Kitchen Design Project for Architecture
Monica Hill and Dora Pao
The English Centre, The University ofHong Kong
Last summer, applications were invited for Action Learning projects which might be funded by the
Research Grants Committee . Together with the Architecture Department, ideas were discussed as to how a
joint project might be developed and one suggestion made by their liaison officer was that some project
might be developed to help local first year students improve their designs of kitchens . According to the
department, students had difficulty in producing well designed kitchens (and bathrooms) probably due to
their home experiences where the kitchens would typically be small, possibly even with shared facilities,
or in cramped conditions. Broadening their horizons in whatever ways might be devised would be a
practical exercise which might feasibly be introduced into an English course : the subject area is familiar to
student and English teacher ; no great amount of technical knowledge might be needed by first year
students; an interesting range of vocabulary items might be included and all in all, it might be fun to try to
incorporate some cross cultural and interdisciplinary ideas into the English communications course for
A fairly simple `before' and `after' exercise was developed in which the aim was to integrate oral
presentation and descriptive writing skills, with a practical design element, in a way that would be helpful
in their Architectural studies . While the application for a research grant was never actually submitted, the
material was produced and considered worthy enough to be used as a class exercise. The following is a
short report on the project and students' response to it.
Three groups of Year 1 B. Arch students took part, but due to a series of last minute timetable
changes, only one group of ten students was able to complete both `before' and `after' phases which could
be video recorded for evaluation .
On a two page handout, each student was asked to consider the functions of a kitchen : who uses it?
what do they do there? and what kind of appliances and utensils might be found in a kitchen? The intention
here was to focus the students' minds on activities that might take place in their own kitchens at home.
A list of around 20 different items from a rubbish bin to a microwave oven and extractor fan was
given to provide relevant vocabulary, some of which was familiar and some less well known . In order to
stimulate their ideas and focus on any unfamiliar terms, they were asked to decide which ofthese items they
might include in their `ideal' kitchen and which additional items might be necessary .
Having focused on the functions and the lexical items, the students were then asked to write as
detailed a description as possible oftheir `ideal' kitchen and to justify the reasons for their design.
A space was provided for a rough sketch of the `ideal' kitchen . While encouraging the students to
be as imaginative and creative as possible, they were also reminded that this was an English
communications class rather than the architecture studio, so as to discourage them from spending a
disproportionate amount of time on the design to the detriment of the written description or organisation of
HONG KONG PAPERS IN LINGUISTICS AND LANGUAGE TEACHING 18(199S)
their presentation. Overhead transparencies of the design were produced as visual aids for the final part of
the exercise, the oral presentation.
The first part of the exercise took place in early January, about one third of the way through the
course . A complete session, or just under two hours, was allocated to the exercise. Students were given an
hour to collect their thoughts, draw a rough sketch, write the description in about 150 words, and produce a
transparency. Ideally they would have liked double this amount of time, but as the individual oral
presentations were to follow, the students were advised to use the time carefully .
At this stage in the Communications Course for Architecture, students had had little input in
presentation skills: they were aware of the pitfalls, having identified what -not to do, but had not yet
presented any of their own designs or other materials - this was to be their first attempt.
The follow up session took place about six weeks later, towards the end of the course, by which
time they had had several more lessons on presentation skills, worked on descriptions of space and texture
and had received feedback on the original exercise .
Once each student had written a short description of their `ideal' kitchen and produced a design on
transparency, their oral presentation was videotaped and other members of the group were encouraged to
ask questions about the design and its presentation . The designer justified the reasons for the layout and
suggestions were made for improvements .
After the session was over, the videotape was played back to an architect whose comments on the
design were noted. A record was kept of his suggestions for improvements and positive design features
were highlighted . The teacher's comments were made on the oral presentation skills and any points that
required particular attention were noted. The written description was corrected where appropriate and
grammatical and lexical errors were drawn to the student's attention .
The next tutorial was used as a feedback session, during which the video of the oral presentations
was reviewed with small groups of 3 or 4 students . The merits and basic design problems were discussed,
e.g. would it be better to have the kitchen facing east or north, rather than south, as the heat of the sun
together with the temperature increase with cooking might make the kitchen unbearably uncomfortable - or
where will the air conditioner go? Is it really a good idea to have a washing line running across the dining
area on the balcony, or can we put it somewhere else? Feedback was given on the written description
with suggestions for improving the language and organisation of the text. The students generally seemed
quite happy to comment on each other's oral presentation skills and suggestions were made for improving
them . Particular attention was paid to the organisation: a good, clear introduction was generally lacking,
togethei with conesive markers and `signposting' and a short conclusion . They were also encouraged to
develop better eye contact and rapport with the audience and take care not to obliterate the design by
standing in front of it or covering the transparency with hands and sleeves.
`Hands on experience' .....
The next tutorial became a field trip to explore the teacher's kitchen and try to identify some of its
(many) design defects. The students came in groups of four for 30 minutes at a time to look around and ask
questions . They were surprisingly forthcoming with their questions and a wide variety of cross cultural
KITCHEN DESIGN PROJECT FOR ARCHITECTURE
differences emerged . Typical questions which highlighted the deficiencies of at least one western style
Where's the rice cooker? (Sorry, folks, we boil rice in a large saucepan!)
Where's the smoke extractor? (The exhaust fan is in the window pane and it seems to be sufficient
for our needs)
How can you roast a chicken in here (the grill)? (We don't - the oven is underneath!)
Why is it so clean? Where's the grease?!! (Perhaps I need to do more Chinese cooking!)
What do you keep under the sink? (A rubbish bin and lots of cleaning materials)
Why don't you put dishes there instead - it would be more convenient? (If the sink leaks it won't
be very hygienic) .
Most commonly - What's this? (A kettle, toaster, food mixer etc .)
We also discussed some of the problems with the kitchen as it's far from ideal by most standards -
the paucity of worktops and eye level cupboards, doors in awkward places, a corner cupboard with carousel
shelves which needed stronger supports, and so on. Assuming, however, that this was still probably
considerably bigger and better than the kitchens they were used to, it seemed insensitive to draw too much
attention to its deficiencies . We discussed improvements that might be made and considerable time was
spent looking into drawers and cupboards to see what Western kitchens contained: various utensils that
looked like instruments of torture such as a potato masher, nut cracker, corkscrew and others.
Additional input to help them improve the design was to look through a collection of materials
specially put together for the first year architecture and surveying students in the Language Resources
Centre, adjacent to the Architecture Library . One folder contains a series of "Ideal Home" type articles
from this and other magazines, full of glossy pictures, to encourage the students to browse through them,
read the descriptions and think about the designs . Quite a few are kitchen designs and a separate magazine
devoted solely to kitchens is also available .
Results and discussion
The evaluation will focus on three aspects of the exercise: design, written description and oral
presentation . The design was assessed by an architect, while the description and presentation were marked
by two course teachers.
During the first part of the exercise, the designs varied enormously. As far as the `ideal' kitchen
was concerned, some of the students had great difficulty in producing anything much different from what
they might have at home - a small rectangular area where mum cooks and doesn't like being disturbed .
Other designs were really quite imaginative, detailed and well thought out.
The standard of the drawings was not evaluated as these were first year students who perhaps had
not yet had much experience in scale drawings and perspectives .
The commonest flaws in the first design were the lack of worktops, problems in separating a utility
area from the cooking area, positioning of the window - which direction it should ideally face - and general
difficulties in location of sinks, fridge and cooker. The rubbish bin also seemed to be causing problems and
HONG KONG PAPERS IN LINGUISTICS AND LANGUAGE TEACHING 18 (1995)
while one or two put it under the sink, some had it in the middle of the floor, by the door or in a corner.
Sinks also seemed problematic - some wanted separate sinks for washing clothes and washing food, so there
were sinks on opposite sides of the kitchen, with no sign of an adjacent worktop or draining board . Some
chose to have a balcony where drinks could be served, but then the image was spoiled by a washing
machine with a clothes line running across the table.
The functions of the kitchen varied considerably, from a hub of family activity with a TV and table
for children to do their homework, to a retreat for their mother. Those who described themselves as keen
cooks had quite definite ideas on the kitchen as a social centre where they would entertain their guests .
These were, generally speaking, the more imaginative designs, with dining area, a bar, wine and spice racks
and lots of appliances . One of the girls took a maternal perspective with a close circuit TV on which she
could keep an eye on the baby in the bedroom, while ironing in the kitchen.
Marks (out of 10) ranged from 4.5 to 7 with a mean of 5.6.
The revised designs showed considerable improvement. The revised kitchens had greater focus:
windows overlooking gardens or sea views, often with balconies and a small dining area for al fresco
meals . Utility areas were kept separate. There were double sinks with draining boards, plenty of worktops
were incorporated and awkward corners produced cupboards with carousel shelves . Eye level cupboards
were introduced and more storage space and work space was introduced. Influences could be seen from
both the kitchen field trip and another to the home of one of their lecturers on Lamina Island, who has an
open plan kitchen with breakfast bar.
Marks of the revised drawings ranged from 5 to 7 . 5 with a mean of 6.4.
The writing element of the task was generally done in haste, as an afterthought. One or two ran out
of time and ignored this section, concentrating on the design and presentation.
The descriptions were assessed on the basis of organisation, language and vocabulary. The first
attempt at the description tended to be rather disorganised, as if the students were unsure where to start.
Some lacked even simple vocabulary, referring to the cooker as the `cook set' and one confused the vacuum
cleaner with the exhaust fan, causing mild consternation in the presentation! On the other hand, one had an
excellent command of English referring to the aesthetics of the design, culinary programmes on TV and
items along the periphery ofthe kitchen .
The marks (out of 10) for the first version ranged from 2 to 6.5 with a mean of 5.7.
The language varied as much as the designs, and while there was an overall improvement in the
second part of the written exercise, it was not so dramatic as the changes to some of the designs . The
artistic element was more important to the students than the language . However, the later descriptions were
better organised and there was a general improvement in the range of vocabulary items used.
The marks of the revised descriptions ranged from 3 to 7.5 with a mean of 6 .4 .
The assessment ofthe oral presentations was based on the following :
organisation : introduction, body, conclusion, clear signposting
content : interesting, detailed, balanced, original
presentation : visuals, confidence, tone, liveliness, pace, audibility, rapport
language : grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary and fluency .
KITCHENDESIGN PROJECTFOR ARCHITECTURE
As this was the students' first chance to present a design in the English class, they were rather
nervous at the beginning and uncertain of how their designs would be received by the others. Their main
difficulty in the first presentation was that they had considerable problems in trying to organise their
thoughts and present the design in a coherent and cohesive manner. Basic technical skills, such as using an
overhead projector and positioning themselves between the screen and the audience were a challenge for
them. In addition to these, their presentational and linguistic skills were also put to the test.
Most of the initial attempts were fairly short and unfocused: they really did not know where to start
or where they were going . Almost all ended abruptly with "That's it" or "That's the end of my
Marks (out of 10) for the first presentations ranged from 4.5 to 6.5 with a mean of 5 .8.
While the presence ofthe video camera seemed to be threatening at first, the students soon realised
the benefits to be derived from reviewing the video themselves . They were soon confident enough to point
out the defects of both the design and presentation and became quite adept at producing positive criticism .
They asked to borrow the tape and also asked for all further presentations to be video taped so that they
could review their performances and improve them.
By the time ofthe `follow up' session, they had had several more lessons on presentation skills and
attention had been paid in particular to organisational techniques : introductions, signposting and
conclusions . As time was limited, they were unable to add as much detail to the visual aids as they might
have liked . Most showed considerable improvement in their organisational skills ; some tried hard to
improve eye contact with the audience ; others worked hard on the introductions and conclusions ; and
technical skills became obsolete when the projector failed to work! They all appeared to be quietly
confident of their revised designs .
The marks for the revised presentations ranged from 5 to 7 .5 with a mean of 6.5 .
Conclusion and recommendation
The main objectives of the exercise were to help the students improve their oral presentation and
descriptive writing skills while integrating a kitchen design, in a way that would be practical and helpful in
their studies . The exercise appears to have fulfilled these objectives in an enjoyable and interesting way .
The improvement may have been predictable even without the slightly unconventional field trip, but it
heightened the students' awareness oftheir surroundings .
In retrospect, perhaps more attention could have been paid to improving the written task, as one or
two tried to ignore it or considered it as an afterthought; but as the students perceive more immediate
benefits from design and presentation skills, it is perhaps inevitable that they will pay less attention to
written work until they have to produce written assignments for their studies .
In the end of course evaluation forms, most of the students who took part in this exercise
commented on it favourably . The Architecture Department also felt that it was beneficial to the students,
and as teachers on the course, it was an enjoyable and insightful experiment.