The Human Touch in Kitchen Technology

How Technology Changes Our Relationship with Food in the Rational and Ritual Kitchen

Abstract

The kitchen is the visible cultural manifestation of the technology human beings employ to store, prepare and eat food. Those who look at the history of kitchens will see two approaches for kitchen design that have determined the influence of technology on our relationship with storing, preparing and consuming food in the private households: the technological-rational kitchen and the social-ritual kitchen. The technological-rational kitchen had both a commercial and a social objective: it functions as a commercial testing ground for the latest technologies and materials, but it had its origins in the disappearance of domestic servants. The rational kitchen is first and foremost a commercial, technological vision of the future that affirms prevailing social conventions. Some architects, designers and artists have reflected critically on the overly tech-driven design approaches and come up with alternatives more attuned to the ritualistic relationship between human beings and food. Despite the promise of physical convenience and time saving, the rational kitchen deprives people of the pleasure and knowledge of cooking. For most daily users, the kitchen is not an optimal cooking workspace from which human beings are banned, but a social, ritualistic meeting place.


Cooking and Kitchens

We live in an age that is increasingly dominated by digital data, algorithmic systems and artificial intelligence. What do the current technological developments mean for our relationship with food? Will they result in fundamental changes in how we store, prepare or consume our food, or is it simply a case of old wine in new wineskins? The kitchen would appear to be ideally suited to an investigation into the relation between food and technology. The linguistic origins of the word ‘kitchen’ (cuisine, Küche, cucina, keuken) lie in the Latin word culīna, derived from the verb coquere, meaning to cook, a verb that is itself rooted in the even older Italo-Celtic and Indo-European words kwekw and pekw, both related to the concept of ‘ripening’ or ‘cooking.’[1] Thus, the kitchen is directly related to the technique of rendering food edible.

One of the most important of these techniques is the heating of food so that its status changes from raw to cooked. So, cooking has always been a distinguishing feature in the relation between the natural and cultural state of human beings. It is no coincidence that the ‘savage’ ape in Walt Disney’s Jungle Book serenades the human child Mowgli with these words: ‘What I desire is man’s red fire to make my dream come true.’ We can define the kitchen as the visible cultural manifestation of the technology human beings employ to store, prepare and eat food: from the open fire in prehistoric settlements and the first domestic iceboxes, to the microwave ovens and smart refrigerators in the modern kitchen.

The Rational and the Ritual Kitchen

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, architects, designers and artists have—at least in the Western tradition—treated the kitchen as a technological and cultural phenomenon. Since then, architects and designers, often in collaboration with companies, have displayed the very latest designs at world fairs, design shows and expos in Europe and United States as part of ‘The Home of the Future’ or as a vision of ‘The Kitchen of Tomorrow.’ Sometimes, they have also reflected critically on the technological and social implications of the everyday or the futuristic kitchen. However, for manufacturers, the kitchen continued to be an interesting testing ground for the latest technologies and materials and their ‘kitchens of the future’ were primarily meant as sales stands. According to design professor Ramia Mazé, this kind of kitchen design belongs to the world of concept design which ‘flourishes in trade shows and world exhibitions’ and these concept designs ‘have become central to business strategies, building shared values and commitments, expanding and marketing the “corporate imagination” within a company, an industrial sector or a target group. (…) Concept design induces desire and (re)produces cultural imaginaries for particular industrial futures.’[2] She distinguishes concept design from critical design that aims ‘to provoke debate about current norms, “alternative now” or “speculative futures”’ as ‘physical rather than written critiques,’ and from persuasive design for behavioural change that ‘aims to redirect norms’ and ‘particular behaviours in forms intended to be internalised and reinforced in an ongoing manner in everyday life and social practices.’[3]

Anyone who looks at the history of the kitchen through the lens of architects, designers and artists will distinguish two main approaches for kitchen design that have, to a large degree, determined the influence of technology on our relationship with storing, preparing and consuming food in the ordinary, private household: the technological-rational and the social-ritual kitchen. The technological-rational kitchen reflects the development of the kitchen as a workspace organised as efficiently as possible with the aid of mechanical, electrical and digital tools for storing, preparing or consuming food, thereby reducing the time and energy expended by servants, the housewife, or, to a lesser extent, the house husband as much as possible.

In contrast, the development of the social-ritual kitchen is regarded not as an autonomously functioning machine in the service of human convenience, but as a social environment that provides the setting for daily household rituals, including the preparation and consumption of meals. The physical and symbolic heart of this kind of kitchen has its origins in fire as the most important technique for cooking. The fire originally served as a source of warmth, protection from wild animals and a meeting place for dance, music and storytelling. Anthropological studies point to fire as a symbol of the connection with the cosmos—for many people, the unfathomable and venerated space that connects us with speculations about past and future.[4] When the open fire in the field was placed inside the protective walls of the dwelling, the first kitchen became a fact—but as a space that for centuries served as a place for sleeping, cooking, eating and socialising, and where livestock were housed as a source of food.

Fig 1. Jan Bruegehel de Oude (1568- 1625), ‘Bezoek aan de hoeve’, 17de eeuw, olieverf op paneel, 30 x 46 cm.

‘Kitchens are the stages for a great general representation of life,’ wrote the Italian designer Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007). ‘Like the oldest kitchens I have seen, with a black pot hanging down from the middle of the ceiling all blackened by soot, with a hole at the top to prevent the smoke, the steam, the flavours, existence from losing touch with the sky inhabited by mystery, and perhaps also to make sure than the lofty protective mystery might come down in the dark vaulted ceiling of the kitchen-room-house.’[5] But how has technology influenced our relationship with food in these two distinct design approaches in the history of the kitchen?

Efficient Cooking

The rationalisation of the kitchen began with attempts to use the open fire more efficiently for cooking. For centuries, the wood-fuelled open fire with a hole in the roof for smoke extraction was the dominant method of cooking. The desired heat level for the cooking pot was regulated by the distance between the fire and the food being prepared. Wood is an inefficient fuel. The heat it produces was better utilised when it was contained within brick, or later cast-iron volumes with an adjustable oxygen supply. The limitations of the open fire influenced what was cooked: it was used primarily for heating water and cooking simple gruels and one-pot meals. Flat-bottomed pans with long handles that made it easier to reach the hottest spot of the fire were often used. Meals were initially prepared above a fire on the ground, but from the Middle Ages onwards, it became more common for the fire to be lain on a brick or stone platform in combination with a chimney that ensured safe smoke extraction and in which meat, for example, could be smoked for preservation.

The natural philosopher Benjamin Thompson (1753-1814) invented the first stove during his time as aide-de-camp to the Bavarian Prince Charles. At the time, the imperial troops were still preparing their meals over an open fire using whatever ingredients were at hand. Thompson designed a mobile, iron field kitchen, for which he invented what came to be known as Rumford’s Soup, a cheap, nutritious and tasty meal based on barley, dried peas, potatoes and thin beer, a version of which is still used to feed the very poorest. Thompson was especially interested in using the cooking fire as efficiently as possible. He developed a variety of kitchens for army barracks, castles and villas, experimenting with different types of stove. He also used fully galvanised iron cooking pots in a recessed, semi-circular brick platform. The advantage was that the cooking pots were heated on all sides and the cook could easily reach them.[6]

Fig 2. Perspective view of a kitchen fire-place in the house of Baron Lerchenfeld at Munich designed by Count Rumford, ca. 1870
Fig 3. Bird’s eye view of a kitchen fire-place in the house of Baron Lerchenfeld at Munich designed by Count Rumford, ca. 1870
Fig 4. Vertical section of a kitchen fire-place in the house of Baron Lerchenfeld at Munich designed by Count Rumford, ca. 1870

The cast-iron stove conquered American and European kitchens in the nineteenth century. It had an innovative effect on cookery. One-pan meals became a rarity, being replaced by simple meals of meat, vegetables, and potatoes— which Thompson had brought to Europe from the United States—prepared in a rapidly growing variety of pots and pans.

The Electrical Kitchen

Since then, heating techniques based on gas, electricity and electromagnetic radiation have entered the Western kitchen. Electricity in particular fired the imagination of scientists, engineers and designers as a way of perfecting the rational kitchen, turning it into an autonomous machine in which human beings had scarcely any role to play. The first fully electric kitchen was displayed at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. In 1907, the Netherlands exhibited an electrically equipped kitchen during the exhibition ‘Elektriciteit in woning en ambacht’ (‘Electricity in the home and workshop’).[7] The American comedian Buster Keaton showed off the unprecedented possibilities of electricity in his short 1922 film The Electric House. Viewers were treated to the sight of an electric model train transporting the full and empty plates between kitchen and dining room and an electric dishwasher in operation. Of course, in a house bristling with buttons, switches and levers, Keaton couldn’t resist the temptation to show not just the advantages of an electric house but also the confusion and chaos that the increasingly autonomous house caused for the occupants.

Fig 5. ‘The Electric House’, film written and directed by Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline, 1922 (https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=FdhWfsqp114&t=4s)

In 1930, during the design triennial in Monza, Italy exhibited the Casa Elettrica, sponsored by Edison and designed by several leading Italian architects. The house was an experimental vision of the future exploiting the possibilities offered by electricity in an average middle-class home. The kitchen was equipped with some twenty electrical appliances, including an oven and a refrigerator.[8]

Fig 6. Luigi Figini, Guido Frette, Adalberto Libera, Gino Pollini, Pietro Bottoni, ‘Casa Elettrica’, IV Triennale (International Exposition of Decorative Arts) in Monza, 1930

For centuries, the storage of food, and, in particular, meat, had been a problem. In 1810, Nicolas Appert (1749-1841) made an important contribution to solving the problem with his publication L’Art de conserver pendant plusieur années toutes les substance animales et végétables (The Art of Preserving All Kinds of Animal and Vegetable Substances for Several Years), in which he described how to keep food longer by putting it in sealed glass pots and then slowly heating it. A few decades later, the first airtight cans appeared on the scene, although they were so difficult to open that a hammer and chisel sometimes had to be used. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that the combination of efficient can openers and thinner sheets of metal for can production made it possible to preserve food on a large scale.[9]

Ultimately, ice proved to be the most suitable medium for storing food, initially in the form of iceboxes, which evolved into refrigerators and freezers, with car manufacturers such as General Motors and Fiat, which possessed the necessary electric motors, playing an important role.[10] The new electrical cooling technology ousted the old preservation techniques of drying, smoking, bottling and pickling. Cooling and freezing altered the taste of food, but also created a new range of perishable goods, such as dairy products. In addition, consumers no longer needed to go to the market every day. A few decades after the Second World War, virtually every household in the United States and Europe had a refrigerator in combination with an integrated or free-standing freezer, which led to the development of frozen meals.

Drivers of the Rational Kitchen

The increasing mechanisation, and in particular the electrification of the kitchen, had both a commercial and social objective. For manufacturers, the kitchen continued to be an interesting testing ground for the latest technologies and materials. ‘Kitchens of the future’ were usually not much more than sales stands where businesses sought to market their latest kitchen products and material applications.

Fig 7. Control center of the RCA-Whirlpool Miracle Kitchen, displaced at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959
Fig 8. ‘Robotic Kitchen, developed by Shadow Robotics, Yachtime, DYSEGNO, Sebastian Conran, Mart Cutkosky (Stanford University), presented on Hannover Messe, 2016 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNcPVvIs_tk)

The rational kitchen, however, had its origins in a social development: the disappearance of domestic servants from private households. For a long time, domestic service was one of the most respectable jobs for young girls from lower social classes. But towards the end of the nineteenth century in the United States, the rapid rise of office and factory work, with fixed working hours and relatively simple work, started to compete with domestic work, which was often heavy and irregular. The shortage of servants became a major social problem and inspired designers and manufacturers to invent appliances that could lighten or take over the work of domestic servants or wives.

Another driver was the American women’s liberation movement, which fought for equal rights for men and women. The movement did not succeed in overturning the prevailing ideology that a woman’s place was primarily in the home, responsible for keeping house and raising children. But within that domestic domain, she was expected to run the home in the same professional manner as a businessman ran his factory or a commander his army, with the aid of scientific know-how that would result in maximum efficiency for a minimum expenditure in money and energy. Popular handbooks, such as Catharine Beecher’s A Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841), Isabella Beeton’s The Book of Household Management (1861) and Christine Frederick’s The New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management (1913) contributed to the notion that the kitchen should be a well-oiled machine for the storage and preparation of food and should also save the housewife as much time as possible so that she could devote herself to the care of husband, children and social contacts outside the home.

The influence these books had on the development of the rational kitchen was comparable to that of Frederick Taylor’s book Principles of Scientific Management (1911) on the rationalisation and standardisation of industrial mass production. Production processes in both the factory and the kitchen were to be scientifically studied, measured and recorded so they could be optimally organised in such a way as to minimise the actions and efforts required of workers and housewives. The designs for the rational kitchen were determined by standardisation, division of labour with separate areas for cooking, cooling, storing, consuming, washing up and kitchen waste, and ergonomic principles designed to support the necessary operations effectively.

Fig 9. Diagrams from Christine Frederick’s The New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management, New York 1912

The kitchen, previously the preserve of the domestic servants who worked and slept there, was now reduced to a small, mechanised and electrified workspace for storing and preparing food, strictly separated from the other rooms in the house and from which human beings were eliminated as much as possible. This development was illustrated by such famous kitchen designs as the Frankfurt kitchen (1926-1927) of Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) and the ‘Kitchen of Tomorrow’ that General Motors presented at the Motoroma exhibition in 1956.

Fig 10. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000), ‘Frankfurt Kitchen’, 1926-1927 (https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=41pyty0-lgs)

The Motorama kitchen comprised an ultrasonic dishwasher and an electronic recipe book that was visible on a colour monitor. The accompanying film, Design for Dreaming, which was watched by more than eight million people, showed how the housewife could be freed from her daily kitchen chores with the aid of advanced, technological appliances.

Fig 11. Design for Dreaming, accompanying film for General Motor’s ‘Kitchen of Tomorrow’ at the Motoroma exhibition, 1956 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZG36dhhbx0)

The concept was a prefiguring of Technovision, the only fully automatic kitchen ever designed. The German artist, philosopher and designer Hasso Gehrmann (1924-2008) devised the concept in 1970 at the behest of the Elektra company. The kitchen could be placed in the living room as a free-standing object. All its functions could be operated from a seated position using buttons, switches and pedals.

Fig 12. Hasso Gehrman (1924-2008) and Elektra, Technovision, 1970

The kitchen was only produced as a prototype and eventually ended up in a museum and not a home.[11]

Smart Kitchen

The main drivers behind the development of the rational, electrified kitchen—the commercialisation of technological innovations and improved functionality—are also behind the latest concepts for the Smart Kitchen, controlled by digital data and algorithmic systems. Companies such as Samsung and Google are only too happy to present their newest technology in the context of the private living kitchen. And the main aim still appears to be to make life as easy as possible for the kitchen’s users by limiting their active involvement in buying, storing and preparing food as much as possible.

One of the earliest attempts to introduce digital technology into the kitchen was the Honeywell H316 Kitchen Computer of 1969.

Fig 13. Advertisement for the Honeywell H316 Kitchen Computer, 1969

It could hardly be called a serious venture: the appliance was very expensive (US$10,600), weighed over 45 kilos, and its capabilities were limited: it could store recipes, provide some help with meal planning and manage the housekeeping accounts, and it had a built-in chopping board. But in order to make use of the digital functions, the user needed to complete a full two-week programming course. It is doubtful whether a single H316 was sold. The accompanying advertisement—with the slogan ‘If she can only cook as well as Honeywell can compute’—did, however, make clear that the aim was to lighten the work of the traditional housewife. ‘By simply pushing a few buttons,’ the ad promised, the housewife would ‘obtain a complete menu organised around the entrée.’[12]

Yet Samsung’s 2018 smart kitchen does not appear to offer a great deal more. It still presents the wife (often together with a child) as the chief user of the kitchen. Advertisements for this kitchen confirm the critical observation made by the American writer Rose Eveleth in her article about the ‘Kitchen of the Future’: ‘No matter how far in the future we imagine, in the kitchen, it is always the 1950s, it is always dinnertime, and it is always the wife’s job to make it. … Why can we still not imagine anything more interesting than a woman making dinner alone?’[13] And during a visit to the third edition of the Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle, where the latest digital kitchen technology was on display, a New York Times journalist lamented: ‘Do any of these people actually cook?’[14]

For the time being, smart technology in the kitchen is confined to touchscreens on which recipes can be conjured up or the contents of the refrigerator checked. For some time now, Samsung has had a Family Hub Fridge which it is hoping to connect up to the services of the Albert Heijn supermarket chain in the Netherlands. In 2015, the IDEO design practice teamed up with Ikea and design students from the technical universities of Lund (Sweden) and Eindhoven (Netherlands) to develop ‘The Concept Kitchen 2025.’ The chief innovation is not much more than a smart multifunctional worktop that can function as an induction cooktop, an interface for recipes, and a dining table—handy for those living in tiny apartments.

Fig 14. IDEO, IKEA, University of Lund, Sweden, ‘The Concept Kitchen 2025’, Milan Design Week, 2015 (https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=8Mc3g2qbBJo)

In the future, kitchen appliances will be increasingly linked via the Internet of Things (IoT) so that they can exchange data with one another and with users.[15]

Fig 15. The smart kitchen

Linking the IoT to intelligent, algorithmic systems makes it possible to record and analyse users’ actions, behaviour and preferences, which appliances would subsequently be able to anticipate. The possibilities of virtual and augmented reality are also being investigated. Between 1999 and 2007, the MIT Media Lab Counter Intelligence research group experimented with the possibilities of applying digital, intelligent technology to the development of new kinds of food, cooking and social interaction in the kitchen. One of their projects, Spatial User Interfaces: Augmented Human Sensibilities in a Domestic Kitchen, looked at how augmented reality might contribute to improved communication between people, their surroundings and objects.

Digital technology appeals to the fantasy of designers and tech experts in much the same way as the electric kitchen once did. The ultimate electric kitchen was an autonomous machine that human beings could operate with just a few buttons and levers. The ultimate digital kitchen takes this a step further: it would eventually be operated entirely by our voice or even directly by our brain. This scenario was anticipated back in 2011 by the synthetics manufacturer DuPont and entertainment giant Disney in their futuristic kitchen and dining room concept TRON designs CORIAN®. The project, exhibited at Milan Design Week 2011, was inspired by Disney’s science fiction film Tron: Legacy, much of which takes place in virtual reality. There are no buttons, handles or touchscreens in this kitchen,[16] suggesting that the human brain is able to control everything wirelessly.[17]

Fig 16. TRONdesignsCORIAN, Milan Design Week, 2011

As such, the rational kitchen continues to be a technology-dominated environment stripped of the creative and emotional aspects of cooking. ‘If cooking becomes such a guided process that you don’t have any emotion around it,’ the New York Times’ culinary specialist noted during the Smart Kitchen Summit 2017, ‘you’re going to take the heart out of it.’[18]

The Ritual Kitchen

The rational kitchen is first and foremost a commercial, technological vision of the future that in many instances merely affirms prevailing social conventions.[19] Some architects, designers and artists have contributed to this with research and concrete designs; others have reflected critically on it or come up with alternatives more attuned to the ritualistic relationship between human beings and food. In the publication Counter Space. Design and the Modern Kitchen, various artists show the reader kitchens that are closer to the ambiguous, chaotic reality of the daily practice of cooking than most the futuristic, and techno-optimistic kitchen designs would have us believe.[20]

Fig 17. Anna and Bernhard Blume, ‘Kitchen Frenzy’, 1986, gelatin silver prints, 170×108 cm each
Fig 18. William Eggleston, untitled from the portfolio ‘Troubled Waters’, ca. 1972, dye transfer print, 29,4×44,3 cm.

Designers, too, have criticised the functionalist, technology-driven kitchen and devised alternative concepts. Instead of isolated, functionalist machines, the Italian designers Andrea Branzi (b. 1938) and Ettore Sottsass developed concepts in which the various kitchen functions were integrated with the dwelling as a whole.

Fig 19. Andre Branzi, sketch for kitchen concept ‘Sandoline’ for Veneta Cucine, 2008
Fig 20. Andre Branzi, ‘Sandoline’ for Veneta Cucine, 2008

In A Pattern Language, the architect Christopher Alexander (b. 1936) pointed out the huge social downside of the isolated kitchen—originally intended to separate domestic servants from residents but adopted by the lower social classes as a symbol of affluent living. ‘This separation, in a family,’ wrote Alexander, ‘has put the woman in a very difficult position. Indeed, it may not be too much to say that it has helped to generate those circumstances which have made the woman’s position in mid-twentieth century society unworkable and unacceptable. Very simply, the woman who accepted responsibility for making food agreed to isolate herself in the “kitchen”—and subtly then agreed to become a servant.’[21] Nor does Alexander believe that American kitchens with their open plan and connection with the living room offer any solution to the hidden assumption that cooking is a chore while eating is a pleasure. In his view, the conflict can only be resolved when ‘all the members of the family are able to accept, fully, the fact that taking care of themselves by cooking is as much a part of life as taking care of themselves by eating.’[22] His ideal kitchen consists of an array of kitchen furniture and appliances, combined with a comfortable sitting area with a couch and two armchairs that are arranged around a large, round dining table.

Fig 21. Christopher Alexander, sketch for a farmhouse kitchen from A Pattern Language. Towns – Buildings – Construction, New York 1977

The realisation that the small, efficient and isolated kitchen in the private home reduces the social position of women to that of second-class citizen compared to men prompted the German social-democrat and feminist Lily Braun (1865-1916) to argue in favour of central, communal facilities for daily meals. This idea had already been realised in 1859 by the industrialist Jean-Baptiste Godin (1817-1888) in his Familistère social housing complex in the French commune of Guise. The Soviet sotsgorods—new industrial cities built in the context of the first Five Year Plan (1928-1932)—had communal houses containing collective kitchens or shared cooking and eating facilities for an entire district. The collective kitchen did not catch on in Western architecture, unlike the ‘living kitchen’ modelled on American examples, which connects the functions of cooking, eating and living.

Ritual Design

But what role does technology play in the ritual, integrated kitchen, and does it influence our relationship with food? Until the end of the nineteenth century, popular stoves often combined the functions of cooking and space heating. In most households, fires originally combined the functions of light, heat and social contact dissolved into the (all but) invisible fire of the gas flame or the induction cooktop and were replaced by the analogue or digital fire of the open hearth in the living room, as well as by television in the second half of the twentieth century. In 2010, the Italian stove manufacturer Palazzetti introduced the Ornella: a wood-burning stove-cum-cooker that once again visibly combines the functions of cooking and heating.

Fig 22. Ornella, Palazetti, 2010

That the refrigerator, too, can be more than a functional cooling appliance is demonstrated by the wide range of shapes and colours conferred on it in recent decades. The refrigerator quickly became an important status symbol in the home and often acts as a totem pole—in the literal sense of ‘family symbol’—in the domestic ritual of cooking and eating.

Fig 23. The fridge as family totem
Fig 24. Floris Schoonderbeek for Weltevree. ‘Groundfridge’, 2016 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nzdib7zWes&t=32s)

Designers utilise design in an effort to reconcile kitchen technology with the traditional functions, meanings and connotations of the storage, preparation, cooking and eating of food. The ‘Groundfridge’ by the Arnhem design label Weltevree refers both to the centuries-old refrigeration method of underground cellars and to the current imperative to use our sources of energy sustainably.

Fig 25. Dick van Hoff, hand mixer from the object series ‘Tyranny of the plug’ 2003

In 2003, under the title ‘Tyranny of the plug’, the Dutch designer Dick van Hoff (b. 1971) designed prototypes of several kitchen appliances that were driven not by electricity but by hand. Van Hoff’s aim was to remind the user of the pleasure of food preparation that involves more than just pressing the on/off switch.

These examples show that design and design research—in contrast to a lot of technology-driven innovation—focus on the experience of the user and on the creation of a meaningful relationship with objects and with the spatial setting for the preparation and consumption of food.

Critical of Technology

The abovementioned examples offer an implicit or explicit critique of the overly tech-driven, rational kitchen. Despite the promise of physical convenience and time saving, many electrical and digital applications in the kitchen deprive people of the pleasure and knowledge of cooking. What is more, the introduction of electrical and smart digital kitchen appliances is driven more by the vested interests of manufacturers than by users, who do not really want to see their familiar cooking habits replaced by alien appliances. How appropriate, then, was the title of the 2015 exhibition and accompanying publication at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan: Kitchens and Invaders. Sophisticated technological kitchen appliances that, like UFOs invading an alien planet, colonise our kitchens with unfamiliar and sometimes even frightening—because it is invisible—technology, such as electricity and Bluetooth. The introduction of electric ovens, induction cooktops, microwave ovens and the data collection of smart kitchen appliances evoke a sense of insecurity in users. Scientists and critical designers often point to the fact that digital convenience comes at the price of personal data. It was recently revealed that the Google Assistant—which, like Amazon’s Alexa, allows occupants to control domestic appliances with spoken commands—is regularly listened in to by Google employees in the interests of improving the controlling, self-learning algorithm.[23]

Now that it is known that Google employees can hear everything that is said in the private domain of the home, many users will start to wonder for whose benefit those smart appliances were developed. The IoT renders the private domain vulnerable to undesirable invaders. In 2014, hackers demonstrated that the much-hyped NEST smart thermostat could be easily exploited as a barely detectable domestic spy. The hackers, not without a touch of humour, programmed NEST to transmit a message to the occupants: ‘Hello Dave. I know you and Frank were planning to disconnect me and I am afraid that is something I cannot allow to happen.’ The sentence was originally uttered by HAL 9000, the out-of-control computer in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: Space Odyssey.[24]

A similar doomsday scenario is presented by interaction designer Klasien van de Zandschulp and creative technologist Mark Meeuwenoord in ‘Hey Honey,’ a project they made for the ArtEZ Product Design & Interior Architecture research group. The title refers to the first kitchen computer, the Honeywell H316. Their installation is a speculative kitchen set, in which a wine cooler, a saucepan and a cutting board communicate with one another via ultrasound, inaudible to the human ear. The fact that they communicate is visible through the light signals they emit and audible by turning a knob that alters the sound frequency, although all the public hears are indecipherable peeps and whistles. The installation induces the same sense of uneasiness that many people have about smart appliances—the feeling that they are (increasingly) living a life of their own.

Fig 26. Klasien van de Zandschulp, Mark Meeuwenoord, ‘Hey Honey’, part of the ArtEZ research project ‘Designing for Precarious Citizens, 2018-2019

New Food Rituals

For technological utopians obsessed with the idea of the most comfortable and functional kitchen and food preparation possible, the ultimate form is an already mooted factory-produced pill containing all the necessary ingredients for a healthy human body. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, scientists have been predicting that one day a complete meal would consist of no more than a pill.[25] This would spell the end of the kitchen as a physical space. Although such a pill is mainly the stuff of science fiction and children’s stories—think of Willy Wonka’s edible inventions in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—the current experiments with Soylent approach the ideal of the meal-replacement pill. The Soylent drink was developed in 2013 by the software engineer Rob Rhinehart with the aim of supplying the human body with all its nutritional needs without having to spend time, money and energy on their preparation. But as Peter Joosten, a biohacker and willing tester of new products, reports on his website, eating is not merely a question of the most functional form of nourishment. After a few weeks of consuming only the Soylent drink, he was sorely missing the physical sensation of biting, chewing and swallowing that he experiences when eating a normal meal, even though he was feeling fit and healthy.[26] And of course, there is no question any more of companionable cooking and eating together in the living kitchen.

A lot of technology is deployed with the idea of making our lives better, healthier or more sustainable. If the electric kitchen was mainly intended as a time-saver for the housewife, the new digital and bio-technology currently being deployed also seems to be addressing a new social challenge: the sustainable kitchen. With comparable technological utopianism, kitchens are now being devised in which organic waste provides the bio-energy for a highly efficient, closed-loop kitchen.

Fig 27. ‘Microbial Home’ by Philips Design, showed on the Dutch Design Week 2011.

Smart appliances—such as digital cutlery that monitors the number of calories as you eat, or the smart fridge that tells the cook what should be consumed before it goes off—are enlisted to make our storage, cooking and eating behaviour as healthy and sustainable as possible. New cooking methods such as sous vide, whereby vacuum-sealed food is cooked in a water bath at a low temperature for a long time, forms of ‘raw cooking’ in which complete meals are prepared at temperatures below 50 degrees Celsius, or the futuristic possibility of merely inhaling food all help to reduce energy consumption. How, and on what scale, such technology will change our relationship with food is still unclear.

To date, these innovations seem to have their origins in commercial technological fantasies with little consideration for the domestic kitchen ritual. Some attempts have been made to restore the social function of cooking and eating in a highly individualised society. For example, there has been research into telematic dinners that enable physically separated individuals to eat together in a virtual space.[27]

It is not inconceivable that designers will come up with concepts for a telematic kitchen where people can cook together virtually.[28] But it doesn’t have to be as complicated as that, as a group of second-year Product Design students at ArtEZ have shown. They designed a number of simple kitchen utensils that only work when they are used by two people.

Fig 28, 29 & 30. Jueun Seo, Salim Sanei, Roos Prenger, Joanna Yu (students BA ArtEZ Product
Design), ‘Kitchen Tools’, 2019.

Foreign students were the ones who missed the familiar ritual kitchen of their home countries the most. Because when all’s said and done, the kitchen is not an optimal cooking workspace from which human beings are banned, but a social, ritual meeting place for people who want to get to know one another better by cooking and eating together.


Bibliography

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  • Eveleth, Rose, ‘Why the “Kitchen of the Future” Always Fails Us.’ Eater, September 2015. https://www.eater.com/2015/9/15/9326775/the-kitchen-of-the-future-has-failed-us.

  • Exh. cat., Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2010.

  • Hoekstra, Maarten J., Huis, Tuin en Keuken. Wonen in Woorden door de Eeuwen Heen. Amsterdam/Antwerpen, Uitgeverij Atlas, 2009.

  • Mazé, Ramia, ‘Designing and the Future: Temporal Politics of “Making a Difference”.’ In Design Anthropological Futures, edited by Rachel Charlotte Smith, et. al. London/Oxford/New York/New Delhi/Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

  • Mielke, Rita, De Keuken. Geschiedenis, Cultuur, Design. Berlin/Hilversum: Feierabend Verlag, 2004.

  • Minto, Pietro, ‘The Kitchen as a Place of Accidents; the Internet Connection of Commons and Daily Objects; How Electrical Appliances make Crimes easier to Commit.’ In exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders, 145-157. Milan, Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015.

  • Montfort, Nick, The Future. Cambridge/Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2017.

  • ‘On the construction of Kitchen Fireplaces and Kitchen Utensils’ (1874). In The Complete Works of Count Rumford, Vol. 3, Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

  • Rijk, Timo de, Het Elektrische Huis. Vormgeving en Acceptatie van Elektrische Huishoudelijke Apparaten in Nederland. Rotterdam, Uitgeverij 010, 1998.

  • Sarti, Raffaella, Thuis in Europa. Wonen, Eten en Kleden in Europa van 1500 tot 1800, Rotterdam: Ad. Donker, 2004.

  • Scott Holliday, Laura. 2001. “Kitchen Technologies: Promises and Alibis, 1944-1966”, Camera Obscura: Feminism Culture and Media Studies, 16(2 47), pp. 79-131.

  • Spence, Charles, and Piqueras-Fiszman, Betina, The Perfect Meal. The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014.

Footnotes

 

[1] Maarten J. Hoekstra, Huis, Tuin en Keuken. Wonen in Woorden door de Eeuwen Heen (Amsterdam/Antwerpen, Uitgeverij Atlas, 2009), p. 39.

[2] Ramia Mazé, ‘Designing and the Future: Temporal Politics of “Making a Difference”,’ in Design Anthropological Futures, ed. Rachel Charlotte Smith, et. al. (London/Oxford/New York/New Delhi/Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), p. 40.

[3] Mazé 2016, p. 40.

[4] Raffaella Sarti, Thuis in Europa. Wonen, Eten en Kleden in Europa van 1500 tot 1800 (Rotterdam: Ad. Donker, 2004), pp. 128-130.

[5] Patrizia Scarzella, ‘Sensitive Hearings: Kitchen Sounds,’ In: exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders, 131-143 (Milan: Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015), p. 137.

[6] ‘On the construction of Kitchen Fireplaces and Kitchen Utensils’ (1874), in The Complete Works of Count Rumford, Vol. 3 (Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences), pp. 167-190.

[7] Timo de Rijk, Het Elektrische Huis. Vormgeving en Acceptatie van Elektrische Huishoudelijke Apparaten in Nederland (Rotterdam, Uitgeverij 010, 1998), p. 11.

[8] Marco De Santi, ‘Electric House (Casa Elettrica),’ in exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders (Milan: Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015).

[9] Bill Bryson, Een Huis Vol. Een Geïllustreerde Geschiedenis van het Dagelijks Leven [At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2011] (Amsterdam, Atlas Contact, 2013), p. 85-107.

[10] Bryson 2013, pp. 85-107; Giovanni Paolini, ‘Miracle Kitchens,’ in exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders, 83-93 (Milan: Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015).

[11] Rita Mielke, De Keuken. Geschiedenis, Cultuur, Design (Berlin/Hilversum: Feierabend Verlag, 2004), p. 25.

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honeywell 316

[13] Eveleth, Rose, ‘Why the “Kitchen of the Future” Always Fails Us.’ Eater, September 2015. https://www.eater.com/2015/9/15/9326775/the-kitchen-of-the-future-has-failed-us; and Nick Montfort, The Future (Cambridge/Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2017), pp. 7-15.

[14] Kim Severson, ‘Kitchen of the Future: Smart and Fast but Not Much Fun,’ New York Times, 13 October 2017. www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/dining/smart-kitchen-future.html.

[15] The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term used for the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.

[16] https://www.designboom.com/design/tron-designs-corian/.

[17] Scarzella 2015, p. 137

[18] Severson 2017.

[19] Laura Scott Holliday, ‘Kitchen Technologies: Promises and Alibis, 1944-1966,’ Camera Obscura: Feminism Culture and Media Studies 16, issue 2 (47) (2001): pp. 79-131.

[20] Exh. cat., Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2010).

[21] Christopher Alexander et al., A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 661-662.

[22] Alexander 1977, p. 662.

[23] Marc Hijink, ‘Hey Google, nu even niet meeluisteren,’ nrc.nl, 11 July 2019. www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2019/07/11/hey-google-nu-even-niet-meeluisteren-a3966849.

[24] Pietro Minto, ‘The Kitchen as a Place of Accidents; the Internet Connection of Commons and Daily Objects; How Electrical Appliances make Crimes easier to Commit,’ in exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders, 145-157 (Milan: Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015).

[25] Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, The Perfect Meal. The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014), pp. 341-345.

[26] www.projectleven.nl/soylent-nederland

[27] Spence and Piqueras-Fiszman 2014

[28] While writing this article, I could not have foreseen that just a few months later, as a result of the COVID-19 virus, and the ensuing worldwide lockdown during which people were not permitted to visit one another, many would resort to collective online cooking and dining.



Jeroen van den Eijnde

Dr. Jeroen van den Eijnde was trained as product designer at ArtEZ University of the Arts and as a design historian at Leiden University. He holds a PhD on theory and ideology in Dutch design education. He has published articles and books related to the historical and current aspects of design education. Since 2016, he has been responsible for the professorship Product Design & Interior Architecture at ArtEZ. In cooperation with the ArtEZ Fashion Professorship, he runs the expertise centre ArtEZ Future Makers, which initiates design-driven innovation and research projects that contribute to a sustainable society.

Bibliography

  • Alexander, Christopher, et al., A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

  • Bryson, Bill, Een Huis Vol. Een Geïllustreerde Geschiedenis van het Dagelijks Leven [At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2011]. Amsterdam, Atlas Contact, 2013.

  • Eveleth, Rose, ‘Why the “Kitchen of the Future” Always Fails Us.’ Eater, September 2015. https://www.eater.com/2015/9/15/9326775/the-kitchen-of-the-future-has-failed-us.

  • Exh. cat., Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2010.

  • Hoekstra, Maarten J., Huis, Tuin en Keuken. Wonen in Woorden door de Eeuwen Heen. Amsterdam/Antwerpen, Uitgeverij Atlas, 2009.

  • Mazé, Ramia, ‘Designing and the Future: Temporal Politics of “Making a Difference”.’ In Design Anthropological Futures, edited by Rachel Charlotte Smith, et. al. London/Oxford/New York/New Delhi/Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

  • Mielke, Rita, De Keuken. Geschiedenis, Cultuur, Design. Berlin/Hilversum: Feierabend Verlag, 2004.

  • Minto, Pietro, ‘The Kitchen as a Place of Accidents; the Internet Connection of Commons and Daily Objects; How Electrical Appliances make Crimes easier to Commit.’ In exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders, 145-157. Milan, Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015.

  • Montfort, Nick, The Future. Cambridge/Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2017.

  • ‘On the construction of Kitchen Fireplaces and Kitchen Utensils’ (1874). In The Complete Works of Count Rumford, Vol. 3, Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

  • Rijk, Timo de, Het Elektrische Huis. Vormgeving en Acceptatie van Elektrische Huishoudelijke Apparaten in Nederland. Rotterdam, Uitgeverij 010, 1998.

  • Sarti, Raffaella, Thuis in Europa. Wonen, Eten en Kleden in Europa van 1500 tot 1800, Rotterdam: Ad. Donker, 2004.

  • Scott Holliday, Laura. 2001. “Kitchen Technologies: Promises and Alibis, 1944-1966”, Camera Obscura: Feminism Culture and Media Studies, 16(2 47), pp. 79-131.

  • Spence, Charles, and Piqueras-Fiszman, Betina, The Perfect Meal. The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014.

 

Footnotes

 

[1] Maarten J. Hoekstra, Huis, Tuin en Keuken. Wonen in Woorden door de Eeuwen Heen (Amsterdam/Antwerpen, Uitgeverij Atlas, 2009), p. 39.

[2] Ramia Mazé, ‘Designing and the Future: Temporal Politics of “Making a Difference”,’ in Design Anthropological Futures, ed. Rachel Charlotte Smith, et. al. (London/Oxford/New York/New Delhi/Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), p. 40.

[3] Mazé 2016, p. 40.

[4] Raffaella Sarti, Thuis in Europa. Wonen, Eten en Kleden in Europa van 1500 tot 1800 (Rotterdam: Ad. Donker, 2004), pp. 128-130.

[5] Patrizia Scarzella, ‘Sensitive Hearings: Kitchen Sounds,’ In: exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders, 131-143 (Milan: Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015), p. 137.

[6] ‘On the construction of Kitchen Fireplaces and Kitchen Utensils’ (1874), in The Complete Works of Count Rumford, Vol. 3 (Boston: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences), pp. 167-190.

[7] Timo de Rijk, Het Elektrische Huis. Vormgeving en Acceptatie van Elektrische Huishoudelijke Apparaten in Nederland (Rotterdam, Uitgeverij 010, 1998), p. 11.

[8] Marco De Santi, ‘Electric House (Casa Elettrica),’ in exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders (Milan: Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015).

[9] Bill Bryson, Een Huis Vol. Een Geïllustreerde Geschiedenis van het Dagelijks Leven [At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2011] (Amsterdam, Atlas Contact, 2013), p. 85-107.

[10] Bryson 2013, pp. 85-107; Giovanni Paolini, ‘Miracle Kitchens,’ in exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders, 83-93 (Milan: Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015).

[11] Rita Mielke, De Keuken. Geschiedenis, Cultuur, Design (Berlin/Hilversum: Feierabend Verlag, 2004), p. 25.

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honeywell 316

[13] Eveleth, Rose, ‘Why the “Kitchen of the Future” Always Fails Us.’ Eater, September 2015. https://www.eater.com/2015/9/15/9326775/the-kitchen-of-the-future-has-failed-us; and Nick Montfort, The Future (Cambridge/Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2017), pp. 7-15.

[14] Kim Severson, ‘Kitchen of the Future: Smart and Fast but Not Much Fun,’ New York Times, 13 October 2017. www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/dining/smart-kitchen-future.html.

[15] The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term used for the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.

[16] https://www.designboom.com/design/tron-designs-corian/.

[17] Scarzella 2015, p. 137

[18] Severson 2017.

[19] Laura Scott Holliday, ‘Kitchen Technologies: Promises and Alibis, 1944-1966,’ Camera Obscura: Feminism Culture and Media Studies 16, issue 2 (47) (2001): pp. 79-131.

[20] Exh. cat., Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2010).

[21] Christopher Alexander et al., A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 661-662.

[22] Alexander 1977, p. 662.

[23] Marc Hijink, ‘Hey Google, nu even niet meeluisteren,’ nrc.nl, 11 July 2019. www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2019/07/11/hey-google-nu-even-niet-meeluisteren-a3966849.

[24] Pietro Minto, ‘The Kitchen as a Place of Accidents; the Internet Connection of Commons and Daily Objects; How Electrical Appliances make Crimes easier to Commit,’ in exh. cat. Kitchens & Invaders, 145-157 (Milan: Triennale Design Museum Milan, 2015).

[25] Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, The Perfect Meal. The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014), pp. 341-345.

[26] www.projectleven.nl/soylent-nederland

[27] Spence and Piqueras-Fiszman 2014

[28] While writing this article, I could not have foreseen that just a few months later, as a result of the COVID-19 virus, and the ensuing worldwide lockdown during which people were not permitted to visit one another, many would resort to collective online cooking and dining.