Applying CPTED to the design of public toilet facilities can be straightforward or offer serious challenges!

When public toilets are designed after everything else, CPTED aspects of the design can become difficult. The simple most obvious CPTED principles can also cause problems rather than benefits - there is a need to think!


CPTED principles in public toilet design

The most obvious CPTED principles to apply in design of public toilets or CPTED review of proposed public toilet designs are:

  • Passive surveillance
  • Access control
  • Territoriality
  • Defensible space
  • Lurk lines and protected egress/exit
  • Geographic juxtaposition
  • Routine activity theory
  • Opportunity theory

Criminal and antisocial behaviours in and around public toilets

Experience indicates that common criminal and antisocial behaviours that occur in and around to public toilets are:

  • Misuse - e.g. drug taking, prostitution, sleeping
  • Sexual crimes
  • Violence
  • Robbery

Contradictions and challenges in CPTED design of public toilets

One set of challenges to using classic CPTED approaches is that the use of public toilets is in essence a private activity. A significant purpose of public toilet buildings is to hide from public view what goes on inside.

Another challenge is  that the entry/exit to the public toilet building  is on one hand preferably as limited as possible to limit the range of entry and egress of potential attackers. On the other hand, this means that those leaving the public toilet exit from a single point, this making life easier for the attacker.

In defensible  and territoriality terms, individuals typically use public toilets rarely. In contrast potential attackers or mis-users of a particular public toilet have the opportunity to become more established in terms of it becoming their territory  and using the built form of  the public toilet  for their own defensibility.

Similarly, public toilets are commonly needed to service locations with relatively high crime risks such as bars, markets, tourism areas  and other areas of high public use (in fact that is the reason the public toilet is needed!).

Strategies for CPTED public toilet design:

There are the usual  seven strategies of CPTED design"

  • Review crime risk data and identify the relative scale of crime risks and potential crime drivers in this specific location.
  • Identify specific criminogenic risks that will be addressed by this CPTED design.
  • Map the different regions of public/private space
  • Identify CPTED principles and criminological theories  and evidence that apply to this situation
  • Use the map of public/private space and the CPTED principles and criminological theories to identify specific aspect of the design to reduce crime
  • Review the design and the use of the above theories and principles to identify any  adverse 'dark side' * outcomes. If so modify the design, rinse and repeat until satisfactory.
  • When the built form is implemented, review the criminological outcomes over a significantly relevant period, report on the outcomes and modify the design as appropriate.

Review crime risk data

For the public toilet in question, what is known about reported crime incidents (police data?) and fear of crime data specific to the location.

In the case of designing an new facility the challenge is identifying useful, reliable and relevant crime risk and fear of crime data from suitably equivalent locations. A particular concern is identifying relevant geographic juxtaposition/environmental data about nearby crime attractors.

Identify criminogenic risk factors

In addition to identifying relevant crime data, it can be helpful to identify the criminogenic risk factors that are the causal basis for crimes happening at this location.

Map the regions of public/private space

The first practical design strategy is to map out in CPTED terms the different regions of space in relation to the proposed public toilet design:

  • Private space - usually the toilet cubicle (sometimes this also includes any shower cubicles/shower space if provided - more common in public toilets close to the beach)
  • Semi-private space - usually the washing area. Where showers are provided, it may also include the shower space when that is a shared shower.
  • Semi-public spaces - these are most typically the areas inside and outside the entrance/exit  of the public toilet and may include, for example, the hand drying area and place where people check their appearance before they leave. The semi-public space extends some way from the physical entrance/exit because this is a point where those using the public toilet have their behaviour being controlled by just having left  (or just entering) a single point of access, and require some protection from this potential vulnerability.
  • Public space - this is the publicly shared space that is criminogenically outside the influence and effect of the public toilet.

Identify CPTED principles and criminological theories  and evidence that apply to this situation

The above information on crime risks, crime factors and a different kinds of space provides the basis for identifying relevant CPTED principles and criminological theories to base the CPTED design upon. Simplest is to list these in order of importance and with a note to which aspects of the data they apply to.

At this point it is possible to use all of the above to identify the specific CPTED features that will help minimise crime, anti-social behaviour and fear of crime in the rest room or toilet.

Design Review and identification of potential Dark Side outcomes

Once a preliminary CPTED design has been established, it can be reviewed and criticized in terms of whether it would be expected to act as planned. Importantly, is to review the proposed design in terms of 'dark side' adverse negative outcomes.

This review can be used as the basis to refine the design to imporve its likelihood of producing better outcomes. This 'review and redesign' process can be repeated until the gains are insufficient to warrant further effort.

Build and evaluate and refine if necessary)

When the design from the above is built, it is important to evaluate whether it worked as planned in CPTED terms. After the rest room/toilet is built and in use for a relevant amount of time, it is good to review the real criminological outcomes. For the benefit of other CPTED developments it is useful to report on the outcomes and the design. Where the outcomes can inform changes it may be appropriate to modify the CPTED.

CPTED for Public Toilets - design standards

In some jurisdictions (usually at local government level) standards have been developed for the design of public toilets and rest rooms. These are aimed at the most common and most obvious criteria for reducing crime. However, locations and crime contexts differ and fashions change.  For example the widespread fashion for, and design standards of,  underground public toilets have now almost completely disappeared. The process described here offers a CPTED process for designing independently of standards or for working with design standards.

Note: * Dark side effects are negative outcomes that result from CPTED interventions.


Please note: This article is intended for educational purposes and is illustrative only. It is intended to provide the reader with the basis of a professional framework for addressing the CPTED design of public toilets. Every CPTED  situation is different and this author and organisation accept no responsibility for your use (or not) and/ or its consequences, of the above.