It's time to consign the kitchen of the future into the dustbin of history

RCA/ Whirlpool kitchen
© RCA/ Whirlpool

The Kitchen of the Future has been a theme on TreeHugger for years, but it never seems to get here. Certainly the kitchen has changed in 50 years, primarily becoming more open and part of the living space. They are changing shape and the appliances are now beginning to talk to each other. But in a fascinating article by Rose Eveleth in Eater, Why the "Kitchen of the Future" always fails us, she notes that culturally the kitchen hasn't changed much at all.

Around the corner, in the kitchen, our lovely future wife is making dinner. She always seems to be making dinner. Because no matter how far in the future we imagine, in the kitchen, it is always the 1950's, it is always dinnertime, and it is always the wife's job to make it. Today's homes of the future are full of incredible ideas and gizmos, but while designers seems happy to extrapolate far beyond what we can do today when it comes to battery life or touch screens, they can't seem to wrap their minds around any changes happening culturally. In a future kitchen full of incredible technology, why can we still not imagine anything more interesting than a woman making dinner alone?

Eveleth then describes many of the kitchens and house of the future we have shown;

The absolutely mind-blowing and twisted 1956 movie Design for Dreaming- " suddenly an apron appears over her ball gown and she faints. A man in the background yells "Better get her to the kitchen, quick!"

She missed the wonderful but bossy 1967 Philco kitchen.

But she does cover my beloved Monsanto house of the future, the house that made me want to be an architect. She describes how "the mother wraps herself around a beam in the kitchen and sighs wistfully about how wonderful it would be if this kitchen were hers." She points out the contradictions in the postwar years:

...these future kitchens are products of a midcentury obsession with efficiency and anxiety about domestic roles. During World War II, American women found footing outside the home, and as the Cold War started to ramp up, the country became obsessed with innovation and automation. These future visions straddled that awkward set of goals: kitchens that were efficient and innovative enough to give women the free time they wanted, but wrapped in narratives that ensured that this time was spent not working, but rather doing wifely things like cleaning the rest of the house, sunbathing, and playing tennis.

In the new modern kitchens of the future from IKEA or Microsoft or Corning, It appears that little has changed, still women alone in the kitchen.

Not only do these new future kitchens fail to acknowledge the changes in women's relationship with the kitchen, they've also failed to see the way that relationship has changed for men too. Today's men do cook. A recent study that traced the habits of 3,000 men from Generation X confirmed that more than ever before men are in the kitchen. It's a development that makes the culture depicted in these future videos not just inaccurate, but regressive.

Eveleth wonders why this is so, and concludes that all these engineers designing these smart kitchen tools and appliances are predominantly men. "They aren't trained to think about technology in a cultural context, and they're not designing kitchens while thinking about the social baggage and gender politics that come along with them. "

Eveleth complains that none of the kitchens of the future cover the one feature she really wants- a self-cleaning kitchen. She writes: "Here's how many times I saw anything about keeping the kitchen clean in all the future-home videos I've watched: Not once." She clearly missed the Whirlpool/ RCA HECK kitchen, that not only is self-cleaning, but feeds the husband while the wife gets to loll around in bed.

While your wife snoozes on, silent HECK is busy preparing your breakfast—chilled juice, hot coffee, eggs and toast—which will be served by HECK as you approach the kitchen table.

When your wife finally gets up, HECK has already done your dishes and tidied up and will do the same for her. While she enjoys a breakfast, HECK silently sorts and washes the laundry, dries it and folds it before dusting the house by electronic precipitation.

Truly, "It's a wonderful world of cooking, cleaning and homemaking!" But notwithstanding that omission, it's a fascinating long article worth reading; I will never look at Design for Dreaming again.

Tags: Kitchens | Wayback Machine

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