Iconic to many Apple stores is the spiral glass staircase. Looks cool. Very sleek, very Apple-ish. It’s less cool, though, if you want to get to the first floor and you’re wearing a skirt. There may be people standing underneath the stairs peeking at your butt. Or worse: taking a picture with their brand-new iPhones. Did no one think of this issue when they designed the staircase?
Apparently not. And the Apple store is not the only place where you can find transparent or reflective stairs and floors. An Ohio judge warned people wearing skirts for the glass staircase in the courthouse where she works. The courthouse frequently sentences sex offenders, so a glass staircase is clearly out of place here – or so you would say.
Other important public buildings with glass floors or staircases include the Nicanor Parra Library at Diego Portales University in Santiago (Chile) and the Hong Kong International Airport. Transparent and reflective floors are so common in Hong Kong that the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong created a list of 17 spots that pose a risk of upskirting: secretly taking photos or recording videos under skirts.
This shows that some architects are more concerned with the aesthetics of their design than with creating spaces that are accessible to everyone. And by everyone we mean everyone who chooses to wear a skirt, including people who, by wearing a skirt, break expectations based on their assumed gender.
Why are these buildings so user-unfriendly? Perhaps because the architects designing them expect users to be cis men – like themselves. Architecture is still a male-dominated field, which results in blind spots like these. In fact, architecture schools themselves are the tangible proof of male-centred norms: several have see-through floors and stairs, such as the City College of New York and the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
Like many other professional fields, architecture would benefit from greater involvement of people from underprivileged and marginalised groups. Another effective way to make architects create truly accessible spaces is by letting them navigate their own buildings on heels, in a skirt.