The Kitchen, a way of life : From shadow to light
The Kitchen, a way of life
From shadow to light
Christine de Schaetzen, March 19, 2007
Science & Vie, 1951_AAM
Science & Vie, 1951_AAM


If the kitchen is by definition a place where we prepare meals, it is also a central living space which has aroused the interest of architects, designers, sociologists, ergonomists and journalists for a century. It is the place of the house where innovations have been the most important in the last century, resulting from the modern way of life and the evolution of technology. Every year, exhibitions display work on kitchens and welcome thousands of visitors. Accustomed to seeing marvellous installations of kitchens in the windows of department stores, in exhibitions, magazines and books,...we come to forget that the contemporary kitchen is the result of an evolution which started one century ago.

The Lady Maid Cabinet_Circa
The Lady Maid Cabinet_Circa


The exhibition proposes an itinary illustrated by original drawings, photographies, kitchen items and life-size reconstitutions of different types of kitchens: those of “garden cities”, middle-class villas, flats and lofts. The starting point is a 1900’s kitchen, where everything is organised around the solid-fuel stove; the end of the exhibition shows today’s kitchen, a reflection of a new way of life

Kitchen Cubex, 1956_AAM
Kitchen Cubex, 1956_AAM


The “belle époque” kitchen located in the basement, is followed by the “Lady-Maid Cabinet” of the 1920’s kitchen. The laboratory-kitchen of the 1930’s leads to the standardized “Cubex” elements. After the war and the boom of household equipments, the American kitchen appears. Beautiful contemporary creations – panoramic, opened, adjustable, flexible, designed for large families – and other views on the futur are displayed in this exhibition.

Le Corbusier, 1950_Marseille_France
Le Corbusier, 1950_Marseille_France


Kitchen Tout-en-Ordre_Circa
Kitchen Tout-en-Ordre_Circa


Appart from Belgium, many foreign examples are illustrated, including the reconstitution of an appartment of the Marseille’s “Cité Radieuse” (1949) whose kitchen is signed Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand. Four more kitchens are restored in life-size: the great-grandparents’ kitchen, the 1930’s Cubex kitchen, the American kitchen and the futurist kitchen. The exhibition is completed by a Portrait Gallery of 55 famous or anonymous Belgian personnalities, pictured in their kitchens. A children’s room is foreseen, with miniature kitchens and workshops.


Rietveld Kitchen_Circa_AAM
Rietveld Kitchen_Circa_AAM


The Kitchen’s route

The great-grandparent’s kitchen  
The kitchen before the kitchen: a practical all purpose room, usually the only heated room and misted during Winter. Here, we cook, eat, read newspapers, smoke, knit, where children do their homework, grand-mothers prepare jam’s pots... The exhibition displays a reconstitution of a 1900’s kitchen, with its stove and implements.  

The kitchen of city houses, in 1900
Kitchens of city houses were usually installed in the basement. On the road side, it is lit by a narrow English courtyard ; on the garden side, it opens on a low inner courtyard. Near the cellar, the boiler room and the laundry, the kitchen has direct access to the backstairs. The kitchen is also linked to the office of the “ bel étage” (situed on the raised groundfloor) by a dumb waiter. Its good working order relies on the presence of the house’s employees.


Integral Kitchen_Maison franšaise_AAM
Integral Kitchen_Maison franšaise_AAM


The kitchen of the middle-class villas, before 1914
Located on the first floor, associated with the dining groom, the kitchen is a spacious room naturally lit and opening on the garden. The sink is situed infront of the window and the kitchen range infront of a wall with an extractor made of glass. One of the most elaborate kitchens is the one at the Palais Stoclet, avenue de Tervuren in Brussels, built by the Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann in collaboration with the  Viennese Art workshops (Wiener Werkstätte) from 1905 to 1911.


Lucky-man_Ideal-Home, 1957
Lucky-man_Ideal-Home, 1957


The kitchen in the low cost houses
After the First World War, architects were interested in finding solutions for small but comfortable habitations; with the example of the architects Antoine Pompe and Fernand Bodson who created a kitchen for the miners of Limburg and experimented at Uccle with a kitchen linked to the bathroom, in order to have one unique hot water tank.


Louis-Herman De Koninck_Cubex-Ciam_AAM
Louis-Herman De Koninck_Cubex-Ciam_AAM


 “Lady-Maid Cabinet”
During the war, as many women join the working world, less time is spent cooking and meals are lightened. The manufacturers answer to this rationalisation by launching functional kitchen furniture on the market, produced in series.  The engineers develop a new stove, cleaner and less high maintenance, working with anthracite, gas, electricity and even oil. The construction of flats also requires more useful furniture, more practical than the old sideboard and heterogeneous pieces of furniture. In Belgium, the “Lady-Maid Cabinet” has known a great success as it allowed the possibility of storing every implement useful to a kitchen in a singular cupboard.


Kitchen Wrighton, 1970_AAM
Kitchen Wrighton, 1970_AAM


The standardized “Cubex” kitchen
Invented in the late 1920’s by the architect L.H. de Koninck, the prototype of the cubex-kitchen was exhibited at the “Palais des Beaux-Arts” of Brussels in 1930, during the second international congress of modern architecture (CIAM). The Cubex- kitchen is made of different compartments which can be assembled and adjusted. The Cubex-kitchen was manufactured in 1932 and distributed by the J. Van de Ven company. It had new household equipment, a sink in stamped metal, fridges,.... The Cubex-kitchen equiped many flats, houses and villas for more than thirty years.


Kitchen Wrighton, 1970_AAM
Kitchen Wrighton, 1970_AAM


The modern kitchen, in between the two World Wars
The modernistic architects progressively imposed a kitchen reflecting a  laboratory image, where meals were cooked in a scientific way. The housewife became an elegant laboratory assistant with white apron and synthetic gloves. Progress for some was disguised as a promotion of the housewife for others. Architects dissect the housewife’s actions to design their performance effective kitchens. The architect Jean Delhaye split up the process of the washing-up in the following way.


Kitchen Sixties Pop_AAM
Kitchen Sixties Pop_AAM


The “Cité Radieuse” kitchen
The kitchen created in 1949 by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand for the “Cité Radieuse” of Marseille, brought innovations which influenced many architects. Countering regulations, the kitchen is located for the first time inside the flat, without windows or any direct access on the outside. Close to the entrance, it is presented as a place half-opened onto the living room, with an opening allowing to pass plates and dishes arranged under the bar counter. The cook also takes part in the family life and dinner parties.  Charlotte Perriand wrote “the housewife needs to have a sense of order like a barman; and the engineers have to maintain a prefect extraction of smells and smoke. A model of a flat of the habitation unit of Marseille (326 kitchens produced in series), was realised following the example of an original kitchen which belonging to collection of the Archives d’Architecture Moderne.


Joe Colombo_Minikitchen
Joe Colombo_Minikitchen


The american kitchen
The concept of the American kitchen is linked to the performance of extractors. Control of smoke and condensation allowed the opening of the kitchen to open onto the living room. The kitchen and living room are  separated by a bar where one can have breakfast or an aperitif, seated on stools. With the enfatuation of the Ideal Homes  Exhibitions, the American kitchen became imperative in Europe after the Second World War. It integrated two basic elements of the “American way of life”: the refrigerator and the washing-machine.


Sheer_Machine Ó cuisiner_Italy
Sheer_Machine Ó cuisiner_Italy


The kitchen as an “Art of living”
The 60’s saw the abandonment of the laboratory-kitchen which favoured hygiene. The austerity of lines and the white uniforms gave place to curves and colour combinations. Then, the 80’s were marked by the “kitchen-pleasure” concept. They became a real entertainment area. Some kitchens are equipped of a chimney which could be used for barbecues. The most wanted models were those in rustic oak. Evolution is approved of, concepts and models are diversified: open-kitchens, minilalist-kitchens, removable compartments, a come-back to the old family kitchen, with manufactured elements in kit forms ready to be used ... The appearence of the freezer, with frozen food, followed by the micro-wave has been a real revolution for large families but also for bachelors, busy people, or working couples,...


Zaha Hadid_Kitchen-Island, 2006_Leo Torri_Dupont Corian
Zaha Hadid_Kitchen-Island, 2006_Leo Torri_Dupont Corian


The  kitchen of the future
The kitchen of the future hesitates between the sophisticated technology and a return to basics. A recent inquiry realised by Ikea shows that in 2006, the kitchen became the most important place in the house, after the dining-room. It dethrones the living-room’s ambitions. According to the people questioned, more than 52% of them eat in their kitchen, 35% have family discussions, 19% received their guests, 14% of them watch the TV set. If, on one hand the elements which form the kitchen became more and more sophisticated (as a freezer with a plasma tv screen integrated in the door) the actual trend shows a come-back of the kitchen as an all purpose practical place. Nowadays, we used to prefer eclecticism to an united aesthetic. We then come full circle, with the concret re-birth of our grandparents’ convivial kitchen, with comfort as a priority. Some architects pushing the love of gastronomy and the automobiles to  extrems, proposed habitations where the kitchen is separated from the garage by a simple glass partition.

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