Food, Art and Architecture

Although the primary function of food is nutrition and taste satisfaction through its flavors, it also has a cultural anthropological dimension, by which people choose what to eat based on their ethnicity, history, religion, social status. The representation of meals and eating has a long history in Arts. Interest in food Anthropological studies began in SXIX with Garrick Mallery and William Robertson Smith. Mallery’s ¨Manners and Food”, was published in 1888 in Volume 1, No 3, American Anthropologist, while Smith’s, ¨Lectures on the Religion of the Semites¨ in 1889, contains an important chapter on food. These writings have recreated the symbolic and social construction through food, prompting a debate between historical materialism and structuralism with its symbolic explanations about human behavior and rituals.
In SXIX, meals were governed by three units. The unit of place: food as an organizer of a dining space that has become a fixed entity, very different in function to the kitchen, bedrooms and reception rooms. The unit of time: meals were subject to regular schedules. The unity of action: reflected in the style of service.


Screen shot from The Cook, the thief, his wife and her lover. Movie by Peter Greenaway, 1989. Internet download.
From the French Revolution until the Second World War, family life was guided by a specific code of conduct, where food and people had their roles defined and separated. However, over the years, new conditionings for living and eating have led to the culinary art as art in its own right, sometimes in paintings, others, in bizarre representations of architectural works, also in the making of edible compositions of all kinds.


Edible architecture. Downloaded from the

The space of dining room is a consequence of eating necessity. This connection between architecture and food sometimes is so literal that food becomes part of the materialization of the dwelling. Let us see some examples.


Whale bone houses. From .”The symbolic dimensions of whale bone use in Thule winter dwellings”

Artic primitive dwellings like the Thule’s whale bone houses were constructed with cosmological principles that formed interactions between inhabitants, like household rituals. They were considered as a microcosm of the universe of the human body, including food. The Thule arrived at the central and eastern Arctic approximately AD 1100-1200; they are the immediate ancestor of Inuit groups. Whales, were part of their nutrition; the whales’ bones, were used as semi-subterranean structures in combination with wood, for the construction of houses with spatial symbolic patterns related to whales’ mythology, where main rooms represented the body of the whale. The Architectural Utility Index proposed by archaeologists include ranks of whale bone according to its potential utility as a construction material up to meat utility.

Uros’ dwellings, Peru.
In coastal and highland Peru, the totora (Schoenoplectus Californicus) has played a valuable cultural role for the Suros indians. It is used to build clothing, boats, houses, mats, pots, containers, strings, fertilizer, and food.


Ming Tang’s good-looking origami stimulated fold Bamboo Houses are planned  to be used as provisional shelter in result of an earthquake.

Bamboo, is a woody perennial evergreen plant in the grass family of Poaceae. It has a rich history in Asian cultures as a structural material for construction, but also for food and medicinal uses. Most food choices center on the shoots of the bamboo, which are tender vegetables. Once it hardens, the bamboo is practically inedible. But shoots are used in different recipes, such as bamboo candy, beer, chutney and even soup. (P. Fitzgerald). Bamboo and its related industries already provide income, food and housing for billions of people worldwide. Flexible and lightweight bamboo proved to be an essential structural material to support earthquakes. It is also an aesthetic, wind break, acoustical, landscape design element.


Chipaya’s dwellings, Bolivia.…/web/bolivia/
The round Chipaya dwellings in the South-west of Bolivia are built with bricks directly cut from the saline lands. Survival in these salt flatlands is a continous challenge for the quinoa growers, who must regularly flood their crops to dilute the salt from the soil. Salt is the house component.


Chocolate dessert as an abstract of the Robie House (Frank Lloyd Wright). Dessert picture from
House image from

If this relationship architecture-food-art is reversed, food becomes an object of art thanks to the contributions of “Starchefs”. These artistic meals carry a metaphorical surplus value reaching a high level of intellectualization where literature, digital painting, sculpture, architecture and food are conjoined. A good example is the chef Seiji Yamamoto from the Japanese Restaurant Ryungin, Tokyo, who has patented the use of a silk printer with squid ink to make creative prints on or around food. With his ephemeral art, soup can then be covered with an abstract barcode, a dish can be covered with a description of the menu or advertisement of the restaurant, in typographic newspaper’s pattern, which is in turn the sauce of the meal; a Japanese vegetable roll can emulate a cork, and so on, the list of culinary creativity is endless. …

Edible garden. Jardín comestible. Por Chef Montse Estruch.

Seiji Yamamoto nos presenta su impresora con tinta de calamar en Madrid Fusión. Enero 18, 2007

A. Katherine Patton et James M. Savelle

Études/Inuit/Studies, vol. 30, n° 2, 2006, p. 137-161.”The symbolic dimensions of whale bone use in Thule winter dwellings”

Fitzgerald, Paul. Bamboo as food and medicine.


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