Like the face of a dice permanently on the number four, the domestic cooker remains largely unchanged since it evolved from the cast iron ranges of a century before.
There is a deep cultural significance embedded in the four-burner arrangement, which is probably why few designers have been brave enough to change it.
In the western context of cooker design there remains a tendency to be drawn to those materials and colours that personify a sense of hygiene and cleanliness, such as stainless steel or white enamel. Apparent innovations in cooker design are masked to some extent by this uniformity.
Our research was to explore those loose collections of objects and appliances that ‘roam’ the kitchen environment and suggest an alternative and perhaps more relevant proposal to contemporary domestic life.
The outcome was a bringing together of the electrical appliances and a deconstructed cooker. The concept remains at an early stage of its evolution, existing only in model form.
At the centre of the concept is the introduction of a series of cooking ‘tiles’. Each individual tile is dedicated to a specific type of cooking process creating a flexible work area.
Magnetic induction is used to connect the tiles to an electrical power source. The tiles need to be manufactured from iron or any metal with a large proportion of ferrite in it.
Individual tiles can be used and left in place, or whole bench tops can be populated with equipment and tidied away at the users whim. No holes in the cooking surface and no cables between appliances.
This is an open-ended solution that provides multiple ways of combining elements and even introducing new ones. This allows the user to make up their own ‘cook top’ to suit their needs therefore going some way to creating the possibility of personalised space and individuality.
Each tile is designed to accommodate the fitting of supplementary components (at the manufacturing stage) that will adapt the tile to a specific purpose.
For example, the single heating tile can accommodate the fitting of polyester resin walls (to survive temperatures of 250 degrees plus). These components create the formation of other appliances such as the steamer, toaster and kettle.
The visual philosophy of the product attempts to create iconic symbols of the appliance functions. The basic tile remains as a ring with a ripple profile as a metaphor for the spreading out of heat. The larger tile elements are transformed into appliances.
While the proximity of high temperatures to human activity is inherently dangerous, induction cookers minimise this danger as only ferrite-based material will become hot in a high frequency magnetic field.
Even with the unit activated, a hand placed over the magnetic field will not burn. Activation of the cook top is by a ‘pull’ switch to avoid the accidental power up that could be caused by a ‘push’ switch.
All interface graphics are non-language specific. Their arrangement is as intuitive as possible with the graphic layout responding to the arrangement of the burners or adjacent to the oven.
Individual units can be lined up in a row to make a long bench or placed in an island setting. The kitchen bench can therefore become part cooker/part work surface at the same time.
The purpose of the research is to provoke new thinking in an essential but rather conservative product. The outcome demonstrates that significant steps can be made to evolve the domestic kitchen cooker into an appropriate tool of the present while acknowledging the past.