Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

208 × 156 × 23 mm
336 pages
121 illustrations, 49 in colour
01 Nov 2013

Bathroom Barbara Penner

The story of the modern bathroom is both one of grand feats of engineering and mass production, and of the unremarkable and repressed. The most private place in the home, the bathroom is where we perform the most intimate of our daily routines; it is also a space where we take refuge from the outside world. Yet the moment we turn on a tap or flush the toilet, the smallest room is hooked up to a massive network of pipes, pumps and treatment plants. How can the mundane reality of daily bathroom use be understood alongside this vast infrastructural system?

Bathroom charts the evolution of the bathroom and the habits and lifestyles to which it gave rise. It shows how and why the bathroom emerged and how it became an international symbol of key modern values, such as cleanliness, order and progress. The modern bathroom, its technologies and its customs have been exported globally through colonialism, the media, fashion, world expositions and tourism. Barbara Penner explores the conflicts this process has caused, as well as discussing more user-friendly and low-tech alternatives, which are set to become ever more relevant in our environmentally conscious age.

Abundantly illustrated, Bathroom examines examples from history and from across the globe. From squat to high-tech bidet toilets, and from cast-iron bathtubs to monsoon showers, this is an original and eye-opening study of a significant but often overlooked space.

Winner of RIBA Presidents Award 2014’ — Award

‘Barbara Penner’s study of the bathroom likewise shows humankind to be, on the whole, bonkers about bathrooms. The ways that we wash and particularly, excrete owe little to rationality, and owe much to custom, nationality, and the interests of large-scale manufacturers . . . The design history was all very interesting, but Penner really gets going when she begins to explore issues of social justice. Following the footsteps of that admirable campaigner for public toilets, Clara Greed, she rightly argues that it's the loo, the room that we all have to visit, that tells you if you are welcome in a building or not . . . The best bits of the book really changed my mind about things I had held true.’ — Lucy Worsley, The Times

‘For an investigation of how we evacuate and what we do with the results, this is a remarkably clean book . . . excellent . . . Where the body and technology meet, this immensely useful little volume points out, is exactly where we have to confront our most basic self-image, but we always do through an elaborate system that plugs that sense of our body into a network of implements and biases that are socially constructed.’ — Architectural Review

‘Penner’s book is a model for design history. She digs deep into the economic and technological framework for the bathroom. She illuminates the evolution of style in relation to race, class, politics and sexuality. She uncovers fascinating images and commentary from primary sources, and she seeks out the heresies that challenged modern hygiene’s normative creed. She studies the innovators and the critics as well as the standard-bearers. Her book is an inspiration to other historians as well as to designers and architects looking for new solutions in a rapidly developing world whose infrastructure is not yet fixed in porcelain and PVC.’ — Journal of Design History

‘a global and historical tour of toilets. Designed for discretion yet connected to an enormous public infrastructure, these tiny rooms reveal big ideas about gender, fashion, consumption, health, cleanliness, self-identity and, of course, plumbing.’ — Times Higher Education

‘Amply illustrated, the book is a fascinating show-and-tell of artifact specificity . . . the work will be of keen interest to scholars because of the wealth of descriptive material it provides and the alertness to social practice, both proximate and historic. It is a book about the micro and the macro, the social and the material. Most obviously, Penner is pressing in on the world of design and architecture, contributing information about matters that need to be taken up in a direct way. This book is about common decency in the everyday as well as about life and death.’ — Technology and Culture

Show all

Barbara Penner is Senior Lecturer in Architectural History at University College London. Her publications include Newlyweds on Tour: Honeymooning in Nineteenth-century America (2009) and Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender (co-editor, 2009).

The Civilizing Bathroom
The Iconic Bathroom
The Rational Bathroom
The Soft Bathroom
The Inclusive Bathroom
The Alternative Bathroom

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements