airplane lavatories

Boeing’s self-cleaning airplane lavatory

Boeing jpeg image

Courtesy: Boeing

The news that Boeing engineers and designers have come up with an airplane lavatory that cleans itself with ultra-violet lights in just three seconds would have pleased Frances Gabe, an Oregon inventor who, back in the 1980s, patented dozens of ideas related to her own scheme for a self-cleaning house.

Gabe’s house did clean itself – sort of. When I visited her back in the mid-1980s for a radio interview, few self-cleaning gadgets were actually operating. And she was determined to make the whole thing operate as a self-cleaning unit before taking even one idea to market. But after spending a few hours with her that day, I was confident she’d work out a way to make the whole thing work in perfect harmony.

I imagine her saying something like “been there, done that” when hearing about Boeing’s idea for a self-cleaning lav. But, as someone who’s written stories about studies done to find the germiest places on airplanes, I’m hoping Boeing’s idea becomes standard issue as soon as possible.

Airplane lavatory-inspired art

No fewer than eight people sent me a link to Nina Katchadourian’s artwork this week, and thank-goodness!


On her website, Katchadourian says she improvises with materials close at hand and that her Seat Assignment project consists of photographs, video, and digital images all made while in flight – and all with nothing more than a camera phone.

“The project began spontaneously on a flight in March 2010 and is ongoing. At present, over 2500 photographs and video, made on more than 70 different flights to date, constitute the raw material of the project.”

For the photographs in the Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style portion of the project, she says:

While in the lavatory on a domestic flight in March 2010, I spontaneously put a tissue paper toilet cover seat cover over my head and took a picture in the mirror using my cellphone. The image evoked 15th-century Flemish portraiture. I decided to add more images made in this mode and planned to take advantage of a long-haul flight from San Francisco to Auckland, guessing that there were likely to be long periods of time when no one was using the lavatory on the 14-hour flight.

Here’s a sample of what she came up with.

Katchadourian’s Seat Assignment exhibit is on view from April 14 through May 26, 2012 at the Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.Find more here.