mwms1916 on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.0 Update

When you think of all the memorable and thoughtfully designed spaces in museums, bathrooms might not be the first thing that comes to mind. They are not usually considered a feather in an architect’s lid, and can often feel more like a tool for examining a box than a work of art.

But it may not have been the case. From a visitor’s point of view, bathrooms can be of paramount importance, revealing how carefully the designers of public spaces take into account their comfort and needs. For some people – including those who care for young children, are transgender or gender non-conforming, or have disabilities – this importance can be increased, and even a barrier to visiting the place altogether. Finally, for museums in particular, bathroom design can be an opportunity to show how deep your mission is, and it’s the ultimate display of your ability to stay on topic no matter where.

In that spirit, this month we decided to conduct a survey of our readers they Favorite Museum Pools, as part of our ongoing Questions of the Month series field notes Newsletter (which you should subscribe to, if you haven’t already!). Advice on the idea goes to my colleague Elizabeth Merritt, who has long dreamed that AAM would launch an official competition for “Best Museum Baths”. In the meantime, this should do.

Below are the most common answers we received, ordered by number of mentions. Be sure to check out the Facebook post asking the question to find out more of the two hundred responses (including interesting news about the previous “restaurant” position).

Smith College Museum of Art

Nominated by the Paul Revere Memorial Society, Stuart Chase, Alexandra Schwartz, Elizabeth Fox, Sarah Zinaida Gold, Julie Steiner, Jenny Perez, Erin Richardson and Michelle Stahl

“The Smith College Museum of Art contains bathrooms designed by artists, which are also affixed with records of objects in their database!” – Erin Richardson

“The two sets of toilets on the lower level are permanent artworks of Ellen Driscoll and Sandy Skoglund” – Paul Revere Memorial Society

In partnership with the Kohler Trust for Arts and Education and the Kohler Company, the museum commissioned the artists to design elaborately decorated facilities that “blur the boundaries between form and function.”

John Michael Koehler Center for the Arts

Nominated by Jennifer Clearwater, Kristi Griffin Smith, Jane Tomic, Kathy Lynn Pink, Jennifer Rose Walken

“The bathrooms are works of art, each designed by a different artist.” – Kristi Griffin Smith

“Ranging from delightfully exotic to spiritually uncomfortable, these bathrooms will make you think twice about the porcelain throne of the home.” – Jess (c/o Megan Even)

The John Michael Kohler Center for the Arts, in whose name one of the most famous producers of toilets is established, hosts six stunning artist-designed bathrooms throughout the main building, produced through the Center’s Artist-in-Residence Program that allows participants to experience Kohler’s manufacturing techniques and materials. The museum has unveiled more designer bathrooms with the recent opening of the Art Preserve satellite site.

Episode 4: Artist-designed bathrooms at Art Preserve from John Michael Kohler Arts Center on Vimeo.

Mariners Museum and Park

Nominated by Zachary Baughman, Rebecca Guest and Emily Robinson

“The Mariners Museum and Park has wonderful paintings in their stalls explaining the elements of pigeons on ships and the use of pigeons at sea.” – Rebecca guest

“The boards are fun, smart and informative.” Zachary Bogman

Exclusive museum gallery bathroom, The Head of Her Time: A Brief History of Going at SeaAnd the He discusses topics such as “Why the utilities—or lack thereof—are called ‘the chief’; the wisdom of observing the direction of the winds and how sailors improvised before using toilet paper.”

From the bathroom of the Mariners Museum.  Happy talk like a pirate's day, arrrrrrr!

SFMOMA

Nominated by Wendy Jimenez, Blair Kay Wallach, and Michelle Ellis Prause

“Bathrooms are a different color on each floor!” – Wendy Jimenez

Beginning on the second floor, the museum’s monochromatic bathrooms are painted bright red, blue, grey, green, pink, and purple.

Glor Museum of Psychiatry

Nominated by Sarah Elizabeth Wilson, Ann Bennett and Tina Tibbets

“Bathrooms cause nightmares…but in a good way.” – Ann Bennett

“All are great but the clown pools and optical illusion are the best!” Sarah Elizabeth Wilson

Located on the site of a former psychiatric hospital, the museum impressively preserves its bathrooms, using them as an opportunity to teach on topics such as optical illusions and phobias.

stjosephmuseumsinc Someone’s Watching Me.. #clownb Bathroom #glorepsychiatricmuseum ♬ Original Audio – Ian Asher

21c . Museum Hotels

Recommended by Jeff Ree Roe Sal, Lauren Pacheco and Cassie Alderson Ward

“21c Museum in Louisville, Kentucky bathroom has interactive art and has translucent walls so you can see all the people who walk in front of you but they can’t see you.” – Jeff Ree Roe Sal

The 21c Museum Hotels chain, which brings together contemporary art museums and hotels in nine US cities and still counts, has impressed everyone with its artistic bathroom designs, which make use of elements such as one-way mirrors, sculptures, and video installations.

Charleston Museum

Nominated by Jessica Runyon, Oksana Bachacas and Erin Clark

“The Charleston Museum has a display of chamber utensils in their toilet…genius!” – Erin Clark

Baltimore Museum of Art

Recommended by Scott Briggs and the Baltimore Museum of Industry

In exchange for donating his private art collection to the BMA, director and writer John Waters made an unusual request that the museum’s bathrooms be renamed in his honor. The museum took the opportunity to build its first gender-neutral facility, which includes four floor-to-ceiling kiosks and a communal sink area. “Public restrooms make everyone nervous,” Waters said at the opening ceremony. Unpredictable. It’s also fueled by accidents, just like my favorite contemporary art.”

Denver Museum of Art

Recommended by Melody Lowe and Hannah Ryan

“The sinks sing ‘Row, row, row your boat’ as you wash your hands. You can get the sinks to sing in canon if the time is right.” – Melody Louie

Denver artist Jim Green, aka A laughing elevator At the Colorado Convention Center, designer sing pools Museum baths.

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Recommended by Katie Boardman and Josh Walker

“They have tiles with his art and a fly he painted in the urinals!” – Josh Walker

MASS MoCA

Nominated by Lavran and Fabian Cake

Talk about authenticity! – Liesel LaFrance

The museum’s elegant industrial bathrooms pay tribute to the building’s former life as a factory.

Bathroom, Mas MoCA

Longwood Gardens

Recommended by Rand Keeler and Joseph Kolasinski

“The bathrooms at Longwood Gardens are so unique and beautiful and made a wonderful experience!…One travels in a green wall of plants, then you get individual round rooms with skylights and orchids in pots next to the basins!” — Rand Keeler

Longwood Gardens’ vibrant bathroom design won the 2014 Best Toilet in America award from Cintas, along with a $2,500 prize for helping keep it clean.

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Recommended by Karen Troup and Nicole Albright

“Spacious and cheerful – perfect for school groups and for anyone looking for more elbow room.” Karen Troup

“The green tiled floors and matching floral booth doors gave me an antique but modern vibe.” – Nicole Albright

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exploration

Recommended by Jimmy Bell and Eric Siegel

The bathroom walls of the Exploratorium produce a visual “cafe wall illusion,” where horizontal lines parallel to each other appear to descend due to the color and placement of the tiles.

average bathroom

Honorable Mention

  • “I love that Cooper Hewitt has ‘How to Read Artifact Label’ panels on the interiors of their booth doors.” – Joanna Church
  • “The Minnesota Science Museum has a great entrance to the bathroom on the fifth floor! Educational panels about the sewage system in St. Paul, Minnesota, including a selection of the strange things people flush down the toilet. It’s fun and educational! – Emily Tremaine
  • “The Pitt Rivers Museum has the best toilets for all genders truly: an auditorium with a row of fully independent and private booths with floor-to-ceiling doors, mirrors and sinks in each.” – Margaret Middleton
  • “The family bathroom at the Missouri Museum of History, with a great fireplace and wooden rocking chair (very handy for nursing moms).” – Patty O’Brien Brenner
  • “The new museum is a work of art. So is the Museum of the Chinese in America designed by Maya Lin.” – Fabiana Chiu
  • “The Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk, Maine has ‘artifact labels’ (next to) everything in the bathroom telling the history of each item (toilet, sink, toilet paper, paper towels, mirror, etc.).” – Cynthia Walker
  • Bathroom walls in Planet Word in DC feature euphemisms for going to the bathroom (eg, “Seeing a man talking about a horse”) and expressions of famous quotes (eg, “I stink, so I exist.”) I, like many, do. Take pictures.” – Matt Kirchman
  • Benisky Museum of Natural History at Amherst College. The bathroom counters on each floor are different types of rock – igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary – and there are posters and information about the types of rocks. – Julie Bartlett Nelson

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