Public wash-houses in the ninetheenth and twentieth centuries. Architectural solutions for social hygiene in Italy and Portugal

Risultato della ricerca: Conference contribution


From the XIX century, the new studies and discoveries in medicine, biology, and infectious diseases produced a great impact not only in people life, but also in construction. The “hygienist” engineer, as a new professional figure, spread out with the aim of designing “health” buildings according to the novel hygienic standards, typologies and functions, materials and technologies. Among the various typologies, the public wash-houses played an important role in guarantying the personal and public hygiene and preventing the diffusion of epidemics throughout the urban environment.This paper analyses the public wash-houses that, despite their architectural simplicity, played an extremely important role especially in the working-class neighbourhood and suburban areas. Indeed, such a constructions were subjected to simple but effective constructive and architectural principles. Among those simplicity, cleanliness, aeration, low cost, and – most of all – gratuitousness to all the people. At the same time, they must assure a sort of urban decor without denying – as shown by many successful examples - their refined appearance. More precisely, wash-houses were considered the first aid – along with the public baths – to guarantee the public health and prevent the spread of infectious germs. People used to live in very humid and unhealthy houses where serious influences could be easily taken. In that scenario, the simple act of washing could dangerously increase the possibility of becoming ill.This paper investigates the constructive and architectural features of such a fascinating typology, especially in view to the health requirements of the time. The area of the city of Aveiro in Portugal will be discussed as the wash-houses were still used till the 1980s due to a diffuse and general poverty of the State/people. Building design, structure, “modern” washing techniques, construction materials and finishing (e.g. washable paving, majolica wall or waterproof plasters), will be presented. The study of such an architectural typology will be extremely interesting for all the scholars - historian of construction, technologist and restorer - approaching the vast theme of sanitary construction and its related materials and technologies. Nowadays, public wash-houses represent an image of the past that must be preserved with all the possible attention and care to avoid incongruous works on a so “simple” and “intuitive” building that joins together architecture, engineering, plant design, and medical science. Furthermore, to date almost anything scientific nor technical has been published in literature but some images, mostly in historic photo-album, that witness the vast spread of wash-houses through the city.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteWater, Doors and Buildings
Numero di pagine12
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2019


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