The Architecture of Localisation

"La Pensée sauvage" (The Savage Mind) – Wild Cooking

First they try to chop him up, to cut his throat, to squeeze out his eyes, to kick him in his most sensitive parts and to break his limbs. Then they try without success to stab him with the kitchen knife, to strangle him and to slay him with the various utensils that are lying about. After they struggle from the worktop to the stove, Paul Newman and Carolyn Conwell finally succeed in killing the German Stasi officer Gromek, played by Wolfgang Kieling, in the heart of the kitchen, the oven. Even if the film "Torn Curtain", which is thoroughly embedded in cold war rhetoric, is certainly not one of Hitchcock's best films, this scene has become a classic moment in film history. Here the director presents with obvious pleasure how difficult it actually is to kill a person.

The choice of the kitchen as the location for this action is no coincidence. Hitchcock is well aware of its significance. The kitchen is the place of passionate carnage: with spattering, crackling, groaning, breaking, pounding, choking and moaning only to wind up in the oven. Ideological wars have been fought over and in the kitchen. It is the place in which essential fights of our society have taken place. The kitchen is a battlefield.

Particularly in light of this history, the fact that the kitchen has become an antiseptic place should probably count among the tragic mistakes of architectural history. Of course one can understand this development rationally. After all, it is the discovery of the bacterium and its destructive power, the scientific investigation of which was carried out by Robert Koch (German for cook – what an appropriate name!) and Louis Pasteur, that should have a definitive impact on the kitchen as the place where our meals are prepared. Driven by rampant misery and squalor, spreading plagues and epidemics and characterised by a modernist, emancipatory approach, the place of food preparation in the domestic space has been cleansed of its barbarian qualities. Under the banner of hygiene and science, a regimen of puristic order and cleanliness has been imposed on a place once defined by brewing, bubbling and steaming. Smells were exiled and bloody meat, dripping vegetables or thrashing fish were declared to be out of place at the site of their preparation. As part of the rationalism and humanism of the 19th century, a juicy place bound closely to sin has become a space committed to stringency, order, cleanliness, sterility and control.

Women's liberation was the second significant force that shaped the kitchen under the banner of rationalisation. The Frankfurt kitchen was developed in the twenties by the architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky as commissioned by the Frankfurt city planner Ernst May. Representing the archetype of the modern kitchen, it was developed to organise and streamline the work (of women). A defined collection of standard work procedures, movements and action sequences served as the point of departure for shaping a kitchen in which the entire workflow was optimised using time measurements, film observation and statistical recordings of the results. This was intended to simplify the "housewife's" work to allow her more time for her family. The fact that this turned women cooks – performing such experiments on a man would have been unthinkable – into lab rats and reduced cooking to a mechanical set of a few standardised work steps was never considered. Furthermore, the supposed emancipation only served to reinforce the role of women in the kitchen.

The rational kitchen shows its true face in the prodigious works "Dissident Housework Series" and "Indigestion" by American architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, which deal with the "scientification" of culinary work stripped of its myth. The purism of the contemporary kitchen thus serves to round off a sequence of supposed modernisations, which began at the close of the 18th century when doctors practiced methods, some of which were mutilating, in an attempt to drive out the "hysterical spirits" of women that make them so uncontrollable and to rationalise their behaviour.

On entering the Farm one is surrounded by the chirping of birds, the grunting of pigs and various other sounds, the origins of which are not disclosed. One pushes the moveable wash basin aside, ducks so as not to bump one's head on the big ham and runs one's hand through patches of herbs on the way to the other side of the room where live hens greet each guest with clucking curiosity. Light falls in from outside first through tinted sheets of plexiglass and then through open shelves of stacked plates (with a country-house style theme). It then reflects hundreds of times in various glasses and bottles before finally refracting on hanging garlands, which act as door curtains, immediately recalling those Italian vacations spent with one's parents in the 70s. The smells of the herb garden, in which the chives are arranged above the cress and beside the basil, mix with the smells of the various types of salami hanging from the ceiling and the baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables. In contradiction to all obvious approaches to rationalisation, the several different large and small worktops are distributed around the room, the ingredients that are just within reach or maybe out of reach and the moveable sink allow for much more multifarious' practical compositions than would ever be possible in a streamlined kitchen.

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In the book "La Pensée savage" (The Savage Mind), which appeared in 1962, the French ethnologist and founder of structuralism, Claude Lévi-Strauss, introduced into the social sciences the concept of "Bricolage" as collecting and tinkering. In this book, which has had a great impact on architecture, Lévi-Strauss described the Bricoleur as a person who takes whatever is at hand and assembles an environment, adapting existing objects, assimilating them in a new way or abstracting them from their original contexts. In contrast to an engineer or technician, who, as much as possible, uses objects and tools according to their rules and proceeds according to a formulated theory, the Bricoleur is a tinkerer who tries out different things and proceeds by trial and error. He builds his own world from a limited number of available ingredients by means of rearrangement, alienation and "abuse". These two entirely different approaches of the engineer and the collector, which Lévi-Strauss elaborated in an ethnological investigation of myth formation, have since been used in various social analyses and explanation methods and have characterised an important type of architectural work and methodology.

In 1978 Frank Gehry took the opportunity to implement this concept of collecting and recycling architecturally while rebuilding his own, inconspicuous, typical American bungalow in Santa Monica. Using materials that were atypical for residential purposes, he wrapped the existing structure in different layers of corrugated sheet metal and wire netting and pierced the existing facade with large glass openings. Giving an immediate impression of being in transition and an interim solution, internal spaces were opened to the outside and the plaster on the walls was chipped off to reveal the wooden substructure. Making use of materials from diverse places such as commercial parks, adjacent tennis courts or the widespread and ever-present wire fences, the architect articulated several methods which he went on to develop further in other buildings during the 70s and 80s. These methods included the reuse of that which is available, the reinterpretation of the architectural shell, the application of common simple materials like wire netting, asphalt and wire glass, the demythologisation of established approaches and the rejection of normative modernistic structure. The architect thus becomes the collector and "do-it-yourselfer" who creates a new world out of an existing structure and the materials that happen to be available at the local building supply store.

It is these qualities of the Bricoleur which The Farm Project incorporates in the realm of food preparation, its architectural cladding and the interior arrangement as well as in the social activities which take place around food. The Farm is not a place in which every visible ingredient of a meal seems out of place or in which all that is rough and dirty is smoothened and suppressed like a guilty conscience. Like flotsam, a space is built from existing materials, which provides a framework for the intermingling of chickens, herbs, people and hams. The place of cooking – an action of collecting and tinkering par excellence – and its related functions becomes a space in which the crude and the noble can exist side by side, in which new ingredients and new combinations can be discovered.

In contrast to Gehry's private home, where an existing banal building is cut open, altered and turned inside out as a self-made construction, the Farm uses as its point of departure prefabricated standardised scaffolding which is filled during the construction process and becomes an architectural shell using a conglomeration of materials. A steel skeleton construction serves as a supporting structure with uniform sectioning. Various materials, some of which are transparent and others of which are opaque, infills the gridwork thus serving to contain the space. This approach, combining the use of industrialised standard elements and improvisation with existing elements, found objects or components that happen to be available, is related to the temporary architecture used for big events or humanitarian aid operations. It is a technique of interim solutions, substitute architecture and temporary constructions, which depend on being able to improvise with moderate means and without the application of complex technologies. Often constructed with the help of laymen, the activity inside the Farm (improvising with ingredients, foods, some of which are still alive, and cooking utensils) corresponds to the activities required to erect its architectural casing.

This type of temporary structure and the methods of the Bricoleur represent the other side of modernity. In his book "Liquid Modernity", the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman describes how that which is changeable has increasingly replaced the rigid and constant. "We know from our own experience that we get around faster if we travel lightly." Despite varying levels of significance, the proximity of the concepts of the temporary, the transient and the fleeting as well as that of the refugee are reflected in architecture. One is often surprised by the resemblance of the architectural approach and the structural elements found in situations of entertainment and pleasure (tents, stages and booths for vending or the very acts of cooking and eating) to those found in situations of emergency and misery (camps, makeshift shelters, food and medicine distribution stations, field clinics). Temporary architecture makes no distinction between a use for disasters, for recreation or other general purposes. The construction method and the external appearance of a refugee camp hospital ward, sleeping tents erected after natural disasters or the Farm do not differ significantly. However, this affinity of construction and the seeming resemblance of materials and structures bears with it the risk of aesthetisation.

The makeshift sausage stands found on many run-down inner city squares or shopping streets and the units set up after natural disasters not only share a similar type of construction, but also the quality of being permanent temporary solutions. Even though the contexts from which they arise could not be more different, the facts that one is forced to accept ugly grill huts for many years in some cities and that some refugee camps and emergency shelters have existed as barracks and tents for several decades both indicate an inherent problem with the temporary. The short-term, impromptu and transient is often used and exploited to change a spatial construct on a ongoing and effectively permanent basis. Nothing is more durable than a temporary solution.

And thus one may ask how one should proceed architecturally, as one neither wants to submit to a minimalist doctrine nor to the aesthetic of improvisation which has become a stereotype in and of itself. At least in the case of cooking and eating, an answer seems readily available. The architectural task consists of generating a space which can trigger in its occupant the desire to perform these activities and which does not force him or her into a rigid framework of predefined sequences of action. A space, which allows for wild cooking, unique compositions and even the occasional murder. The Farm Project is a place of squawking, crawling, gasping and cooking. It does not subscribe to the doctrine of the antiseptic, but allows food to be pervaded by smells, tastes, sounds and colours. The effort as well as the enjoyment of preparing meals, one of the most basic human needs, is given an honest passionate place by permitting all aspects of eating and consuming.

Manuel Herz


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