The Site and The Building of Kitchen

There are not many people who spend their lives planning kitchens, nor is the choosing of a site and arranging for the building of a kitchen on it a very frequent responsibility for the average food service manager. In the first place a kitchen usually is only a part of a larger building and secondly it is only when the food service is expanding quickly as it did in factories and schools during the second world war and in the recent university expansion, that many new kitchens are built. However, no apology is made for including questions of site and building as they are obviously fundamental to the main theme of this article. Many food service managers have to spend their working lives in kitchens which have been in existence for a number of years, and many such kitchens could be improved with a little careful re-planning. A consideration of the ideal kitchen helps when preparing such improvements.

Site Considerations

It is not unusual for a kitchen to be erected as an entirely independent unit. For instance, a canteen may be required where there is no space in the building or on the site, or a central kitchen may be required to prepare meals for transport to other centers. In both these cases a site has to be found and this site must fulfill certain important requirements.

(a) The piece of land on which the kitchen is to be built should if possible be level. Kitchens can of course be built on sloping sites but this may entail considerable expense in making the foundations which will have to be either excavated or built up. At the same time it is necessary to have a fall between the kitchen site and the main sewer to permit a natural flow. The ideal site is therefore on a flat plot of land at a slightly higher level than the main sewer.

(b) An adequate supply of water from the mains is essential for all kitchens. It is also important that there should be a good drainage system and this usually means a connection with the main sewer. In addition in many cases a supply of gas or electricity or both is required. In choosing a site for a kitchen we must therefore consider the proximity of any of these services which are required. The cost of laying pipes, digging drains or laying cable is high and it is advisable therefore to choose a site as near as possible to the existing services.

(c) It must be remembered that a kitchen is visited by a number of fairly heavy road vehicles during the week, some to deliver goods and others to collect refuse and empty crates. It is important therefore that the site chosen should be easily accessible from the public highway and as near to it as possible so as to minimize the expense of building an approach road to carry the traffic. Consideration should also be given when planning the approach road to allowing adequate space for vehicle turning and possibly parking.

(d) It may be that although a very satisfactory site is found, objections are raised by nearby residents who complain that the kitchen will constitute a nuisance. The likely causes of complaint will be the smoke from the boiler house chimneys, smells from decaying refuse and the unsightly appearance of the back area of the kitchen. All these objections can usually be overcome by a little thought and care beforehand to reassure local residents, and thus obtain agreement to the use of a site which is satisfactory from all other aspects. It is often advisable to secure local interest in the initial stage by displaying an architect’s drawing showing the completed building with trees and flower beds, to indicate that far from being an eyesore it will be an architectural asset.

The Location of the Kitchen

Although it sometimes happens that a kitchen is built as an independent unit, it is far more common for it to be a part of a larger building. We must now consider the various factors which influence the location of the kitchen in the main building.

(a) It is of course obvious that kitchen and dining room should be adjacent and easily accessible one from the other, but unfortunately for one reason or another this practice is not always followed. This factor cannot be ever-emphasized, however, as not only does it facilitate quick transfer of food to the table, but it also reduces the time and effort required by the staff.

(b) As already mentioned the kitchen premises must be readily accessible from the outside for the delivery and collection of goods, and this point requires special thought when the location of the kitchen in a larger building is being considered. The ideal arrangement is, of course, to have the storerooms situated as near as possible to a door opening directly on to the area into which the delivery vans can drive. This not only results in efficiency of handling but ensures that people in other parts of the main building are not inconvenienced by the traffic of goods to the kitchen, and that the workers in the kitchen itself are not disturbed by the noise, dirt and cross traffic of these deliveries.

Forethought about ways of reducing the distance which goods have to be carried may achieve a considerable saving of time and energy. When kitchens are situated on other than the ground floor this ideal arrangement is not possible and in such cases a service lift is desirable. If the lift is intended for kitchen use only the same considerations about easy access from outside apply.

If the kitchen is large and the intake of goods is heavy, the provision of an unloading platform is very helpful, particularly if the level of the kitchen is a few feet higher than that of the outside delivery area. This delivery platform should be the approximate height of the floor of a van – about 3′ 6″- thus making the task of unloading much easier and facilitating the loading of refuse bins, returned empties, etc.

(c) The only rooms where aspect is a vital consideration are the storerooms. The vegetable store, the general store and above all the larder must be kept cool and should therefore be planned to avoid direct sunshine at least during the hottest time of the day. Thus an easterly or northerly aspect is desirable for the larder although a north-westerly or south-easterly may be satisfactory, A larder facing south should, for obvious reasons, be avoided. The suggestion in the U.G.C. report “Residential Catering” that “morning sun should shine into the kitchen, particularly the preparation zones, either through the lookout windows or through a clerestory around the main working areas” is a very welcome one.

(d) Lighting and ventilation, which will be dealt with at some length in a later chapter, are mentioned here as they must be considered in the initial stages of planning. Too often in the past kitchens have been planned in such a way that artificial lighting is necessary all day long, and unless the question of good natural lighting is discussed at an early stage it may be overlooked. This need for forethought applies also to ventilation, for although some degree of artificial ventilation is frequently necessary in the kitchen, the best possible natural ventilation is most desirable. Storerooms too should have adequate natural ventilation where-ever possible.

(e) In a building of several stories the kitchen may be located in the basement, on the ground floor, on the top floor, or on any of the intermediate floors and the advantages and disadvantages of each of these possibilities must be considered when making a choice.

An examination of existing kitchens would probably show that more are placed in the basement than elsewhere, yet for those working in a kitchen the basement has no advantages. It is the least desirable part of the building, often without natural lighting or ventilation and usually with a tendency to dampness. In the past the adoption of the basement for kitchen work was presumably dictated by the stronger competing claims for the floors above, and a complete lack of appreciation of kitchen requirements.

Given free choice in locating a kitchen there is no doubt that the decision would lie between the top floor and the ground floor. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but the intermediate floors share the disadvantages of both without any of the advantages. The top floor possesses many advantages which make for comfortable working conditions. Natural lighting and ventilation are available and in addition the smells of cooking do not permeate through the whole building. Cost is the main item to balance against these advantages, not only the initial capital cost of providing extra lifts and stairways, supplying services and possibly also reinforcing the kitchen floor to carry the load of equipment, but also the heavy running and maintenance costs of the lifts and stairways. The ground floor kitchen moreover is more easy of access. Notwithstanding all these considerations, however, it must be borne in mind that the kitchen designer may have to give way to stronger claims for the available accommodation.

It is never an easy matter to decide where to locate a kitchen in a new building of any type but perhaps it is even more difficult when it is for a hospital. Today it is essential that hospital kitchens should be planned to provide meals not only for patients but also for doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and administrative staff, and as the ratio of total staff to patients is now in the region of three to one, the kitchen would be of a formidable size for a hospital of 800 beds. It is not easy to provide satisfactory meals for patients under such conditions, as pointed out by Dr. Vines in his book on hospital planning. The problem is discussed by him at some length and a workable solution suggested in the provision of a main kitchen on the ground floor to serve the staff restaurant. This kitchen would also prepare food for the patients but not cook it, one or more small subsidiary kitchens on the top floor being responsible for this and for the service to the wards by direct lift connection.

The Building

(a) A lofty kitchen is certainly desirable but there are limits beyond which the pursuit of this ideal ceases to be economic. It is essential that the walls, ceilings and all fittings in the kitchen be kept scrupulously clean, and the difficulties of cleaning and of redecoration increase with the height of the ceiling. Unless tiling or permanent surfaces of a suitable nature are installed at the outset, kitchens will require redecoration at frequent intervals, the actual period depending on the type of building material used and the volume of work done in the kitchen. It is obvious that this work will be more costly in a very lofty kitchen than in one of moderate height. A height of 12-14ft. is the most practicable. For storerooms a height of 8-10ft. is more convenient and has the added advantage of allowing clerestory lighting and ventilation of the main kitchen, if it is adjacent to the storerooms.

(b) When considering wall and ceiling surfaces there are several requirements to be borne in mind. Firstly, the surface should be as smooth as possible and without ledges, cracks or pipes where dust, grease and insects can lodge. One emergency kitchen erected during the war showed a complete disregard of this rule. The walls were built with large concrete slabs cast in the form of rectangular dishes with edges protruding into the kitchen so that the whole internal surface was broken by a series of ledges. But this was not all, for the roof was supported by a network of wooden struts. To keep the walls and surfaces clean was an impossible task.

Secondly, the surface should be washable so that thorough cleaning is possible. There are many materials which are suitable, for example, tiles, terazzo or glossy paint, but paper, distemper, unrendered brickwork or untreated cast concrete slabs are obviously unsuitable.

Thirdly, the surface must be resistant to the steamy atmosphere of the kitchen. We are all only too familiar with walls and ceilings where the surface is flaking off, a considerable risk to the purity of the foods served. A tiled surface is of course resistant to condensation and other surfaces can be made so by the use of vermiculite plaster or sprayed asbestos. It is advisable to prevent condensation as far as possible by the use of lining materials of low thermal capacity giving good thermal insulation of the walls.

There is a fourth point which deserves consideration. No matter how smooth or clean a surface i, yy be or how resistant to disintegration, the nuisance of condensation and consequent steaming is liable to occur at certain times unless some form of surface heat insulation is adopted. Sea travelers will all be familiar with the special surfaces applied to the steel bulkheads in saloons and alleyways to prevent this nuisance. The object is achieved by applying to the surface some such poor conductor of heat as cork, and while conditions in the kitchens we are discussing are not so drastic as on board ship the same fundamental principles apply and the importance of the thermal properties of the surfacing materials should not be overlooked.

A fifth point concerns the acoustic quality of the materials used. Noise is often a problem in both kitchens and dining rooms and can be reduced by the use of appropriate finishes on walls and ceilings. This subject is dealt with in more detail in Chapter 2.

(c) It is far easier to enumerate the essential requirements for a satisfactory kitchen floor than to give examples of flooring which meet all these demands: the ideal kitchen flooring has yet to be found. It should be hard-wearing, easy to keep clean, non-absorbent to grease, not damaged or discolored by hot utensils, by cleaning, or by the weight of heavy equipment, not slippery under normal conditions or when wet, and above all, for the comfort of the worker, it should be reasonably resilient. A further point to which more attention could be paid is the color of the surface adopted for kitchen floors. The psychological effect of a bright, cheerful and clean working floor cannot be overestimated and such a floor encourages cleanliness.

There are many alternative materials now available for kitchen foorings. Quarry tiles, the red unglazed kitchen tiles, which have been used for many years are still popular and they fulfil many of the required conditions, but they have, in their lack of resilience, one very serious defect which causes undue fntigue in the start Wood, a material which has been used for floors for many years, although not possessing this defect, has too many other obvious ones to be a popular choice today.

The new types of floorings now available are manufactured from mixtures of various materials which include resins, bitunen, asphalt, fibres and rubber. They fall into three main groups: firstly the thermo-plastic type which is laid hot in situ usually on a concrete foundation. This type of flooring has been used extensively during recent years, and if it is carefully laid one of its main defects, cracking and breaking away, may be avoided. The second group consists of tiles made of plastic materials of varying types. The tiles are laid and bonded with special adhesives to produce a smooth surface, not unlike that given by thermo-plastics. One of the great advantages of a tiled floor is the ease with which repair can be effected by the replacement of individual damaged tiles. Sheeted materials which can be purchased in rolls form the third group, of which linoleum and rubber sheeting are the best known examples. The main problem of these sheeted materials for kitchen use is that of water getting underneath the joints thus causing rotting and breaking away. Before choosing one of these modern materials it is advisable to see it in a kitchen after several months of hard wear and if possible to obtain the candid opinions on its performance of those who have worked in the kitchen.
A type of linoleum with bitumen backing instead of the usual canvas giving it rot-resisting qualities can be useful for kitchen flooring. Another new material which may be used in kitchens in the near future is carpet made from synthetic fibers particularly acrylic. It has already been used with success in kitchens in the U.S.A. and as it satisfies most of the essential requirements for a kitchen flooring may prove acceptable elsewhere.

(d) The processes through which food passes on its journey through the kitchen entail a considerable amount of movement on the part of the worker who in the course of her duties must either carry or push around on trolleys or trucks both the food itself and some of the equipment and utensils used in its preparation. Careful planning can reduce distances to a minimum, as will be shown in a later chapter. But little can be done to reduce the burden of work if the different parts of the canteen premises are at different levels. It is therefore important that the kitchen, dining room and store rooms should be on the same level. If, however, this is not possible the difference in levels should be as small as practicable, and the connections should be in the form of very gently sloping ramps. Such ramps cause less fatigue in workers than steps, and, of course, permit the easy movement of trolleys.