By J. Gomez, K. Nakamura, and A. White
Materials, in other words, matter, is what our universe is comprised of. Over time, people learned how to control and reconstruct matter to suit various needs and functions in daily life. For instance, to create an oven we combined gas/electricity with metal to create heat used for cooking. The kitchen, being one of the centripetal sites of human activity, has been a source of consistent invention throughout its history. The development of the kitchen first started by the use of fire and water, moving on to wood, stone, eventually leading to copper, iron, and reaching to the modern era by the use of aluminum and plastic. Each innovation opened people up to new uses and designs of the kitchen. What will we come up with next?
The Kitchen demands the most of out its materials. There is no other place in the home where materials can be juxtaposed to withstand abuse and be beautiful at the same time. Extreme heat and grease from the oven and cook top, water splashing from the faucet onto the backsplash and countertop, slamming and scratching of cabinets and floor surfaces are all factors which put materials in the kitchen to work. This challenge, coupled with the variety of material options available allows an opportunity for designers to transform a once utilitarian space into a more ambiguous and visually pleasing environment – a laboratory for living.
Past: Why certain materials were used at certain points in history
When considering how kitchens will develop in the future, what is important to consider is why certain elements of the kitchen developed in certain ways. Key terms to consider here are how people’s limitations and expectations connect to what is essential or desirable.
Elements essential to a kitchen is dependent on the environmental, technological, and functional limitations of human beings at a given time and place. Elements desirable to a kitchen is dependent on the perceived expectation of people at a given time and place.
With the turn of the 20th century, ceramic tile walls, floors and ceilings were promoted as a way to bring out the hygienic features of the modern bathroom into the kitchen. (from “The Bathroom, the Kitchen and the Aesthetics of Waste – Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller) In turn, manufacturers and designers have turned to a variety of sources both man-made and natural to provide a safe and hygienic Kitchen interior. Most commonly used sources include:
– Foil & Vinyl
– MDF (Medium Density Fiber Board)
– MFC (Melamine Faced Chipboard)
– Corian (a composite solid surface)
– Stainless Steel
For an example of how limitations and expectations connect to what is essential versus desirable, let’s take a look at a part of the kitchen that everyone is familiar with: countertops. A work surface has been part of kitchens since they were first made part of human residences. While in the past they were much smaller because of human limitations and today they have grown larger because of our expectations, their essential function has remained the same. With that being said, in large homes of America’s suburbs it is not uncommon for people to spend $50,000 to $100,000 on a kitchen as an investment and a bulk of that return is seen from installing beautiful counters.
Counters allow freedom for people when constructing a kitchen. While appliances and cabinetry usually comes in standard sizes and finishes, counter tops allow for an individual’s desires to be displayed because they are easily customizable. For example, mahogany finish has only so many variations, while with stone, no two will exactly match—this includes two common counter top materials: granite and marble. The same can be said for soapstone, corian, ceramic and concrete. Because of the customization, expensive countertops are more desirable and expensive kitchens are expected to have them.
Today and in the future as our limitations decrease, our expectations and desires will change and this will further impact what is considered to be essential. For example, when soap was invented, it was not expected to be antibacterial because humans were limited in engineering the synthetic agent triclosan. Now, that it’s widely available and easily added to our hand soaps, it is expected and essential to have in every hand soap on the market. The same goes for counters. The kitchen can be considered one of the most bacteria-filled rooms in the house. As this is taken into consideration, counter tops are always made to be smooth surfaces in order to keep them clean. As we continue to innovate new technologies, we will create materials such as synthetic stone that will be engineered to be antimicrobial/bacterial.
Present: Breaking the preconception
Is this a kitchen? Opinions may vary. However, one can say that a kitchen can maintain its integrity as a kitchen as long as one can perform the anticipated functions. A kitchen’s primary function may include storing, cutting, and heating of food. Activities such as socializing, relaxing, and studying may follow. As long as these functions are capable of being performed, not even the basic material is essential.
For instance, the floor. Is a floor essential to a kitchen?
The logical answer is “Yes, of course”. This is because since the moment life appeared on Earth, all of its functions have been dictated according to the law of gravity. However, upon certain preconditions not even a floor may be necessary. For instance, at the International Space Station. Fig.3 is a model of Michael Kalil’s Space Station Habitat Module, built in collaboration with NASA.1 At this kitchen, there is no floor. All surfaces are a wall.
Fig. 4 is a kitchen/dining space at the International Space Station. There is no conception of the floor, since everything is a wall surface when gravity to a specific direction is not present.
That seems to be the key. What is essential to a kitchen is controlled by our limitations, and what is desirable is determined by our expectations. Upon certain conditions, even a material fundamental as the floor may not be necessary.
What will we need in a kitchen in the future, and what will we want to add or subtract from it? The near future seems to be heading towards the ‘diminishing’ of the kitchen, where less and less trace of its activity is preferable. In contemporary kitchen all functions are automated or simplified so that the user of the kitchen can pay less and less time and energy to perform its functions. The ‘diminishing’ also comes in the form of lowering ecological footprint, which can be observed by the increase of ‘green’ products over the years.
The reason for this trend seems to be based on the presumption that there is a shortage of time and resource; ‘time’ particularly for the user, and ‘resources’ referring to the lifecycle cost of each material used to construct, as well as operate a kitchen.
Now more than ever, designers are looking back to traditional means and methods to make our kitchens more practical, functional, and low-maintenance. Coupled with an emphasis on environmentally sustainable design practices, we are now taking material selection decisions all the way back to the basics – re-examining the whole manufacturing process – from raw materials selection, to harvesting and processing these materials, to the energy consumption required and expelled to create them – all of this is crucial to the execution of the design.
Traditional Revamped Materials
Kohler has a line of cast iron sinks that puts the material to good use. Guaranteed to sustain cracks, chips or burns, Wheatland by Kohler comes in 16 color ways and is made 93% recycled and reclaimed content.
Hand-Made Wide-Plank Flooring
Well known flooring company Carlisle now has a line of hardwood flooring reminiscent of that centuries old style of solidly built floors. These have a distinct variety of hand-made finish options without the hassle of actually finishing the floor after its laid. Their woods are locally sourced and also follow strict Forest Stewardship Guidelines.
New and Innovative
One Pallet Kitchen
One Pallet Kitchen is a modular, stackable kitchen made of woodchips and natural resin by Frank Winnubst + Steie Van Vugt from Netherlands. As explained by the designers on Design Boom,
“Most kitchens are made from cheap pressed wood (chipboard) and laminate. Our aim is to show the quality of pressed wood by using the material as a three dimensional shape. This durable kitchen is easy to assemble requiring no glue or screws. Our design process is driven by function, where the function becomes the construction. one pallet kitchen’s stackable nature is a flexible kitchen for the flexible Lifestyle of the future. “
Imagine your kitchen appliances being powered by moss. Based on biophotovoltaic (BPV) research conducted by Cambridge University, this prototype uses moss and algae to produce energy on a micro level. BPV is a new renewable technology which within the next 10 years may be as conventional as the bio-fuels known today.
“The appeal of BPVs lies in their ability to harness a natural process that takes place all around us. Photosynthesis occurs when plants employ energy from sunlight in order to convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into nutrient organic compounds which help them to grow.
During photosynthesis, the moss releases some of these organic compounds into the soil which contains symbiotic bacteria which break down the compounds and liberate by-products that include electrons. The proposal of the Cambridge University team is to capture these electrons in order to produce electricity.”
The Moss Table may be the next piece of countertop surface integrated into our kitchen surfaces to power our appliances, or even our lights.
Listing of more sustainable kitchen materials that are currently being innovated:
Paper is a one hundred percent post-consumer recycled paper that is fused together by heat. It is a rigid, dense and heat resistant material that may also be used for walls and furniture. Visit www.paperstoneproducts.com/information-landing.php for more information.
IceStone is a synthetic material that is made of concrete and recycled glass. It is a life cycle and cradle-to-cradle materials which may be appealing to those seeking LEED certification. www.icestone.biz/sustainability/triple-bottom-line
Countertops may also see integration of smart technologies right on their surfaces.
This is a material that is made from the bark of Cork Oak along with recycled rubber. It is also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. http://capricork.com/
Other Possibilities to a Kitchen’s Future
The mainstream to a kitchen’s future appears to be moving towards lowering its cost towards the user as well as the environment. For this current to be altered, the limitation factors such as time and resources will have to be reduced for a fundamental change to occur. In addition, people will have to answer a question for themselves at that point. The question is, “If factors such as time and resource are not a problem, will people want to cook in a kitchen?” If limitations of our time and resources are resolved, and technology advances far more than today, will our expectation towards the kitchen be to further diminish it to the level where everything is automated, as in the first below photo, or will we use technology to give us time to cook more freely like the second image? It will be an interesting change to observe and take part in as designers.
“Morris|Sato Studio.” Morris|Sato Studio. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.morrissato.com/michael_kalil.htm>.