The modern movement started as a way of dealing with tuberculosis. The same rules apply today.
They are everywhere in Asia now (this photo is a railway station in Seoul,) disinfecting everything in the hopes that it it will control the Coronavirus that started in Wuhan, China. In the New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal describes how she and her family got through the SARS epidemic, which happened while she was covering China. Her children were in school at the time, where they followed simple precautionary policies:
The people cleaning all the handrails are generally using alcohol or bleach here, the same tools that were available a hundred years ago, when the flu and tuberculosis were the problems. Doctors and health officials knew what caused TB, but didn't have the antibiotics capable of killing it. Instead, they fought disease with cleanliness and urban planning; as Professor Dame Sally Davies wrote in The drugs don't work,
There was no sharing of food at lunch. The teacher led the kids in frequent hand washing throughout the day at classroom sinks, while singing a prolonged “hand washing song” to ensure they did more than a cursory pass under the faucet with water only....With those precautions in place, I observed something of a public health miracle: Not only did no child get SARS, but it seemed no student was sick with anything at all for months on end. No stomach bugs. No common colds. Attendance was more or less perfect.
Almost without exception, the decline in deaths from the biggest killers at the beginning of the twentieth century predates the introduction of antimicrobial drugs for civilian use at the end of the Second World War. Just over half the decline in infections diseases had occurred before 1931. The main influences on the decline of mortality were better nutrition, improved hygiene and sanitation, and less dense housing which all helped to prevent and to reduce transmission of infectious diseases.
It also changed design, furniture, and the way we live; it is what gave us modernism. I wrote:
It is clear that the source of our obsessions with hospital-like bathrooms and spotless kitchens, as well as the continuing interest in minimalist interior design, descends directly from the modernist obsessions with hygienic design that formed in the years before antibiotics.
A few years ago I wrote a series of posts about how we might have to do this all over again in the age after antibiotics, as resistance to the drugs increases. Many of the same things apply to the coronavirus: keep things clean, wash your hands and leave those viruses no place to hide.
When writing about bathrooms in an earlier post, I suggested that Le Corbusier put a sink in the front hall of the Villa Savoye as an historical allusion. In fact, there is a much simpler and more straightforward reason: His client, like the clients for the Maison de Verre and the Lovell Health House, was a doctor and was obsessed about germs. People had known about germ theory since 1882, when Robert Koch identified that tuberculosis was caused by a bacillus, but they didn’t have antibiotics until after World War II.
They were obsessed about germs, a fear that went away when antibiotics were discovered. We are much more blasé today, often taking the approach that we should be exposed to more germs to build up defenses. But this may change. More in TreeHugger: Antibiotic resistance will change the way we live
Those sinks really work:
A third of cases of gastrointestinal illness could be prevented through observing basic hand hygiene… Food poisoning – most of it caused by faecal bacteria from unwashed hands – costs the UK economy nearly £1.5bn a year.More in TreeHugger: How disgust could lead to a cleaner, healthier world
Dirt and dust harboured germs that must be destroyed by fresh air and sunlight. Homes should be cleaned thoroughly every day and windows and doors opened each morning to let in the sun and air, to destroy the germs. Heavy drapes and curtains, thick carpets and old furniture with decorative features that harboured dust and microbes should be thrown out and replaced with simple, easily cleaned modern furniture and light, easily washed curtains.More in TreeHugger: Fighting disease with design: Light, Air and Openness
It is clear that the source of our obsessions with hospital-like bathrooms and spotless kitchens, as well as the continuing interest in minimalist interior design, descends directly from the modernist obsessions with hygienic design that formed in the years before antibiotics, and that we can learn from to help cope in the years after antibiotics are gone.More in TreeHugger: Fighting disease with design: The Maison de Verre
Our apartment kitchens are arranged in a way which completely separates kitchen work from the living area, therefore eliminating the unpleasant effects produced by smell, vapours and above all the psychological effects of seeing leftovers, plates, bowls, washing-up clothes and other items lying around.More in TreeHugger: Why we got separate instead of open kitchens: It was thought to be a "clean machine"
Inspired by the air filtration systems used in hospitals, clean rooms, and the space industry, we developed a HEPA filtration system capable of stripping the outside air of pollen, bacteria, and pollution before they enter the cabin and systematically scrubbing the air inside the cabin to eliminate any trace of these particles.More in TreeHugger: Why do our cars have better air quality than our homes?
More in TreeHugger: Ten things to do to have a healthy home
This was an attempt to put together all the ideas, everything I had been talking about so far.
More in TreeHugger: How to build a healthy home, extreme dream edition