Kitchen of the Future


I wonder about the various settings and contexts used to re-imagine what the world might be like in the future. Often times those contexts, objects, environments are associated with what wealthy people would like for themselves in order to drive sales of new stuff. This is understandable in a mostly capitalist world, of course.

Often times one finds rather naive, un-encumbers, un-troubled extrapolations of desires or behaviors for and within these spaces of human endeavor (the car, the bathroom, the workspace/place, the kitchen) based on somewhat awkward and thin assumptions about what the world will be like, and what people want from these spaces. The kitchen is such a place where sometimes wacky ideas about the evolution of behaviors in these spaces tips into the absurd — like 3D printed food in a world where people seem to be enjoying the visceral world of preparation and chopping and stewing and all that. The kitchen is a place where just making simple things just a little bit better seems the best path toward the near future — such as no microwave nagging beeps; refrigerators that are smart enough to either be told (with a *button, not a context sensor) that, yes..the door is open..its open because I’m loading the goddamn need to beep at me). Big change — those things should be consistent with the real, global, epic-scale challenges to living in the near future world — which have nothing to do with a refrigerator that lets you know you need more damn milk. I mean..really? Why does that get to be the enginerds scenario for a better kitchen?


I recently found this Ikea’s Kitchen of the Future and it made me think of a number of topics related to imagining the future. Firstly, it is worth considering why the typical western kitchen becomes the subject for future fictioning.

Why imagine the future of the kitchen, practically thinking? Is this going to save the world from itself? Well — perhaps it could and that actually would be a fantastic design project — reconsider the kitchen in light of (and then list your parameters having to do with ecological collapse/civil liberty infractions/pro-democracy uprising/emergency water rationing/$12 a gallon heating fuel/&c.)

But, as for the kitchen that Ikea imagines, I suppose there are a number of reasons why the kitchen is a seductive setting for setting the components of the future. These probably have to do with perhaps the fact that the kitchen in the West is quite modular and therefore subject to study of the various individual components — refrigerator, cabinets, dishwasher, sink, stove, oven, etc. The kitchen also has a history of reconsideration in this regard if you consider things such as the Frankfurt Kitchen. Such was a purposeful, design-principle led modernization in the height of, you know — modernism. It was designed to be as efficient as possible in a small space using very modern “workflow study” techniques. This meant that it was designed for specific flows of activity, like a factory in a way.

This idea of every-increasing efficiency would be consistent with the Jetson’s kitchen from the old fantastic cartoon. Maximum efficiency — just select what you would like using a physical paper punch-card and it gets issued from the machine (complete with consistently type-faced names for the items.)

In my anecdotal experience and without any exhaustive survey or study — it seems to me that, despite predictions there is quite a move back towards more “artisinal” (*shudder) kitchen activities. Rather than anything indicating that machines will 3D print our food, the craft of cooking appears to be alive and well as indicated by such things as celebrity chef restaurants, a never ending stream of cooking shows on television, various food movements/philosophies that desire a deeper, conscientious connection to the food chain (where has the veggie/beast come from? how was it fertilized/fed?), &c.

I think this example of the Ikea kitchen also embodies the challenges of future-fying anything well. Too much fetish of the object and very specific, naive and — old fashioned — ideas about what people want in the future. ((Isn’t that ironic.))

Why do I blog this? I’m trying to tap into the various parameters by which the future is really crappily represented in models and speculations and scenarios. I think one component of this has to do with an over-emphasis on the artifcats themselves — making faster things, or smaller things, or more silver-y or white things, or 3D food printers because, like..3D and printing are a Wired Magazine meme, or other poorly considered reasons. ((Meanwhile, I would be satisfied with making whoever invented the microwave beep-beep-beep-beep to indicate the timer has expired to have to listen to beeping perpetuity..until their earballs explode.)) I understand that the Ikea thing is more marketing puff than proper, considered design and it drives me nuts that entities with the ability to bring about real, substantive change in the world bother to spend their money with this crap that’ll just be torn down after the annual investors meeting or the stupid trade show is over. While the kitchen may not be terribly exciting to me specifically (perhaps because of these speculations that ruin the excitement of really making a better more habitable future) everyone has to eat, and those eat’ns need to be prepared — and finding new ways to do that preparation in the near future should be taken seriously without pandering to the whims of deliriously rich people who can afford to redo their kitchen every other year. There should be a kind of agency or consultancy that looks at this sort of thing seriously and re-imagines the near future of the kitchen using principle-led design and maybe even design fiction techniques.
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Design Fiction Chronicles: The Stability of Food Futures

Three ways observed recently to delivery food, in some sort of service stack hierarchy. Which got me thinking about food futures, generally. First, a sample of present food service and presentation protocols as depicted above.

First, catered in a way that provides the opportunity to pick and choose based on inspecting the available items.

Next, inspecting the descriptions of available items on a paper menu, that also conveniently serves two additional functions — as a place mat to sop up drinks spills and food that does not quite make it to the mouth (a distinct possibility when consuming noodle-y things with a fork). Second, it also serves as a marking pad with a number of unique attributes: to indicate when an ordering process has begun (the pink star) and when the meal is closed out and the check has been requested (the blue star); to indicate what is not available currently (item number written on the menu-mat and drawn when a “buster” mark — a circle with a line through it) which appears under my plate for item number 43 which, sadly, was what I wanted to eat; the menu-mat is also where one’s ordered items are written down in (to me) a barely legible set of chicken-scratches (upper right.)

Third, traditional, serif’d menu in a sit-down configuration, heavily serviced by waitstaff in a semi-formal, banquet setting. You wait for what has been determined to be your meal ahead of time. Interestingly, the young woman sitting next to me had to do a bit of dinner order off-roading, convincing the waitstaff to bring her the vegetarian plate. When you try and steer a pre-determined “on-the-rails” dinner service a bit off the tracks, things start grinding gears. This was possible to see in this context where the wiring had to be re-routed in various ways to accommodate this unexpected but relatively minor alteration to plans. (To those of you who have asked, the haggis was quite good, perhaps the formality of the context added something to an experience I genuinely feared. I thought quite seriously of deploying Mike Lewinsky’s powerful “Kosher Defense” which he painstakingly taught me after his experiences in China with the Rabbit Head appetizer. — I don’t think Mike’s China meal was in anyway a metaphor, btw.)

Ice cream from a street vendor amongst a small cluster of other vendors in a mini chocolate tasting/purchasing festival along the South Bank in London.

The dearth of street food in all of the cities I was in during that 12 days in the UK and Finland almost defines the Urban Scout’s conceptual boundary between countries in various parts of the world. There was street food during the day’s perambulation along the South Bank of a particularly pre-configured, organized and licensed sort. Despite that, the opportunity for Ice Cream in London in early April meant something. Besides these, the closest to genuine on-the-street food stalls was rather organized and festival-like. Which is fine. I mean — generally, I take the cautious Urban Scout approach to food consumption which is a minimum of experimentation, and smell but don’t ingest street-made street food.

A crowd of sweets taunting from behind a case at the delicious Indian restaurant called Tayyabs. Food taunting protocols. Display varieties in such a way as to evoke primal triggers for food consumption — like salivating and eye-widening. My restraint algorithm was employed to modest effect.

Thinking about food, and the future, and the future of food got me wondering about rather narrow future food imaginaries. It seems that there is basically food, also, in the future. Space foods of some sort or rudimentary staples. I collected a few science-fiction food future scenes from film that popped into my head right away. These are instances of rather stable food futures, consistent with today in a way that says, basically, food stays the same.

Zero-gravity space food as imagined in the late 1960s, right around the time that NASA in the United States was trying to figure out how astronauts would eat in their weightless journeys to the moon and back. Consistent with the rigor of his production design, Kubrick considered similar constraints on food and eating on long journeys, such as in his epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Seen here are colored food products, delivered via straw to mitigate hunks floating off into the ship’s environment and gumming up the works. This is perhaps the most future-y food I could recollect in my own science fiction film library.

The future of the street vendor / outdoor noodle and sushi bar. Steamy, crowded, jostling, limited availability of specialty things, as seen in Blade Runner by Ridley Scott and P.K. Dick.


At the noodle and sushi bar in Blade Runner by Ridley Scott and P.K. Dick.

Ridley Scott’s production design and extrapolation of Los Angeles downtown (?) into the future fiction of the film has been praised for the way it captured something that was visually articulate — it is an evocative projection into a legible future world. Spoken language mash-ups, bustling crowds, density and thickness of all sorts — weather, advertising, etc. It’s worth a quick look of this food futures scene, which only serves as a prop to turn the drama a bit toward Deckard. The production design here, though, captures an imaginable setting and atmosphere.

Blade Runner by Ridley Scott and P.K. Dick. (Blade Runner Noodle Bar — Food Futures).

Eating in the future, family style. Some grains and salads. From Alien by Ridley Scott.

A future instance of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer or something. Enjoying a cigarette. Quite consistent food futures. From Alien by Ridley Scott.

Box, sweetened, kid’s breakfast cereal. Suitable for snacking without milk by pouring directly into the mouth. Very familiar food and eating practice, projected into the year 2050. From Minority Report by Steven Spielberg and P.K. Dick.

An advert from the year 2050, where there is still Guiness, thank goodness. From Minority Report by Steven Spielberg and P.K. Dick.

There are some future food imaginaries where we find quite stable futures. We still eat in the future, it seems. I left out the future imaginaries like Soylent Green where “we” (people) get eaten or are alien food. That’s for another consideration.

Why do I blog this? Curious interfaces between people and their food and meals observed while out and about as an Urban Scout. I t is interesting to think about the stability of food, despite the high-end explorations with various delivery mechanisms like aerated food products and other delivery protocols and fancy concoctions.

Distinctive future imaginaries for food are few and far between, best as I can tell just thinking about it. Food is delivered. Space food becomes the same food as today, only constrained by the limits of things like preparation, weight and, bleech..consistency. Food becomes, in the future imaginary, quite instrumental in its consideration of necessary intake and so forth. It seems strange to me that there are not more design fictions that shape design practices that are directly concerned with what food might become. Maybe it’ll be closer to athletic food gels, formulated by food scientists. Bio-chemical genetic foods and the like, taken to their logical and insane conclusion.
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Mixed Food Culture Messages

Friday March 13, 20.10.06

Friday March 13, 22.32.47

Friday March 13, 20.35.23

Clearly. Sushi.

Friday March 13, 20.36.31

..and a placemat with Korean warnings about things in the food, and a lovely little beer glass with Hite, the Pabst Blue Ribbon of Korean beers (and wonderful for that..I’ve had my share there in Seoul). This was taken at Arado Restaurant, Whilshire and Wilton in Los Angeles.

A great Sushi (I guess..) restaurant on Wilshire and Wilton in the prototypical mixed use mini mall in Los Angeles. Four grown adults well-served with entrees, appetizers, plenty of better-than-good American sushi, beers, the works for $109, tax excluded. That’s reasonable to me, considering the next night, two beers and two sausages at the hipster downtown spot set a couple back $32.

But, what I found most intriguing about this place was that it was own and run by a Korean couple. Whilst I did not find out the motivation behind opening a Japanese style restaurant with sushi bar in the borderlands of Los Angeles’ Koreatown, I was curious. I wonder — where and when do these kinds of cultural borders get crossed and where are they allowed to transcend the typically hard-and-fast boundaries they define?

Why do I blog this? Curiosity about where and under what circumstances culture transposes.
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