Launderettes are great inspiring places of which their existence is seldomly celebrated. They are perhaps the best indicators for metropolitan lifestyles within an urban area. Here I’ll describe and celebrate the specific urban atmosphere of the launderette starting with a short introduction of different typologies in launderette design. In general, launderettes are among the most clean and clinically designed places on earth. In every little aspect they have to spread the message ‘I’m clean’. When entering a launderette, you should smell fresh soap, and not the flavor of dirty socks. Most owners understand that and take great efforts to make their places comfortable.
Different typologies in launderettes vary most in the amount of services offered. Perhaps most interesting are the complete self-service launderettes that are fully automated. At these places there’s no servant to support the washing and to control behavior. Although these spaces are private from a juridical perspective, they feel like being part of the public atmosphere, completely designed to not be vandalized. They are completely impersonal but very intimate at the same time. This intimacy is mainly caused by the fact that people have to wait in the same small place for some 1.5 hours. Some of them read a book while others just stare at the rhythm of the rotating garments in the machine and the foam generated in that process. Although the room is designed for being straight and impersonal, these places could be literary considered restrooms of the Global Village. They facilitate contact between strangers, lead to unexpected conversations and are not seldomly the spatial context for romantic meetings. In terms of design these launderettes have a lot in common with spaces around public transport. The walls and floors are often decorated with tiles, while bright colors, and hard materials like steel and plastic characterize the interior.
Other launderette typologies are the opposite. Some are full-service and continuously manned, you can bring laundry and pick it up later, clean, ironed and sometimes even sealed. In terms of space typology, these service points do not differ very much from a taylor or a shoemaker. They are extremely private, the atmosphere is controlled by the servant, and clients are not expected to stay.
A third category is the launderette extended with other services. Responding in the long time that people have to spend at the launderette, a cosy atmosphere and entertainment is offered. While the client is waiting 90 minutes for a 6 kilograms full washing program, tea is served and games are available to play. In West Amsterdam I passed by a launderette which is one of the best visited places in the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon. As if it’s a bar men are sitting here, drinking tea and coffee while playing chess and poker. The design of this launderette is very personal, with plants and couches. The owner has done an effort to create a place were people feel comfortable.