The Bartlett School of Architecture


We shall deal here with humble things

16 November 2012

Barbara Penner Bathroom essay

An essay by Dr Barbara Penner, exploring the design, culture and politics of the bathroom has been published online in the Design Observer's Places Journal

She begins the essay: "In the summer of 2009, I went on a pilgrimage. My destination: the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The Arts Center is famous for its magnificent artist-designed public bathrooms. Kohler itself has long history of bringing together art and plumbing through its Arts/Industry program, which offers artists the opportunity to produce work in the company’s pottery (one of the world’s largest), iron and brass foundries, and enamel workshop. In this sense the Arts Center’s bathrooms can be seen as the consummation of the company’s interest in uniting the most basic of human needs — the need to urinate and defecate — with the most elevated of our faculties — the ability to appreciate beauty..." 


Dr Barbara Penner is Senior Lecturer in Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. She is author of Newlyweds on Tour: Honeymooning in Nineteenth-Century America and editor of Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender.

Read Dr Barbara Penner's full biography >>