The Simple Act of
Handwashing

by Margie

Like many businesses, Edmiston Jones is planning our return to the office after working from home for some time. An important part of the “new normal” is implementing more regular hand hygiene. What impact will this have on the design of entries, foyers, and other arrival points as well as shared spaces like dining and meeting rooms?

Left: Designer handwash basins, source ex.t via Dezeen. Right: A sink for ritual hand-washing at the entrance to the Ramban Synagogue, Jerusalem, source Wikipedia.

Handwashing has a long cultural history throughout the world for religious, symbolic and hygienic purposes. Islam, Judaism and Hinduism require ablutions many times throughout the day, linked to activities like prayer, eating, touching animals or visiting the bathroom. Christian rituals link handwashing to handling objects like vestments and communion bread and wine.

The link between handwashing and the spread of disease is relatively new, championed by nineteenth century Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis. Working in a Viennese hospital, he implemented a regime of handwashing for doctors and reduced the mortality rate of new mothers in the maternity ward from 18% to 1%. As scientific knowledge of disease transmission improved, handwashing became an integral part of healthcare and food preparation areas.

The early twentieth century architecture of modernism formalised the physical expression of hygiene in the built environment, predominantly as a response to tuberculosis. Finnish architects Aino and Alvar Aalto advocated large windows and open terraces to enable patient access to fresh air and sunlight in the 1933 Paimio Sanatorium. A “noiseless washbasin” was designed specifically for the project.

Left: Aalto’s washbasin design, source The Aalto Museum. Right: Designer handwash basins, source Kast via Design Milk

With the renewed importance of handwashing to every aspect of our lives, will the humble washbasin be reimagined in the same way that designer kitchens, dining spaces and boardrooms have become the centre-pieces of our workplaces and homes? With our focus on people and our expertise in design and retrofitting, Edmiston Jones can help you integrate this vital function into your home, workplace or facility.


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