The Bathroom by Alexander Kira

Task: to translate and publish a comprehensive book on the design of toilets and bathrooms.

The book of the professor and design consultant Alexander Kira contains almost twenty years worth of research in the field of bathroom design. First published in 1966 and reprinted with additions in 1976, the book became an important milestone in covering the taboo topic of elimination and personal hygiene.

Cover of the original edition
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Book contents  >

The author carefully examined all processes and procedures performed in the bathroom (including those for which it was not originally intended), analyzed the current state of sanitary equipment and proposed criteria for its optimal design. He accompanied all of this with interesting historical and cultural essays that shed light on the perception of the body and its natural needs in the modern Western civilization. Separate chapters of the book are devoted to the design of public bathrooms and facilities for the elderly and disabled.

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Almost half a century later, the book remains acutely relevant, verifying the author’s observations about the extremely slow progress in this “forbidden” field.

The beautifully and honestly illustrated edition is primarily intended for interior and industrial designers, architects and engineers. However, any reader who is not related to professional design of sanitary facilities but who uses the bathroom every day will find the book full of useful details and important information.

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The development of design criteria for the major personal hygiene activities (body cleansing and elimination) must be based on the analysis of each of these activities in terms of the following: first, the complex cultural and psychological attitudes surrounding the subject—attitudes that influence our hygiene practices and our reactions to equipment; second, the basic physiological and anatomical considerations; and lastly, the physical or “human engineering” problems of performing the activity. As we are well aware, man may know what is good for him, but his response to this knowledge, more often than not, is determined by other, more subjective considerations—which tend to be variable, contradictory, and fleeting, but which are also potent forces in molding design decisions. Physical man, on the other hand, remains fairly constant; that is, his physical capabilities, limitations and biological needs, though variable, are essentially the same the world over and essentially the same as they were thousands of years ago.

Thus, although this study has attempted to be scrupulously objective, on the one hand, in its explorations of physiological processes, anatomy, and anthropometry, it has, on the other hand, been quite deliberately conceived within the framework of contemporary Western culture. Consequently, the discussion that follows represents, to a certain extent, a compromise between realities as they exist and as they are defined with our time/place setting. Some of the personal hygiene practices of other places or times could seriously be recommended as being more desirable from the standpoint of either health or physiology—if our values, ideals, and way of life reflected the same cultural attitudes as those under which the practices evolved. As the discussion will show, however, there are almost as many psychological and cultural problems to be solved in developing design criteria as there are purely physiological or functional ones, and in some instances, it may almost be said that the problems to be solved are the psychological and cultural ones.


From the chapter Personal Hygiene Facilities


This category comprises those personal and individual activities essentially unrelated to hygiene activities but often engaged in incidentally while one is in the bathroom for other purposes, such as smoking, eating, drinking, reading, watching television, listening to the radio, telephoning, playing, masturbating, and so forth. The distinction between what is a primary and what is a secondary activity is sometimes blurred by motivations. In the case of a mother with several small children who takes her favorite magazine with her to read while taking a bath, it cannot be said with any certainty what is primary. Both may be of equal importance to the individual who, in many such instances, is using bathing simply as a vehicle to satisfy other personal needs.

From a design standpoint these activities pose little problem with respect to fixtures and equipment, but they need to be considered in the overall framework of the role the bathroom plays, both in a given individual’s life and in the context of the rest of the house. While in many cases special accommodations may be necessary, these can, for all practical purposes, be considered personal rather than universal situations. Individuals planning a new or remodelled bathroom should, however, examine their habits (and dreams) to see which luxuries or degrees of luxuries might be possible above and beyond the stereotyped universal bathroom.


From the chapter Other Bathroom Activities

Alexander Kira (1928–2005), Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Cornell University, taught in the Department of Architecture since 1957. In 1957–1963 he worked as deputy director of the Center for Housing and Environmental Studies. Kira specialized in the problems of human needs and behavior as related to design. He acted as consultant to industry and government in Europe and the United States. He was a member of the Building Research Institute and the Human Factors Society and was a frequent contributor to journals and seminars. The toilet seat designed by Kira was produced by American Standard. It won the Industrial Design magazine award in 1974 and was accepted to the industrial design collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Chapter Perineal Cleansing

(pages 162–173 of the book in PDF, 332 KB)



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  • Hardcover
  • 524 pages
  • Dimensions 144×216 mm (5,7″×8,5″)
  • Press run: 3000
  • ISBN 978‐5‐98062‐102‐5
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