Bio-Re: Familiarity, The Brain and The Kitchen

The brain is truly amazing. It keeps us going, learning, keeps us safe and so much more. Its goal is to help us, so as soon as an action is repeated multiple times, the brain takes over and creates a neuronal path in order to automatize the process and preserve energy. The brain helps us evolve, however in the same time it keeps us stuck. It draws towards familiarity as that is how it understands to keep us safe.

We all grow in what become familiar spaces/environments. Our subconscious then draws towards the familiarity we know so well. And even if that familiarity is nowhere close to healthy for us, the brain will still draw towards what it knows, what feels safe and familiar. As a result, many people end up living the same lives as their parents, marry similar characters and take far too little risks.

So how does that apply to the field of architecture?
It can be seen in the difficulty with which residential architecture moves. It can be seen in how people clutter their houses with inheritances or things that they have watched their parents use for years. As a result, many stick to what is familiar and experiment far too little with their spaces in order to find out what their real needs are.

How does that apply even further?
Take for example the kitchen. We move in apartments with pre-installed spaces or we buy massive constructions that we either fill with way too many things or have half empty. My own personal kitchen is quite spacious, however half the cupboards are either half empty or housing things I forget about most of the time.

Typically, kitchen furniture is made out of fixed elements anchored in their place. They depend on the fixed locations of the water pipes, drains and air vents. Replacing existing kitchens implies a lot of work, like ripping off the old one, hiring workers, dealing with piles of dust and most likely having to repaint the walls.

Having said all that, let’s take a look at the bare essentials of a kitchen: a fridge, a sink, a cooking stove, some storage, some counter top space and a trash can. Anything else is either a result of different needs or preferences. (Cutlery, dishes and pans are not relevant at this point.) Obviously, one person will never require as much storage space as a family of 4, unless they are a famous chef and do a lot of cooking at home.
So how can we deal with all this? 

What if the kitchen was flexible, just like the PAX system from IKEA. What if besides the essentials (fridge, stove, sink) everything was as easy to add or remove just as a closet? One would start with 3 basic elements and have the ability to add modules as necessities grow or remove modules if these decrease.  The issues to deal with in order to have this option available are:
• Stability – Presently the elements of the kitchen are anchored in the wall and have added floor finishing for a better continuity. Replacing the continuous volume with modular volumes that can be easily moved requires either lateral elements of support (which could potentially disrupt continuity) or still some sort of anchoring method.
• Counter top continuity – No matter how many cupboards a kitchen has, they are all tied together with a custom made counter top piece. This is used as available space for whatever needs to be accomplished. It is traditionally installed in such a way that nothing can fall behind it which makes cleaning easier. In the case in which this continuity could not be achieved it would raise the issue of difficulty in cleaning. However if an easy access on the lower side is made available, I believe that would no longer be an issue.
Surprisingly, despite the fact that in modern kitchens the bottom part of the cupboards is enclosed, due to ventilation issues, the space behind it is a perfect storage for dust… Seriously unpleasing to discover. Honestly. This actually implies that allowing for easy access of the lower part of the kitchen increases the quality of the space and its air.
• Open/closed storage space – It is standard to have enclosed opaque spaces in order to sort the cluttered nature of a kitchen. Many designers have worked tirelessly to provide specialized spaces where everything can be placed in style. Despite all that the world is still split. Many prefer the enclosed spaces so that the eye can glide on one continuous surface while others love the open nature of shelves where they can style and play with colors and volumes. Thus, the modules should have both the open shelve as well as the closed door option.

The goals that I see essential in transforming the way we envision the kitchen space today, are:
• Flexibility in design and use – Both in the module itself and as mentioned above in the way it gets installed and maneuvered but also in the way its elements are integrated. For example: why do we need to have one massive fridge? What if there are smaller volumes based on how often they are used. What if there is a smaller fridge, installed on a easy to access level for the daily items and a section for the less often items. What if each of these pieces has its own section of freezer with variable sizes based on use?
• Easy access to its all elements – Both in its design flexibility as well as in its production.
• Interchangeability – Easy to replace parts and interchangeable elements to design with.
• Ease of use – Here is the trickiest part of all. It all depends on what the user wants. So how does one make the distinction between what the user actually needs and wants and what society hypes and makes users thing they want?
• High mobility in and for the space to occupy – I grew up in an old house with high ceilings and massive furniture. I had 9 and a bit m² to play with in my room, however I had very few elements I could move. So I love the idea of a modular, easy to relocate kitchen. It could be based on seasons, family changes, personal mood, you name it.

Anybody else want to play with me on this?

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