Our Lives and the Design of the Kitchen

Exploring how kitchen design shapes women’s and the family life (and how men strategically avoided to be expected to spend time there).

There are a number of topics I don’t research systematically but that come up regularly during my readings. I am trying a new post category, for now called Bites of Reading. These posts collects quotes or excerpts from different sources about a particular topic.

The kitchen as a space for learning

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « Friedrich Accum 1821 Culinary Chemistry »

A discourse of purity had underpinned the opening of Freidrich Accum’s 1821 Culinary Chemistry, which convinced readers that by preparing meals they were already chemists: ‘the art of preparing good and wholesome food is, undoubtedly, a branch of chemistry; the kitchen is a chemical laboratory’. As with the earlier ‘tea lecture’, the identification of cookery and chemistry was just the beginning of the educational process: extending one’s knowledge through learning more precise details about these connections would provide an enhanced perspective on the world, as well as sparing waste and labour, and providing more nutritious food.
– Melanie Keene, Object lessons: sensory science education 1830-1870, p.115

The kitchen as a space of labor

Il s’agit donc sans doute, à travers la création d’un enseignement ménager, de faire concurrence aux offres de travail à l’usine, tant pour les esclaves nouvellement affranchies que pour les femmes des classes populaires. Le travail domestique est alors “valorisé” en étant assimilé à celui d’un ouvrier : en le mécanisant, en le standardisant, en en définissant précisément les règles et les horaires, en le séparant du lieu de résidence.
– Catherine Clarisse, Cuisine: Recettes d’architecture, p.37. About the separation of the kitchen from the living areas in the 19th century, and how the kitchen table and chairs disappeared during the 20th century.

“The status and visibility of domestic work changed during the twentieth century. The mechanization of domestic tasks, whereby the middle classes replaced servants and the working classes considerably reduced heavy labour, made domestic work more respectable. The kitchen is compared to a science laboratory and kitchen equipment has become something to show off.
– Matrix, Making Space: Women and the Environment, p.56

We resolutely polish the Early American cabinets that hide the advanced electronic machines in our kitchens and resolutely believe that we will escape the horrors of modernity as soon as we step under the lintels of our front doors. We are thus victims of a form of cultural obfuscation, for in reality kitchens are as much a locus for industrialized work as factories and coal mines are, and washing machines and microwave ovens are as much a product of industrialization as are automobiles and pocket calculators.
– Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave

THE KITCHEN AS A SPACE designed by women

[Gilbreth] began to think about areas of industry in which being a woman and a mother might be an asset rather than a liability. […] Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey write of their mother: “If the only way to enter a man’s field was through the kitchen door, that’s the way she’d enter … Mother planned, on paper, an efficiency-type kitchenette of the kind used today in good many apartments. Under her arrangement, a person could mix a cake, put it in the oven, and do the dishes, without taking more than a couple dozen steps.” […] Though her biographer Jane Lancaster points out that Gilbreth seemed little interested in getting other women out of the kitchen, when her daughter Ernestine married Charles Everett Carey in 1930 and asked her mother for aa kitchen design as a wedding present, Lillian created one she branded the Teamwork Kitchen, with a butcher’s apron for Carey and cupboards engineered for his greater-than-six-foot height. Gilbreth saw an opportunity where others did not, turning sexism to her advantage. Even while Frank was alive the Gilbreth had seen the home as a site of labor, and they applied four critical eyes to repetitive everyday tasks […] [but] it wasn’t until Lillian was faced with the possibility of a world without work outside the home that she turned her research within those walls-and designed her own escape hatch.
– Alexandra Lange, The Design of Childhood, introduction

Un tel sujet de recherche me donna tout d’abord le sentiment d’être “renvoyée aux fourneaux”. Ma formation d’architecte me faisait assimiler une étude de cuisines à une analyse ergonomique et fonctionnelle des lieux, et il me semblait que tout avait été fait à ce sujet depuis longtemps.
– Catherine Clarisse, Cuisine: Recettes d’architecture, p.16

Le Corbusier wantED women in the kitchen, because it makes their husbands happy

La femme sera heureuse si son mari est heureux. Le sourire des femmes est le don des dieux. Et une cuisine bien faite vaut la paix au foyer. Alors faites de votre cuisine le lieu du sourire féminin ! Et que ce sourire rayonne de la cuisine sur l’homme et les enfants présents autour de ce sourire.
– Le Corbusier, Poser la question de l’habitat moderne c’est poser le problème de l’art de vivre aujourd’hui. Document préparatoire au CIAM 9 d’Aix en Provence, destiné à présenter l’Unité d’habitation de Marseille, écrit à Chandigarh en mai 1953. Cité par Catherine Clarisse in Cuisine: Recettes d’architecture, p.18

The accessible kitchen

In 1948, Lilian Gilbreth presents the Heart Kitchen, designed to be accessible to women with heart disease. The model was subsequently exhibited at the Rusk Institute. A history recounted by Barbara Penner and by Bess Williamson in Accessible America (2016).

The kitchen of the future

The ‘house of tomorrow’ is a vision perpetually deferred and one that tells us more about the preoccupations of the time than it does about the designs of the future.
– Genevieve Bell and Jofish Kaye, Designing technology for domestic spaces: A Kitchen Manifesto

Domestic technology has been referred to aptly as the “Cinderella” technology (Cockburn, 1997) – it simply does not get the creative urges of the male technology designers going (though hopefully the smart home may change that). Homes are still maintained largely by women’s unpaid work but women have long been disenfranchised from the development of the domestic technology they use, playing little or no part in the design process which generally views them as passive consumers. It would be an over simplification to see the whole neglect of domestic technology in male versus female terms […]. In fact, of course,research into domestic technology provides a greater opportunity to affect people’s lifestyle and quality of life than research into many other technologies. In the developed world we are nearly all stakeholders in domestic technology and, to most of us, the home is a very important place.
– Frances K. Aldrich, Smart Homes: Past, Present and Future

[Honeywell’s] Kitchen Computer created a huge amount of publicity for Neiman Marcus and, because of its price, reinforced the position of the company as an exclusive retailer to the upper classes. It also reinforced popular cultural representations of the domestic kitchen as the focus of family interactions with technology in the home, in a variety of fora. In addition, it inspired those working at the forefront of computer developments to realize that, despite the limitations of technology at the time, there was real value in seriously considering a domestic market for computer product.
– Paul Atkinson, The Curious Case of the Kitchen Computer: Products and Non-Products in Design History

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