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Merrett Houmøller's Befriending Kitchen for the British Red Cross

Merrett Houmøller's Befriending Kitchen for The British Red Cross

One of the three selected designs for this year's Architecture Open call for ideas that go 'Beyond Borders', Merrett Houmøller’s mobile Befriending Kitchen for The British Red Cross, has been put to use over the past two weeks - we really have been cooking on gas on the 4th Floor Terrace of 66 Portland Place.

Having hosted groups of young refugees at RIBA HQ for lunch and design reviews, the mobile Befriending Kitchen will be handed over to The British Red Cross Young Refugee groups to provide new opportunities for bringing people together over meals.

Lucia Lanzalaco is a member of our Young People’s Forum who has been involved in the project with Merrett Houmøller Architects from the outset.

Here she kindly shares her experiences and the things that she’s learnt along the way about the work of architects like Merrett Houmøller and the way they can support initiatives and projects such as this one with the Red Cross:

‘Spending the last few months involved with the Befriending Kitchen experience with Merrett Houmøller Architects and the RIBA Young People’s Forum has been incredibly insightful into some of the dimensions of the architecture industry.

I believe the kitchen was a response that can enlighten other students and practices to see how one can take a more holistic approach to a project, and allow the function to be accessible to all.'

Designing the façade

'As a YPF member, we embarked on the project after the main function and structure was designed. We were involved with discussing how the kitchen would be communicated to the public and the users of the kitchen, as well as weatherproofing the structure.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collaboration as we were all bouncing ideas off each other, exchanging sketches, and drawing over each other’s diagrams. This was a great moment, as it made me realise that this was a process I would like to be part of for a long time.

Leaving the discussion, I gained a better insight into elements of design that are important to consider and how conversations proceed in practice, which is something I really valued, as getting started in architecture becomes increasingly obscure.'

The build

'A momentous week; the kitchen grew in colour and became enveloped in the nautical flag pattern. We spent a week transferring the patterns from paper templates onto the kitchen façade, making sure the patterns were aligned with each other; something I found quite meticulous at times.

As an architecture student, I don’t usually get the chance to build at 1:1 scale, so it was great to finally be in the presence of a project that was at its final stage.'

Kitchen in action

'After spending time with an inanimate kitchen, it was time for the young refugee group to takeover. They cooked a grand pot of soup and vegetable wraps, with much friendly debate over ingredients and who would be the main chef in the kitchen! Surprisingly, the soup was very fitting for a cold grey day in August.

It was also a surreal moment seeing the water streaming into the sink and hearing a pot boiling over the stove. If this is what we put together in a week, imagine what we could create within a few weeks or months!

There was a lovely atmosphere throughout, as the kitchen and making of the meal was the focus of the day. I appreciated hearing the candid critique (not permeated with ‘architectural terminology’) from the young refugee group and seeing them interact with the kitchen.

Their responses were all the more meaningful seeing as it was real-time feedback from users of the installation. It was also humbling to meet and speak with other young people I may not usually meet everyday.’

Success - more self-build projects?

'The Befriending Kitchen is a great example showing that with the right dynamic between client, architect, and young people, small architectural interventions result in a progressive project with a greater longevity in its impact on society.

Overall, the opportunity of having this experience has highlighted how important it is to collaborate with other students, individuals involved within architecture and the architects. The collective ‘self build’ element is an excellent approach and it is a shame it doesn’t happen all year round, but I would like to think that the kitchen would shed light on this matter.

I hope that similar projects will occur more in the future, allowing anyone wanting to be involved with temporary building, painting, or exchanging ideas and be able to take small breaks from their daily lives.

I believe more advocates are needed for projects of this kind. If you are out there with a similar project, kudos and keep connecting, conversing and collaborating – hopefully with more young people!'

Lucia Lanzalaco

The RIBA’s Young People’s Forum is for anyone aged 16 to 24 with an interest in architecture. It’s free to join and you don’t need to be pursuing a career in architecture, simply to be curious about the world.

We meet once a month for an exciting programme of hands-on practical workshops, meet ups with leading practices, event leadership, talks, visits and - where possible - live design and build projects in collaboration with architecture practices.

To sign up or find out more, please email learning@riba.org or call 020 7307 3703.

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