“If you look at cooking and design, it’s interesting to see so many similarities in processes,” says the Berlin-based designer Johanna Dehio. “If you compare design and cooking, it liberates some of the ideas that you might typically have surrounding each discipline.”
This ethos was on display in Construisine, a communal kitchen and workshop that Dehio developed with the designer Dominik Hehl, which operated earlier this month in the Sankt-Elisabeth-Platz in central Vienna during the city’s design week. A meeting point for the Viennese, the kitchen allowed users to create simple furniture from sheet material and cable ties, as well as cooking meals from a selection of raw materials.
“There are rarely places in public that you can meet or talk without consumption,” says Dehio. “So this a space where you can come, bring your food, cook it and eat together. We worked with donations from local farmers and the remainder came from local grants. All the materials were from a theatre workshop where they had huge amounts of sheet material, lacquer and so on. Everything was either recycled, discarded or donated.”
The project was developed as part of Vienna Design Week’s Stadtarbeit programme, a scheme to promote and fund socially-conscious design projects. Construisine attracted funding from the festival and worked with youths from Caritas, an organisation that helps disadvantaged teenagers and young adults. “Which was a really nice part of the project. Some of the boys who were helping now want to go to school to study design,” says Dehio.
A central part of the project was the opportunity for members to create the furniture that formed the Construisine kitchen. Dehio recycled a furniture typology from her 2012 workshop Furniture – Improvisation, giving users guidance to create wedge-shaped stools made from sheet materials connected with cable ties.
The typology was simple enough to be easily achievable by all visitors to the site – from children to the elderly – yet with enough content to allow for improvisation. Alongside the stools and tables, the ties and plywood were bound together to create desks, bins and benches.
“The design of the little stool relates to the connection technique of the cable binders, but their shape also allows the stools to build into a circle,” says Dehio. “For me, it’s all about communication between a group of people. These little swarms of chairs represent communication between a circle of people. A circle that can become bigger or smaller dependent on circumstance.”
The food in Construisine was treated in the same manner as the raw building materials – assembled through simple processes to create basic dishes. Vegetables were prepared with graters built into the work desk, while hacksaws were placed near to the larger squashes. Elsewhere, hot plates were provided to heat meat and polenta, while stencils were used to cut cakes into shape.
“The recipe were not straightforward recipes,” says Dehio. “The idea is that from the placement of the food and tools it was self-explanatory as to what was needed. These are simple production techniques.”
Yet based in Vienna’s Sankt- Elizabeth-Platz, the project looked beyond its constituent elements of construction and cooking. Instead, it served as a petition for design to look beyond its own industry and engage with public forums.
“I’ve recently been in Portugal, where they have public ovens in the squares,” says Dehio. “That lets people come and cook their food in the public space and that was a big inspiration. They come and cook and because of that they take care of that public space. In that way, they start to design it.”