The kitchen of the future will be "compact, eco-friendly, interactive, self-sufficient, adaptable and adjustable, and will minimise the carbon 'cookprint' wherever possible", says Tarquin van der Westuizen, one of 12 finalists in the LG Conceptualife 2011 kitchen design competition, in which 750 students from universities and colleges across the Middle East and Africa developed their vision of the kitchen of the future. The 12 finalists - two from each of the participating countries - met in Dubai on May 30 to present their ideas.
In keeping with this year's green theme, there were plenty of solar panels, LED lights and inbuilt recycling bins among the winning entries. Sustainable materials also featured heavily, from compressed bamboo, cork oak and paper stone to Corian, eco-steel and polylactic acid made from corn starch.
In a more literal translation of "green", many of the finalists introduced plants, vegetable patches and herb gardens into their kitchens. These were coupled with grey water purification systems that allowed water from sinks, dishwashers and washing machines to be reused to water plants, either in the garden or in the kitchen itself.
Almost across the board, there was a move away from the traditional kitchen model where fixed units and appliances are placed along the perimeter of the space. Inspired by the Jenga game, Van der Westuizen's Building Blocks kitchen - fully mobile, completely customisable and spatially smart - was an all-in-one model on wheels where appliances and furniture are amalgamated. "The idea is that the unit is central and the user can move around it, depending on their needs," she explains.
The Diamond kitchen by Mohanned Magdy from Dubai's Al Ghurair University looked very different but followed a similar principle. In its dormant state, the kitchen takes the form of a multifaceted pillar, which then unfolds into a fully functional kitchen.
"Future houses will be small and compact, so the kitchen should be an organisation that can be placed wherever you want," suggests Turkey's Serdar Soyal, whose LG Flow kitchen was inspired by a hanging pot. "Kitchens should use a minimum amount of space, and should easily adapt to that space."
Karyn Schott's Cooking Pod perhaps best communicated the idea of a kitchen as a large multi-use appliance rather than a room in itself. "You basically plug in and play. The design is a holistic device combining appliances, furniture and interior design. The kitchen becomes a multifunctional appliance, in keeping with global trends of mobility, adaptability and sustainability. And at the end of its life cycle, the unit can be dismantled and separated, so that the materials can be reused," Schott says.
While space was pinpointed as a resource that would become increasingly valuable in the future, the finalists were most keen to conserve the more precious resources of water and energy. Nada Yaqub's Energy Flux kitchen was inspired by the change and flux of energy in the kitchen, and aims to harvest and reuse that energy wherever possible.
"Kitchens tend to be one of the spaces that consume the most energy in a house because they are very dynamic. They produce a lot of energy that then goes to waste. So I installed many fixtures in my kitchen that allow us to harvest the energy we create," the American University of Dubai student explains.
Energy Flux consists of a single ribbon shape that wraps itself around the space. The floor has a mechanism installed underneath it that allows kinetic energy to be stored and then used within the kitchen - to power the LED lights, for example. The cabinets do much the same thing. Meanwhile, a magnetic induction stove was selected for its energy efficiency, and eco-friendly Energy Star glass is used for the windows. Finally, a smart fridge allows the user to monitor its contents without opening it.
Minimising food waste was a priority for many of the finalists. "People buy far more food than they need," says Serdar Soyal. "Disposal of uneaten food costs the US $1 billion a year. Saving only five per cent of households' leftovers could feed four million people a day. Kitchens should [encourage] people to eat fresh food daily and stop food waste."
Iran's Tahmineh Mazloomnejadari addressed this issue with a fridge alarm that informs users when vegetables are close to expiry and need to be eaten. "We Iranians are used to buying much more food than we use and all that extra food goes to waste. So I've put a small alarm on my refrigerator to try and change consumer habits," she says.
Mazloomnejadari's Life Is Green kitchen also wholeheartedly embraces the social networking trend. A screen by the side of the cooker is linked to the internet and a webcam, and allows the user to benefit from a "social cooking network", a site where people can share food-related information and recipes, rate their food, watch videos and even make lunch together.
Mazloomnejadari's kitchen also features a device called My Box, which will keep your meal refrigerated all day and then start heating it up for you once you are on your way home - assuming you instruct it to do so via your smartphone or computer. Other useful inventions include a machine that will clean, disinfect, dry and prepare fruit and vegetables using a minimal amount of water, designed by Tolga Tekin, the winner of this year's competition. Masoud Faridizad's natural detergent, a combination of leftover food, water and an electrical charge, was another intriguing proposition.
Faridizad's Bioarms kitchen was also notable for its adoption of traditional architectural features such as the bagdir, or wind tunnel. Faridizad's contemporary bagdir was designed to draw warm air into the kitchen, which is then filtered and directed into an indoor greenhouse.
"Sometimes the solutions are in the past," notes Mazloomnejadari, who also looked to history for inspiration. "The old Iranian method of carrying water was a container made of clay. Pottery is not only good for carrying water, it also keeps it at a good temperature because of osmosis. Based on these concepts, I designed a modern water cooler made from clay. It is local in its design and uses no energy to cool the water."
This was the one common thread that linked all 12 entries in the Conceptualife final: the desire to minimise waste, in terms of food, water, energy and space. We just hope the electronics industry is listening.
Tolga Tekin, Waveset
Tolga Tekin from Turkey's Marmara University in Istanbul was the winner of this year's Conceptualife competition. His Waveset kitchen mixed basic interpretations of sand and water with innovative energy solutions. And he no doubt received brownie points for building the letters "l" and "g" into his design. "I particularly liked Tolga Tekin's design, as it integrated technology with cutting-edge design, albeit with a human touch. I felt this design was the most applicable and it would be very interesting to push this concept forward," says Ahmed Al Ali, the founder of X-Architects, one of the judges of this year's competition. Tekin received a fully paid one-month internship at X-Architects, US$5,000 (Dh18,365) in cash and an LG Optimus smartphone.
Serdar Soyal, LG Flow
The first runner-up also came from Turkey. Serdar Soyal from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul was recognised for his LG Flow kitchen, which was inspired by a hanging pot. Soyal's design was particularly mindful of spatial constraints and promoted the idea of the kitchen as a single unit that can be placed anywhere in the home. The LG Flow kitchen is suspended from the ceiling and takes three different forms, depending on the function it is expected to perform. Soyal received a LG Optimus smartphone and US$3,000 (Dh11,000) in cash.
Karyn Schott, Cooking Pod
The Cooking Pod, which was second runner-up, was another fully integrated kitchen, where appliances, furniture and interior design were combined to create one holistic unit. "You basically plug in and play," says Karyn Schott from the Greenside Design Center in Johannesburg, South Africa. Unlike current kitchens, which are static and difficult to change once they are fitted, the appliances in the Cooking Pod can be easily replaced and upgraded when new versions become available. And at the end of its life cycle, the Cooking Pod can be dismantled and materials can be reused. Schott received an LG Optimus smartphone and US$2,000 (Dh7,346) in cash.