Social rituals, the demands of work, and trends in life planning
have changed; domestic
architecture has not.
State-funded building programs focus mostly on providing as many ‘units’ as
possible. But what exactly is supposed to happen inside such a unit? How do
shifts in social habits, demographic change, and the dissolution of the nuclear
family affect buildings?
With the rise of eating out and solo dining, what are the
implications of this: how can institutional responses be pre-emptively designed
in the face of the interconnected phenomena of rapidly increasing urbanisation, growing
loneliness and the loss of the collective dining experience?
Institution of Dining
One of the most striking manifestations of human sociality is ‘commensality’: humans tend to eat together or, to eat in groups. The dining table contributed to the derivation of the term “commensality” in the 14th Century, originating from the Latin commensalis [‘com’ for together and ‘mensa’ meaning table], “togetherness arising out of the fact that we eat at one table” . The dining table represents, as no other piece of furniture can, the family as a whole.
In 2015, a survey of 5000 British people was carried out showing that one in four people eat their meal alone. 78 per cent said that they rarely or never invite friends or family over at mealtimes. There is a loss of the collective dining experience even though our environment is built around it. Outside the home, Londoners are eating out more than ever before and at lower prices fueling an explosion in the number of restaurants opening. 7.7 billion meals are eaten out a year in the UK, or 128 meals per person. This is for a variety of reasons, many of which are due to the changing nature of daily life in Britain. These include changes in family make-up; more women out at work rather than running the home; the pace of modern life leading to increased work hours, inevitably ending in the lack of time available for ‘family dining’; the growth in ready meals; a continuing reduction in cooking knowledge from generation to generation; and lastly, the availability of a vibrant and varied restaurant industry.
In Japan, where 1 in 10 elementary and junior high students eat dinner alone despite living with family, the rising number of solo dining has meant new words such as Koshoku [eating alone] have been coined. Many restaurants cater for solo diners with smaller tables and dividers separating individual seats, an extreme that London has not yet reached. This has restricted commensality, eating together can contribute to regular meal times, and social development can be fostered through human relations in the process of having meals together.
Although London has not yet started to design its own solo dining restaurants, new technological communication media are changing the notion of private space within the home. The emergence of television has shifted family life from the eat-in kitchen, where people would sit across from one another in the evening, toward the side table, where family members sit next to one another and look in the same direction. Developers of some new London apartment blocks, aimed at young professionals, say they will only install tiny “galley” style kitchens because so few meals are prepared at home. However, it is still necessary in the London Housing Design Guide to include space for the dining table, within kitchen dining areas, with specified table sizes. In fact, the kitchen and dining space is seen to be so significant to a house, that for the UK census, a household is defined as either one person living alone or a group of people living at the same address who share cooking facilities, share a living space, or a dining area. The dining room and kitchen is still a key factor to the collection of population data. What would happen to the census if the kitchen and dining area was removed in its entirety from the home?
Current trends in housing developments result in an imposed lifestyle resulting from architectural form, rather than the other way around. The way in which we create housing drastically needs to be reframed to address how we live in the present day, rather than let traditional expectations of home dictate future developments. ‘Standardisation of housing units led, in turn, to the standardisation of families that inhabited them…housing became a training disciplining device for standardising families.’ 
The Kitchenless City
On the verge of the 20th Century, cities like New York were full of apartment houses that lacked a kitchen. Instead, these apartments were supplied with domestic services which included collective kitchens, dining rooms, centralized vacuum systems, nurseries, shared maids and more. Between 1901 and 1929, this housing typology went through different variations, and this residential typology worked as a semi-public facility for social transformation. The history of this kitchenless typology dates to the economic depression that followed the American Civil War [1860-65] when, due to the pressure of scarce land and housing stock, most American cities needed to build apartment houses for middle class tenants who needed to cut down on their housing expenses. These apartments eliminated the kitchen, combining the European apartment type with the American hotel typology, formerly called Family Hotels.
Kitchenless housing typologies were also prevalent in Europe, particuarly in Sweden where there were several cohousing self work models. One of the first was Hemgarden Centralkok [Stockholm 1905], 60 bourgeois apartments were deprived of the kitchen, the maids room and some storage space. Instead, a central kitchen and bakery were placed in the basement. Three meals a day could be ordered via an internal telephone network. These were sent to the flats through food lifts on each side of the staircases.
After the meal, china and cutlery were sent back to the basement for cleaning. During the 1970s -80s, the idea of communal living developed at an explosive rate, as young people started to live in smaller communes. This alternative living movement challenged the nuclear family ideal. In Prastgardshagen [Stockholm 1983], the residents acted as partners to a housing company during the planning and design process, helping redesign the home. In agreement with the association, apartments were reduced by 10 per cent of their required space standards, whilst at the same time increasing shared common space. Thus, kitchens were not provided with space for a dining table, however rentable dining tables were organised on the ground floor.
At the end of the 19th Century, a public debate took place in some European cities about the need of the growing middle class to find solutions to the problem of hiring domestic servants at an affordable price. One idea that came up was to ‘collectivize the maid’, by producing urban residential complexes where many households could share meal production. They were called ‘Einkuchenhaus’ (one-kitchen buildings), in contrast to the ‘multi-kitchen housing’ that dominated house production.
During the twentieth century, this model was politicized by the Russians copying it as a system of social housing, and became loaded with political meaning. A collective kitchen became associated with communism. The governing principle of these houses was still the same as the New York kitchenless apartments; to collectivise all the areas that corresponded to collective functions. Reading, cooking, raising children, sport - all are functions removed from the traditional apartment and relocated in a collective volume, hosting communal kindergartens, kitchens, libraries and gymnasiums. An example of which is Narkomfin in Moscow . In the 21st Century, the nuclear family is dissolving, the dining table has become an office desk, and people are lonelier than ever before. With these cultural shifts, does the institution of housing need to be reviewed to fit with new societal norms?
“Standardisation of housing units led, in turn, to the standardisation of families that inhabited them…housing became a training disciplining device for standardising families.”
Riken Yamamoto - Community Area Model
1. Ichiran Ramen Restaurant Individual Booths, Tokyo.
2. The Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci, 1495-98.
3. Babette’s Feast, 1987.
4. Kommunalka Kitchen, Moscow
5. R50 Co-Housing, ifau und Jesko Fezer + HEIDE & VON BECKERATH, 2013.
6. Kommunalka Cafe, Moscow, 2015.
1. The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities and Meaning of Table Manners, Margaret Visser, 1991.
2. Community Area Model, Riken Yamamoto & Field Shop, 2013,