Infectious diseases like tuberculosis in the late 1800s transformed the bathroom by replacing wooden cabinetry, carpets and rugs with porcelain, tile and enamel. How will coronavirus change the bathroom of today?

Almost all the things in our bathrooms – the sink, the toilet, the bathtub, the toothbrush holder, and the white tile on the floor and on the walls, the towel rack – are designed the way they are, because of infectious diseases.

During the late eighteen hundreds, all elements in the lavatory – bathtub, water closet, basin, and foot-baths – used to be encased in wood and had elaborate carvings. They were made to look like classy furniture in a room rather than a toilet as they did not want to reveal what they did in the bathroom.

Victorian bathrooms were plush and ornate. They had rugs, carpets, wall paper and heavy drapery.  And this was all set to change with the advancement of scientific understanding of the germ theory and its contagious nature. Porous material like wood and Victorian style furnishings that collected dirt easily was perceived unhygienic causing diseases. An obsession with cleanliness took root.

Design interventions to tackle infectious diseases:
It was an era before the advent of antibiotics. Sanatoriums sprung up everywhere to quarantine and treat tuberculosis and influenza patients. These sanatoriums treated by isolating the patients and giving them access to sunlight and fresh air. Hallmark of sanatorium design were big windows for ventilation, large balconies, easy to clean flat surfaces that wouldn’t collect dirt, and white paint on the walls as it prevented the spread of TB.

Bringing Sanatoriums Homes:
Influenced by the sanitary movement, sanatoriums and healthcare architecture, modernist residential architects got obsessed with cleanliness too. They believed that sanitary spaces were essential for checking the spread of infectious diseases in people’s homes also and built the modern bathroom as you see it today. The idea was to make everything as clean as possible and as easy to clean as possible.

Porcelain toilets, tiles and enamel:
They identified porous material in bathrooms such as wood cabinetry that allowed liquid and bacteria to get trapped inside, and replaced them with material which had surface that was water-roof, smooth and could be cleaned easily. Porcelain, as it turns out, with its glazed surface could shrug off water easily and stopped bacteria as well.

Just like porcelain, materials like tile because of its glazed finish, became coveted for the spaces that were mostly covered by rugs, carpets and wall papers earlier in order to avoid germs.  Then came into the marketplace bathtubs which were enamel coated over cast iron, and they became popular for being sanitary and hygienic, pushing out the older wooden bathtubs lined with zinc or copper sheets. Enamel was then used in the rest of the bathroom as well. White enamel paint on walls and roofs became popular because of its smooth impervious surface.

With this the idea of making the bathroom inside sterile, white and easy to clean, that caught on first in hospitals and then in people's homes was complete. If the tuberculosis in the late 1800s transformed the bathroom by replacing wooden cabinetry and carpets with porcelain and tile, how will COVID-19 transform the bathroom design?


Post-Coronavirus there will be a paradigm shift in bathroom design:

Due to the lockdown which is already two and a half months since it started, we're all spending more time at home than ever before – including our bathrooms. So what would it mean in a post-coronavirus world?

Architects, product designers and interior designers will have to reimagine a lot of bathroom fixtures. They will have to take into account that our minds are now programmed to touch things only if necessary and wash our hands as soon as possible with soap and water.  This behaviour will drive a movement towards voice-based, sensor driven and motion detecting bathroom fixtures.

Bathrooms will therefore, become smarter. Door handles may just disappear. You may soon be able to open and shut the door with a voice command and set the water temperature in the water heater as well.  The shower, the bath tub could be controlled with a remote or an app/your mobile or even with your voice. Faucets, soap dispensers and water closets will become sensor driven. May be faucets will dispense liquid soap too.

Sensor controlled flushing systems in urinals and water closets will become the norm of the day. While remote controlled WCs will prevail with features like heated seats and multiple wash actions. Bathrooms will also have motion detection lights, which will switch on and switch off automatically when a person enters or leaves the bathroom. The limit is your imagination.

Our obsession for cleanliness to keep infectious diseases away will only increase, driving us to have our own personal bathrooms and not sharing it with other family members. This will lead to a boom in lavatory building in India.

In India we have always had the help who comes to clean our homes and toilets daily. Until the vaccine is invented, we might witness a lot of households taking up the two jobs themselves.  So the daily cleaning exercise could change into a weekly one now. Although this might result in a fall in usage of our bathroom cleaning agents and our monthly bills, but more importantly the bathroom designs should be such which do not require daily cleaning.

 To make things less messy in the bathroom is possible by cordoning off the wet areas. We will therefore, most likely see a growth in usage of shower enclosures too to keep the bathrooms dry. Bathrooms made after the outbreak of the pandemic will be brighter with bigger windows to let the sunlight and fresh air in.

In the wake of a world-wide shortage of toilet paper, we might witness a surge in sales of sustainable alternatives such as bidets and health faucets in Europe and the US. People might also explore buying heated towel rails that help keeping your bathroom hygienic as dry towels negate any chance of a damp breeding ground for germs and mould.

When the current pandemic finally recedes, we will see a new wave of innovations in the bathroom to keep us and our bathrooms cleaner, more hygienic and comfortable.

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