Next-generation kitchens: a process of smartening up
Updated: Sep 24
I predict the rise of a new kind of kitchen company in the near future, as human expertise works in tandem with information technology. This hybrid will be made up of computerised manufacturing and a multi-disciplinary design outfit. It will use a customer knowledge platform with data obtained not just from sources such as Google, Houzz and Amazon, but also from personalised data from food, music, travel and fashion choices and medicine. We already know that Spotify's Discover Weekly playlist can predict our music preferences better than our own memory. Combine this with the power of medical computer diagnostics to appreciate what enhanced information can bring to home design.
Creating your next kitchen could well involves a 5-Dimensional CAD system, working with camera technology, smart surveying tools and hologram graphics to present the final designs. With a committed group of investors, a new business entity will develop programmes and train up skilled design overseers to ensure that all this additional information will lead to great finished results. A very key role for the designer will be interpreting information using the soft skills of empathy and finely tuned aesthetic judgement.
How a 3D printed kitchen will look is an interesting question. The process is essentially an assembly of a series of sprayed layers, with the uppermost one that you see impacting the most. It obviously needs an attractive finish to cover the raw plastic - if used - of the 3D printing process. This is linked to computers controlling machine tools (lathes, mills, routers etc.) known as CNC. The product is completed in minutes, no handiwork needed.
How to keep this process green is a key issue. Plastic waste is now recognised as competing with climate change as a threat to our environment. As well as effective recycling, we should try to develop new materials for use in automated manufacture, possibly wood pulp - or, fantastical perhaps, but could Bakelite make a comeback? Whatever we end up with, it needs emotional appeal. Authenticity is a touchstone for objects that we can form good relationships with. Alongside new furniture, homemade furnishings like rag rugs or tapestry curtains could be brought in to boost homeliness. Real wooden details, handmade ceramics and crafted metalwork could disguise newer materials used for cost purposes.
'Zartan’ by Philippe Starck with Eugeni Quitllet is a 'liquid wood' chair, made from organic materials like bamboo. Photo
Commissioning a kitchen is a personal affair and purchasing one an emotionally demanding experience. Consumers need reassurance, their questions answered and honest deliberation during the buying process. It is hard to imagine that a screen, albeit a responsive one, can offer these functions fully enough to make a wholly satisfying transaction - even with a robot lookalike person we could interact with online. A real human will always be an essential part of this process, simultaneously holding the hands of the customer and the machine.
How does creativity work in this new AI driven business? Invention is not necessarily rational. A moment of unexpected thought tends to be the birth of a genuinely new idea. Can one imagine the shapes of the Sydney Opera House, the arrangement of features in a Picasso portrait or the unworldliness of a Pink Floyd song coming about through an algorithm? AI will never supersede a clever human designer with the advantages of deep psychological awareness, a creative imagination that knows no limits, boundaries provided by training and a sense of the art of good kitchen design. I feel concerned for high street retailers, especially for those without properly trained design staff, but believe designers in general are safe as a species, though our input may become an increasing luxury.
The Sydney Opera House. Photo: Arup