Everything’s On The Table : Reframing The Dining Table as A “Counter - architecture” to Superfood Phenomena

Everything’s On The Table : Reframing The Dining Table as A “Counter - architecture” to Superfood Phenomena

From supermarkets to superfoods, contemporary cultures of food production to consumption are based on the illusion that the crowning designation of “super” status represents a reliable global economic boom of food commodities in-play rather than a signal of an expanding cyclical agricultural crisis. Across diverse spaces that facilitate the extraction, transformation and distribution of food in this cycle—farms, warehouses, factories, grocery stores, restaurants—it is the domestic dining table, typically confined to food consumption, that is framed as a site for reinvention in the installation “Everything’s on theTable”.

During the 6th Tallinn Architecture Biennale (TAB 2022), titled "Edible; or, The Architecture of Metabolism" and curated by Lydia Kallipoliti and Areti Markopoulou, ArchDaily partnered with TAB 2022 to stimulate a discussion on how architects, planners, and environmental designers can take a proactive stance on architecture’s expressive capacity to perform circular operations, generate resources – food and energy – and self-decompose.

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Table Plan. Image © Mae-ling Lokko

The dining table installation comprises one of six installations within the Metabolic Home exhibition at the Estonian Museum of Architecture as part of the 2022 Tallinn Architecture Biennial. Steeped in social hierarchy and culinary traditions, contemporary dining tables are increasingly characterised as spaces where the disconnection and “alienation” of food from its broader production and transformation ecology have become normalised. In response to such alienation phenomena, the table is conceptualised as an experimental site for human participation within the broader food cycle, integrating custom culinaryware that activate micro-rituals beyond eating as the solitary contribution of humans to the metabolic process.

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Installation Side view. Image © Maeve Fitzhoward

Stemming from a seminar “Counterarchitectures of Superfoods” taught at the Cooper Union School of Architecture by Mae-ling Lokko, students explored culinary history and artifacts as the primary pathway of inquiry and documentation. The seminar explored the spatial impacts of superfood cycles stemming from the 19th-century global botanical networks and the 20th-century farms race on changes in local cuisine, culinary practices and diverse ecologies. Defining ‘counter architectures of superfoods’ as a broad set of practices that activate nutrient recovery, surplus transformation or repair within the food cycle, students designed a piece of culinary technology on the scale of “kitchenware” objects- ranging from cookware, processing chambers to food carts. With guest lectures and critics from the culinary industry including food design activist, Lin Yee Yuan of MOLD and chefs Selassie Atadika of Midunu and Michael Elegbede of Itan Kitchen, students practised the cooking of a chosen dish and designed culinaryware to address “counterarchitectures” in the life cycle of individual recipes. In a workshop seminar taught by Hayley Eber and Mae-ling Lokko, students developed physical culinary prototypes included in the exhibition that expand on the seminar’s themes around nutrient recovery, farming, and cooking rituals on the table.

Conceived as a 12-foot long and 4-inch thick butcher-block, the table’s surface is remapped topographically as a receptacle for a range of culinary objects where the functions of soil, nutrient delivery, ecological storage are activated amidst common eating. WIth the table plane lifted to standing height, the ergonomics of such table rituals respond to both preparation and eating.  New culinaryware ranging from growware to storage vessels are used to harvest and transform material by-products of cooking ranging from residual oils, plant stocks, grains, mycelia and animal protein scraps. Harvesting and short-to-long term transformation of food ingredients occurs on and off the table as well as above the table plane. Populated with test tubes, table planters, storage vessels, drying chambers and plates, dining at the table is reframed as a diverse experimental practice, in which both soil, plant, human and other microbial communities share in a metabolic bounty.

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It is estimated that 9.4 billion tons of crops are harvested annually, with approximately 12% of plant materials lost before the farm gate. According to the WWF’s “Driven to Waste” report, food loss generated from the dining table plate, as much as 40% of valuable organic material is lost along long food supply chains around the world. In identifying an inventory of waste produced within food transformation processes in the home, the installation includes conventional cookware objects and new culinaryware that both function and probe transparency and active intervention in-situ. For Julia Penchaszadeh Roberts, whose reinterpretation of the staple dining table plant vase as a vessel for growing oyster mushrooms, this builds on of the wave of new mushroom home kits that take common wastes from cooking, like coffee grounds, to be processed under ambient conditions to grow food. Inspired by the growth patterns of oyster mushrooms, the mushroom vessel has a deep base and bell jar cover providing moist conditions for the first phase of mycelium growth. 3D-Printed in clear resin, the fungal digestion of food waste is made transparent to the dining table occupant, who is over time encouraged to care and harvest mushrooms from its petal-like openings. Similarly, another set of grow vessels designed by Xinyi Xie, combines the growth of fresh kitchen herbs with the regrowth of vegetable offcuts from cooking. Using water and soil stored in the feet of the vessel as a counterweight, the 3d-printed vases include sections for different scales of seed sprouting and plant growth.

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Cast iron pan - food dish. Image © San Simeon

Taking into account an undervalued stream of cooking waste in the form of fats and oils,  the common cast-iron cooking pan by San Simeon is redesigned to include external perimeter sections for the collection, storage and reuse of animal fat. Analyzing the cooking of a pan-seared duck, potato and vegetable dish, the pan addresses the act of cooking multiple ingredients in one pan while taking advantage of the generous volume of fat which collects at the base of the cast iron skillet as it is rendered down during the early stages of cooking. To overcome the problem of burning, fat-draining which leads to oversaturating the duck breast and other ingredients, a “skirt” was integrated around the pan to collect excess fats and oils for secondary cooking locations. The thinner walls of the cast iron in those secondary spaces as well as the wider distance away from the central heating plate allows for vegetables or potatoes to be cooked at a lower temperature and simultaneously the duck to continue cooking at its normal rate.

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Drying Chamber. Image © Maeve Fitzhoward

The functional territory of the dining table is expanded vertically from the seating plane to engage medium to long-term low-energy processes of plant and animal protein transformation. Inspired by lentil sprouting as an alternative to gluten-based protein, Dov Diamond and Foivos Geralis designed a stackable ceramic storage and sprouting vessel that hangs from cutouts in the butcher block table. The vessel is sized and structured for seasonal grain storage at the base, weekly sprouting in the middle section and sprout harvesting on top.

Above the table plane, hangs a central drying chamber for meat drying and preservation. Based on the process of preparing seasonal ‘knodel’, a bread ball dish commonly eaten in the regional territories between Austria and Poland, Frederick Rapp’s design integrates a moveable air-drying chamber as part of the dining infrastructure.  Speak is a cured, smoked and aged cow thigh, cured in salt or a marinade for 7 days per kilogram of the weight of the meat, dried in a chamber.  Curing meat is a process which can take anywhere from two weeks to two years depending on the meat, flavours, and rituals involved. By centering meat curing as a central preservation technique on the dining table, the slower rate of careful preparation and consumption is poised as an alternative to fast food. The chamber consists of a semi-translucent vacuum-formed plastic outer shell and a wooden framework to hold the shell together and view progressive changes occurring in the meat. Within the shell, a metal stem branches out of the center to hold different sizes of meat. The wooden lazy-susan base, part of the table, absorbs and marks oils and drippings from the meats and also serves as a platter for table diners to pick meat from once ready.

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Cups. Photo © Maeve Fitzhoward

The tableware, designed and fabricated by Chia-Wei Hung and Yunru Chen, is reconceived as a landscape with topographic indentations to hold a combination of food, sauces, and spices. The tableware is integrated within the table by carving out the mass of the butcher block and incorporating a seamless lip flush with the table surface. Designed to be removed from the table, the voids for holding the tableware are used to house other soil media, plants, and objects. The plates are hand-formed in clay and then glazed, so each is unique in its coloring and articulation. In conceiving the drinkware, Tiam Schaper first experimented with crinkled paper, an unlikely material for a drinking cup. The initial studies are focused on the thinness of the material and its interaction with light as a visual simulation of liquid in glass. The folded paper vessels are then scanned and 3D-printed with a clear resin in a range of sizes to accommodate different drink types as well as a water pitcher. Designed by Tilok Costa, a set of wooden cutlery is designed to be worn like finger thimbles as opposed to being held. Through their use, Costa integrates an active sense of touch and contact exploration to reacquaint humans with both the ingredients on the table and their own bodies. The choice of food-safe tung-oil coated wood as a material allows for the user to feel the warmth and texture of the thimble material which mediates the temperature of the food to finger. With different shaped edges for gathering, prodding, mixing and sharing food, the thimbles bring intimacy and tactility back to the rituals of eating.

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Installation Side view. Image © Maeve Fitzhoward

Everything’s on the Table rests within a growing catalog of projects addressing how design can participate in  the most urgent problems in food systems from its entrenched rituals and high-carbon footprint material economy.  As 21st-century eating habits begin to shift, the experimental dining platform explores how domestic culinary infrastructure might evolve to promote biodiversity and indoor rituals of care. Taking its cue from multispecies design, the table itself becomes the habitat for fungi and plant species that thrive on the by-products of human cooking and eating. New practices of dining, reframe consumption culture on the table, as a frontier for engaging with the broader food ecology. Employing multisensory design through tactility, visual transparency and material, the design of culinaryware amplifies how the human body might reconnect with a broader food ecology on a daily basis. No longer the sterile, antibiotic and singular plane for temporary eating, the dining table is proposed as a messy, probiotic site for farming, storage, food preservation, cooking, multispecies living and metabolism.

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Table Plan. Image © Mae-ling Lokko

Cooper Union Research and Production Team

Project Leads: Mae-ling Lokko, Hayley Eber
Fabrication Assistant: Dakota Pace
Students: Martina Duque, Frederick Rapp, Dov Diamond, Foivos Geralis, Chia-Wei Hung,Yunru Chen, Pei-Ju Lin, Tilok Costa, Shiman Xu, Julia Penchaszadeh Roberts, Xinyi Xie, Tiam Schaper, Yeji Kim, San Simeon Koizumi

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Cite: Mae-ling Lokko and Hayley Eber. "Everything’s On The Table : Reframing The Dining Table as A “Counter - architecture” to Superfood Phenomena" 12 Aug 2022. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/986998/everythings-on-the-table-reframing-the-dining-table-as-a-counter-architecture-to-superfood-phenomena> ISSN 0719-8884

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