It seems like a man’s world out there but it was the Austrian Lady architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky in 1926 who designed one of the first kitchens by streamlining the sequence of work and using the space most effectively. Sadly, only few of the original kitchens called “Frankfurter Kueche” could be preserved; like most of the innovative ideas, it was ahead of its time and way beyond the liking and especially the disliking, of the users. The result was the habit of cooking inside the living room prevailed against good design. Decades later, every kitchen designer started taking care of smooth flow of processes and proper ergonomics as initiated by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s “Frankfurter Kueche”.
A lot of running in a kitchen before 1926
While planning a kitchen, one needs to follow certain guidelines.
The easiest way is to divide the main tasks such as:
- Storing of food, pots and pans, cutlery and crockery,
- Cleaning and preparing ingredients,
- Cooking, grilling, steaming and baking of all the delicious meals
and easy to neglect but truly necessary:
- Dish washing
- Waste management and cleaning
An important principle in kitchen design is the Ergonomics. Take for example, the height of the tabletop.
The Swiss Norm (before it was forced to change into European Norm) was 90 cm. As per the EU norm it came down to 85 cm, – bad luck for all the 6 feet plus people; luckily it was updated recently and raised to 91 cm. Even at 91 cm height, it is too low. Take for instance, the modular kitchen which my beautiful wife and I have to use at home; the tabletop has a height of 85 cm/ 34 inches. The sink has a depth of approx. 30 cm/ 12 inches. The bottom of it is 55 cm or 22 inches, which is actually my knee height. If you are cleaning dishes at the bottom of a sink, the result is a very unpleasant body posture causing back pain and in my case an even more lesser motivation to clean the dishes!
Another important issue is to use an easy to maintain type of surface finishes. Preferable is the natural stone for the countertop. I never understood the logic of using artificial products such as laminates or composite materials, some of them come even at a higher cost, when there is such timeless beauty of polished natural stone. Besides, the stone is heat resistant! A 40 mm thick natural stone slab is unbeatable when it comes to placing hot pots and pans on it.
Isn’t it amazing how the attitude towards kitchen and cooking has changed today? It used to be a place of unpopular struggle, a place of smell, smoke and steam; definitely with the total absence of males in it. And now, it can be a gourmet hot spot (literally) for cooking and dining with friends. Men who like to buy gadgets can relish buying kitchen tools for each and every job (provided there are enough power points to suit them all). In short, kitchen has a become a place of so much of fun and interaction today!
Shown are samples of kitchens designed by organic Arts+Architecture
Do you remember the movies where kitchen was the centre stage leaving amazing memories, like the mysterious one in “The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover”, or the kitchen scene when Brad Pitt had his first encounter with peanut butter in “Meet Joe Black”, or the dinosaurs hunting kids inside (thankfully) large enough kitchen in “Jurrasic Park”? Forget the disgusting Gremlins, the rat cum chef in “Ratatouille” and zap straight to the gleaming “Masterchef” kitchen!
Those kinds of commercial and professional kitchens need more attention to designing and detailing than just ergonomics. Besides the chefs, simply a lot more people will be working there. There will be chefs’ assistants for preparing, plating and service. There will also be waiters picking up the ordered dishes, and others coming back with dirty plates etc. Main principle to watch out for is to not let them cross their paths. Proper ventilation and filters guarantee a healthy workplace and avoid problems with the authorities from the environment department.
The word environment brings me back to the hot and humid climate of our beloved Goa. I would prefer a kitchen built with cuddapah stone for the shelves and vertical partitions. A plinth of 10 cm for cupboards and cabinets makes cleaning easy. If you want to bring more chic into your kitchen, use some interesting finishes for shutters and countertop. I never was a friend of the pull-out cupboards with their wire frame baskets. The moment you try to dismantle it to reach the dust and dirt collecting in the hollow spaces, you won’t be so sure of the saying that “new broom sweeps always better”.
On a personal level, I am cooking for the last 40 years and I always felt cooking is like practising a meditation. My profession as an architect keeps me involved with lots of theoretical stuff, but cutting vegetables with real knives helps me touch base with reality!
I started the article with a female colleague and her “Frankfurter Kueche”, but I want to end it with a famous male, Jamie Oliver, my favourite chef. In his famous 30 minutes meals (www.jamieoliver.com) there is no space for words like, “I use readymade food because I don’t have the time to cook a proper meal …”
Headdesigner at oAA