Developing a kitchen to better support the ageing population has long been a mission of Johnny’s and now he is collaborating with the UK’s national research centre to start to flesh out his vision. My role is to bring a forward-looking view to the trends that may affect this design, and the technologies that may enable it.
A microcosm of modern Britain
My first work with Johnny was back in June 2015, when he invited me to give a guest lecture to a course on kitchen design he was delivering at Bucks New Uni. The research for this presentation made me realise that the kitchen is a neat microcosm of modern Britain. Here, the economic, ecological and demographic pressures we’re facing are all expressed. And here too, we can expect to see significant technology-driven change in response to these pressures.
Sat in my own kitchen right now, I’m close to a voice assistant (Amazon Echo), a Wi-Fi connected speaker (Jam Audio Symphony), a robot vacuum cleaner (Vorwerk Kobold VR200), programmable, touch-screen driven ovens, as well as various other bits of tech. This isn’t me showing off, this is increasingly the reality of the modern, middle-class kitchen: automation, and internet connected devices.
Ameliorating the impact of age
Some of this existing technology has the potential to ameliorate the impact of the ageing body and mind on the ability of people to care for themselves. Voice-driven reminders and recipes, automation of challenging tasks (floor cleaning), self-programming smart ovens, smart induction hobs — much safer than gas, and probably more cost-effective in the long run. And it’s clear a lot can be improved just with better design: putting things at the right height, with sufficient light, for example.
With coming advances in technology and more investment in design, we can probably do a lot more. But there’s a very human element to solving this problem that can’t be ignored.
In my original research on the future kitchen, it was clear that there is a huge and growing care challenge, and a problem with housing for younger adults. Getting on the property ladder as a couple is difficult now, let alone solo. We’re seeing more people cohabiting with friends and family later in life. Many people have put one and one together to solve both problems.
The problem is that the lives of the young and the ageing may be inherently incompatible. At least when trying to cohabit in existing housing stock. We keep different hours, have different expectations for behaviour. Living in close proximity 24/7 could be incredibly challenge with a lot of compromise.
We also have a lot in common, of course. Food, for example.
Perhaps the real design challenge is to create homes that support socialisation, support and collaboration around common areas — like the kitchen — but allow much greater separation in other areas.