"In the newspaper it says that there are not even eleven percent of apartments with bathrooms. No wonder, but you can also wash without ...".
Sixty-one years have passed since the adventures inside and outside the metro of Queneau's Zazie. Since then we have seen our bathrooms transformed from a kingdom of hygiene to an outpost of well-being (and in some cases even fitness). Yet we are still amazed to read, for example, that the home toilet (rather than one on the balcony) has become common only between the first and second postwar period. Or that the second bathroom was not created to resolve morning disputes in the family, but a century ago, during the Spanish flu. Not by chance, around the same time in which hospitals and sanatoriums were removing wallpaper to free white walls and replaced draperies and wooden floors with easily washable materials, such as tiles and linoleum. While light-colored fabrics began to be preferred because they would let light through, on the assumption that white could even sanitize the rooms.
In short, the history of the bathroom has been made by customs, religions and sewers, but also by epidemics and the war against viruses and bacteria.
Thus, what today looks so much like the discovery of hot water (which – by the way – begins to flow for the first time in a papal bath with Clement VII in the Renaissance, but will only become common in America at the end of the nineteenth century), is an achievement that goes hand in hand with the advancement of social rights and the progressive redemption of the poorest classes.
“Hot water as an instrument of prevention and daily hygienic attention has been part of the uses of our society for a few decades” remembers Domitilla Dardi, design historian and author, with Carlo Martino, of the beautiful volume, dated 2011 but still relevant, Il bagno che verrà (The Bathroom to be) published by Catalano, the sanitary company. “We should remember that not long ago Totò stigmatized reticence to cleanliness in one of his most famous jokes: “Only those who are dirty need to wash”. Also, in the first half of the twentieth century, Dardi recalls, it was the American mechanized bathroom that compacted functions, finally becoming democratic and accessible to all social classes and making the hotel fortune. Which, for the first time, were able to guarantee “a room, a bathroom” thanks to a standard that provided for placing the connections all on the same wall and in a column in the vertical distribution, a system that was then also adopted in private apartments.
Another great vision, typical of those who knew how to look ahead of others, was by Le Corbusier, who in 1931 set up an entrance with a sink in the Ville Savoye in Poissy, Paris. That intuition of the father of modern architecture was born in the wake of the Spanish flu. And now it returns dictated by the Covid-19 emergency in the apartment of a 1930s building in Città Studi in Milan, where Claudia Campone, founder architect of Thirtyone Design, is finishing up setting up PostHome, the post pandemic house that will be presented at the beginning of November to meet the needs of domestic life dictated by Covid-19.
“Le Corbusier had designed Ville Savoye for a doctor”, explains Campone. “It happened in the years when people began to understand the importance of washing their hands, often, with soap. A need that we are rediscovering today due to the Coronavirus”. For this reason, the post-pandemic house-manifesto foresees an entrance-filter between the outside and the inside, a vestibule with the double role of sanitization, with the small sink and the dressing room, and a locker thanks to which it is possible to receive deliveries in safety protecting the rest of the house.
The new frontier of the bathroom designed by the last pandemic could be precisely this deconstruction of the toilet, the attempt to dissolve the need for hygiene and sanitation throughout the house, in widespread spaces and moments, continuing to reserve that advanced function of place for services of well-being and relaxation which they have already performed for some time, hosting whirlpools, vanity corners and spaces for fitness.
And this while 250 million people in the world continue to have no access to a private bathroom, 2.4 billion according to the WHO do not have one that is hygienically adequate and there are more smartphones per capita than toilets on the planet.
Let's remember, next November 19th, for Water Day, and possibly not just in the morning as soon as we wake up, to sit on the most important life-saving design project ever.