University of California, Berkeley
Critical Making: Materials, Protocols, and Culture
The activities of the kitchen, once communal practices shared by members of a household, have become increasingly solitary in our fast-paced society. Busy schedules leave little time for family members or roommates to socialize while preparing meals, and kitchen interactions can become cold and uncomfortable. With the PolyPHONIC Kitchen, the sociality of the kitchen space is innovatively reclaimed. Sensors are set up on commonly used kitchen surfaces and, when triggered, play enjoyable music sequences that build on each other, creating a unique song. Opening a cupboard, the refrigerator, or turning on the stove becomes a social interaction, and the shared kitchen space becomes a place where members of a household may connect with each other without changing their routines.
The PolyPHONIC Kitchen was born out of our group’s discussion about kitchen silence. One member noted that cooking alone is often quiet and monotonous, and that an activity such as music might be needed to break the silence. Another member noted that in her own kitchen, an awkward silence was overcompensated for due to the presence of housemates who shared the kitchen but did not know each other well. The unfamiliarity between housemates seemed to volumize each sound that was made - cupboards slammed, dishes clashed, and cutting vegetables sounded like chopping down a tree.
We took photos of this “awkward kitchen” and decided to analyze what made sharing it with housemates such an uncomfortable space. Noting the positives of an antisocial kitchen, one group member observed that being uncomfortable with each other often means that roommates are more likely to clean up after themselves, do the dishes, and respect each other’s items. We then compared this experience to living with friends who we knew well, or perhaps knew prior to moving in. The unfriendly atmosphere of the awkward kitchen, we realized, was due to the lack of opportunities for members of the household to interact outside of the kitchen and discover things in common. The house does not have a living room or any other common spaces, and the people who live there are divided by age, area of study, and language.
With this data with we determined the four main qualities of the awkward kitchen - silence, language barriers, close quarters, and a lack of opportunities for social interactions outside of the kitchen - and searched for a solution to overcome them.