Title: Prototype for a plug-in kitchen
Pages: 51 - 52
Author: Susan Forsyth
Text: Prototype for a plug-in kitchen
by Susan Forsyth
The previous article describes one approach to greater flexibility in the kitchen. Another solution to the same type of problem was demonstrated in a prototype kitchen unit developed by Allied Ironfounders Ltd and shown in the Modular Society pavilion at the recent Industrialised Building Systems and Components Exhibition at Crystal Palace.
Michael Jackson, Allied's building development engineer, who has produced the prototype unit, says that it might be developed for use in industrialised housing, and in particular for local authority houses and flats.
The Services Wall is assembled from modular metric components having a dimensional relationship of 5 m (50 cm). It is built around a central core, 30 cm from front to back, which houses all electrical and plumbing services and also the mechanisms for operating the appliances. The appliances themselves - oven, refrigerator box, sink unit, dish washer and so on - are cantilevered from this basic structure.
The Services Wall would, of course, be a permanent fixture, designed to form one wall of a kitchen - or perhaps a partition. (The central core could be extended upwards like a spine in the building, to serve kitchens or bathrooms on other floors.)
Mock ups of appliances - basically modular metric boxes, 50 cm wide, 60 cm from front to back and 40 cm deep - have been hob produced by John Rowley, head of Allied's industrial design department. Each appliance can be positioned on the wall in whatever place is most convenient for the user. Standardised storage cupboards and work top areas can be cantilevered from the central core in the same way. The hob unit is hinged and can be folded back into the wall when not in use.
Mr Rowley's designs have an attractive family appearance - as well as having a uniform shape, all have drop down doors, black trims and neat lettering in common.
All controls for the appliances are on one modular control panel, also designed by Mr Rowley. He intended that the panel should be at eye level, though in fact it was at waist level on the exhibit due to height restrictions inside the Modular Society pavilion. (At this level the thick Perspex discs covering the dials caused refraction, making the dials difficult to read.)
The control panel - or panels if it were necessary or convenient to split up the controls - could, in fact, be assembled wherever required on the unit: the modular build up of elements in subdivisions of 10 cm (with 4 cm as the smallest element) makes this possible. And it also allows for the easy extension of the panel to take extra controls.
To make identification of the various controls easier, Mr Rowley grouped and colour coded the elements. The controls for related appliances are placed next to one another and, as this is an internationally minded piece of equipment, an international colour code has been used. This means that grill and oven controls, for instance, are blue, the colour designating caution -health hazard. And again, orange and yellow, signifying dangerous moving parts, are used for waste disposal and dishwasher controls respectively. The clock's red surround indicates that in an emergency it is the master switch -twisted a full circle, all power is cut out.
Mr Rowley has also introduced a supplementary shape coding for added safety.
Problems and possibilities Allied's Experimental Services Wall doesn't offer quite the same design-it-yourself flexibility as the system suggested in the previous article. The service spine is a solid structure, intended to be incorporated in new buildings: it might be difficult and costly to install it in an existing house.
Adding extra appliances to the Services Wall would again be relatively simple or difficult depending on the type of equipment and where it had to go. The solution probably lies in careful planning of the basic unit to ensure that it will take extra appliances easily. Mr Jackson points out that solving these problems would form an important part of the development work on the project.
Even with these limits to its flexibility, however, the unit still offers a substantial improvement over existing kitchens in convenience and in the range of appliances that could be provided.
Where Allied's Services Wall differs most radically from the system proposed in the previous article is in the need for standardised appliances. Standardisation could be achieved in various ways, depending on how the project was developed.
Either Allied could go ahead with the Services Wall and manufacture all the appliances, or the firm could make the basic unit and some components, and contract other manufacturers to supply the rest to Allied's specification.
Alternatively, the project could be thrown open, and manufacturers might produce a variety of correctly dimensioned appliances from which designers and users could make their choice. (And not only British manufacturers -the Services Wall could be an international development, taking foreign appliances and also perhaps being used in industrialised housing abroad.)
Whether, in fact, the project is ever developed at all, depends mainly on the local authorities for whose housing it is primarily intended. Unless substantial orders are seen to be forthcoming, the Experimental Services Wall will probably remain only a prototype. (It might be taken up by enterprising foreign concerns, or it could be developed as a prestige unit for theluxury market. In both cases, the designer's aim to provide kitchens of a high standard for the many would be sadly frustrated.)
But, however it is developed, the Services Wall provides a rare opportunity to raise the standard of design in an area where improvement is long overdue.
[The modular build up of the various elements on the control panel can be seen here. Controls for related appliances are grouped together and colour Is used to aid identification further.]