Bathrooms; a hidden art that aims to unify campus
The Instagram page UA Bathrooms has created a new social following that tracks just that, the bathrooms of the University
The University of Arizona sits on about 380 acres of land, with 179 buildings on the main campus. Each building has about one thing in common: It houses at least one bathroom. For Alyssa Sierra, that is important for a reason.
Sierra, a junior at UA studying environmental science with an emphasis in biology, bestowed an uncommon task on herself during her freshman year. Her goal was to “post a photo of every single bathroom on campus” during her time in school using her Instagram account @ua_bathrooms.
“I grew up in Sahuarita, everything is less than 15 years old,” Sierra said. “All over, the blueprints for every single house is the same, all of the schools are the same, every building is built the same.”
She grew up in a town that she felt lacked architectural diversity, a thing most people take for granted, Sierra said. But there is true meaning behind the seemingly “far out” idea of documenting bathroom architecture.
Through her experiences on campus, like many UA students, Sierra said she noticed the unique design of each building’s bathrooms, even specific to the floor and gender of the bathroom itself. In something as ordinary as a bathroom, she found a facility that “people often take for granted” as an outlet for self-expression and what could be called art.
“On one floor the bathroom may be green, but on the next, the men’s bathroom is green and the women’s is purple,” Sierra said. “These patterns and the beauty in the simplicity of a bathroom design, or even the vintage tiles on the floors and walls, are a gateway to yesterday.”
The architecture on UA’s campus is a mixture of architectural styles ranging from Victorian to Post-Modern, with each building being slightly different.
On her Instagram account, Sierra has documented 39 different facilities on campus, each with its own unique design. She said she has a method to capturing each bathroom while keeping the community in mind.
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“Have no fear before stepping into any restroom,” Sierra said. She makes sure to check that the room is empty to ensure privacy as well as taking note of the characteristics in each room and making sure to capture them in an aesthetically pleasing format.
Her account has a following of over 260 at the moment, including the Hippie Gypsy store on Fourth Avenue. The bio reads, “account dedicated to the diversity of bathroom interior at the University of Arizona! Goal: Post a photo of every single bathroom on campus.”
On her account, she said that she does not act alone — followers can message submissions to the account directly, giving her suggestions about bathrooms that they want to capture.
Sierra explained that if you look at the account, each post aims to capture the attention to detail that goes into each bathroom. She also noted that the faucets of the bathrooms are what she finds most interesting.
“It’s like when people write their poetry on the walls,” Sierra said when referring to the faucets of the bathrooms.
A beautiful sentiment lies in the concept, said Lilly Cain, a senior majoring in sociology and environmental science and a fan of the account since the early days.
“Bathrooms are usually a refuge in any situation, the nuts and bolts of every bathroom are the same,” Cain said. “But on the other hand, there’s a fascination in the way every bathroom is different.”
Cain explained that the bathroom is a place all people use and don’t think too much about.
“It’s a fact of life, these rooms across campus are a testament to a stopping point in each person’s day,” Cain said. “Alyssa has discovered beauty in something that often gets looked over.”
Cain also said that bathrooms reveal a lot about the quality of care put into a building and, by extension, the programs they represent. The diverse designs found in each university bathroom is a testament to what the UA represents: a community of individuals coming together to grow and learn from one another, “some choosing to make their mark in the form of bathroom-stall graffiti.”
Even messages scrawled on the backs of stall doors or scratched into mirrors are a form of self-expression, which Sierra tries to capture through every post.
“I’ve always imagined that this one ‘bathroom warrior’ is continually stumbling upon these treasure bathrooms rather than a community of bathroom enthusiasts,” Cain said. “Maybe I’ll change my perspective, because there isn’t an authentic and inauthentic way to admire bathrooms.”
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Elizabeth “Betsie” Dries, a UA junior studying English and creative writing, is another fan of the art behind this page. She initially followed the account because she “always wondered about the variety of bathrooms on campus and the differing quality of each.”
“I often wondered why some had paper towels and others didn’t,” Dries said.
Dries is one of the earliest followers and said that she met Sierra long after already following the Instagram account.
“I think [the account] is a novel idea and it’s both aesthetically pleasing and intrinsically funny,” Dries said.
Sierra said she has met several people who have been following the account before their initial interaction. For her, this is more than a hobby, it is something that people and herself can enjoy.
“I have various favorite [bathrooms] for various reasons,” Sierra said. “My favorite bathroom is the women’s in Biological Sciences East, because I enjoy the soft pink. It sounds silly, but I feel like it’s just a good representation of my individual personality, and the tiling on the floor resembles DNA helices, in my opinion, which brings me happiness.”
She also said she likes the bathroom in ENR2, due to it being built “most sustainably,” and the tile pattern in the Arizona Sonora Residence Hall women’s bathroom is “hands down the best to look at.”
“[ENR2’s bathroom is] LEED certified, which is something I appreciate, and it incorporates gender-neutral bathrooms, which is controversial but displays consideration for today’s societal views,” Sierra said.
Sierra has yet to achieve her goal, with over 140 bathrooms to still document. She said she is “not even close” to being done. So, for her fans, that means there will be more posts to come.
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