In residential architecture, there have always been central, indispensable spaces and peripheral spaces more easy to ignore. When designing a home, the task of the architect is essentially to configure, connect, and integrate different functions in the most efficient way possible, necessarily prioritizing some spaces over others. And although today many are designing in ways that are increasingly fluid and indeterminate, we could say that the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen are the fundamental nucleus of every house, facilitating rest, food preparation, and personal hygiene. Then meeting spaces and other service areas appear, and with them lobbies, corridors, and stairs to connect them. Each space guides new functions, allowing its inhabitants to perform them in an easier and more comfortable way.
However, fewer square meters in the bathroom could mean more space for the living room. Or, eliminating some seemingly expendable spaces could give more room for more important needs. In an overpopulated world with increasingly dense cities, what functions have we been discarding to give more space to the essentials? Here, we analyze the case of the laundry room, which is often reduced and integrated into other areas of the house to give space for other functions.
With fewer and fewer exceptions, it seems that the laundry room has increasingly become a less necessary residential luxury. Today, the formerly public lavoir has become the private laundry of large real estate projects, and the generous laundries of the houses of the last century have been reduced to the minimum space that can occupy a washing machine. This appliance now roams our plans and 3D models, and if we don't have enough square footage, we might spend hours thinking about the most effective way to include it in the design.
Before industrialization, people had to wash their clothes by hand, and it was common to find collective laundries in European neighborhoods in the 1800s. In rural areas, the washing of textiles was carried out directly in the nearest river or well, heating the water with firewood. However, with the proliferation of pipes and drains, this process began to move to the interior of the house. Separate buckets or jars, and a series of utensils for soaking and scrubbing dirty clothes, gave way to better-designed laundry enclosures, including not only an established washing area, but also facilities for drying, ironing, and storage.
Although not everyone has access to it, and in many regions, washing by hand remains the only option for many families, the creation of the washing machine somewhat changed the rules of the game in contemporary residential design. There remain extant records of the first washing machines of the late seventeenth century, with rotating wooden drums that were operated manually. This modality laid the foundations for the modern washing machine, evolving towards the motorized metal drum and later towards the electric washing machine and automatic front-loading washing machine that we know and use today. Newer models even added the possibility of both washing and drying in a single device.
The evolution and reduction of the washing machine to a device approximately 60 x 60 cm and no more than 90 cm high can help us answer the following question: where is the function of washing being located in the contemporary home? The less square meters you have to design, the more the physical space for this function is reduced, often eliminating the laundry room altogether and integrating the washing machine in bathrooms, kitchens, or even inside cabinets, niches, or furniture specially designed for it instead.
In Apartment 308S, designed by BLOCO, the architects renovated the apartment seeking to maximize the living space: "we downsized two rooms, eliminated the maid's room, and minimized the laundry area. This procedure allowed us to directly connect the kitchen, dining room, and couple's bathroom to the building's cobogó screen blocks (ventilated façade) that used to be entirely dedicated to laundry rooms". In the case of the Merlot Apartment refurbishment by Clarice Semerene Arquitetura, the existing laundry room, disproportionately large for the needs of its inhabitants, was reduced to rearrange and expand the kitchen.
As we mentioned before, other architects have even created new furniture to hide the washing machine, making it visible only at the moment of use. For the Carlton Apartment, the architects at Tom Eckersley created a storage strip that "connects the kitchen, laundry, and bathroom spaces within a single minimalist box." The same goes for ARHITEKTURA's Rubikum For Three Apartment project, hiding the washing machine next to the kitchen behind folding doors. Projects such as the 33 m2 Flat by Studio Bazi, or the Andradas Apartment by OCRE arquitetura, present an even more extreme solution, integrating almost all the electrical appliances necessary for the life of its inhabitants in a single piece of furniture.
It is common for the washing machine to be integrated into humid spaces such as the kitchen or bathroom, taking advantage of the existing drainage systems and generally waterproof surfaces. In the Mixtape Apartment, designed by AZAB, the washing machine and its circular door become the central object in the renovation of the space, as in the Alfondac Community Warehouse and Guest Housing for Travelers. In bathrooms or kitchens, the appliance can also be covered or hidden by a translucent coating or by a simple and manageable curtain, a solution adopted by the architects of Prisca Pellerin in their Living Under the Roof project. In many other cases, vertical space is used to locate the washing machine on a high shelf, freeing up the space at the floor level.
The solutions to this issue are manifold, and their effectiveness will depend on a detailed observation of the available space, the dimensions and characteristics of the appliance, and the habits and expectations of its users. The noise and vibration of the appliance in operation, and its influence on the general aesthetics of the space are also relevant considerations. Especially in small spaces, each object counts, and creative and innovative thinking becomes essential so that functionality and comfort may converge in a better quality of life.
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