The very first church I ever designed – Helderberg Reformed Church – was back in 1986. At that time, public baby changing stations had not yet become popular. As a father of three children by then, I was quite accustomed to sharing the parental duties, including diaper changes. Many times I would walk into the Men’s restroom and try to figure out where I might change the baby. The choices were never good. Generally it was limited to the countertop between the sinks or the floor. Not great choices for dad or the baby. Most times I opted for the trunk of the station wagon or minivan.
As I designed the toilet rooms for the children’s spaces at Helderberg, I included a built-in custom changing table. Based on the design of the typical home model, it was equipped with a pad and a strap, with nearby waste and washing facilities. I still remember the look on the face of the committee chairwoman’s face when I explained that aspect of the design. “What a brilliant idea!” she said. “Whatever made you think of that?” she asked. Once I told her why I had included them, she smiled and said, “I knew we chose the right architect!”
Once the manufactured models became more popular in later years, we included them in every project. I always advocated having them in both the men’s and women’s rooms, pointing out that diaper changing was not a gender-specific task. As there were usually more men than women on the committees, there wasn’t always consensus on that point. Little did I know that my small efforts at “equal rights” were being carried on in a much bigger way by Eric Letts, now the director of the Fair Parenting Project, who seems to be given all the credit for this change in attitude on this Wikipedia page. I’m sure there were many other advocates for “equal rights” out there besides Eric and me, as baby changing stations have been appearing pretty regularly in Men’s Rooms for years now.
I mention all this as an introduction to an article by graduate architect Doug Franklin, who writes about the 5 Factors that Create a Dad-Friendly First Impression of Your Church – one of which baby changing stations. As both a father (and now a grandfather) and an architect, making child-friendly church buildings continues to be one of the many important design criteria I incorporate into the design solution. Take a look at Mr. Franklin’s article and please post a comment if there are other factors that are important to you as a parent or grandparent. I’m sure there’s still more for both of us to learn!
To all the fathers, stepfathers, foster fathers, fathers-in-law, grandfathers and godfathers out there, my very best wishes for a very Happy Father’s Day. For me, the day will be one of gratitude for the wonderful gifts of four beautiful children, three fantastic children-in-law, three beloved godchildren and one very special grandson. I am truly blessed!