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Dinner plans

Do you eat to live or live to eat? It’s axiomatic that food, like shelter, is a basic human need. But both also can be crazily refined, exalted even, into creations that have only a passing relationship to their essential purpose as fuel or refuge. When you’re digging into a plate of red velvet waffles with sriracha fried chicken, it’s hard to remember you’re engaged in an act of survival. And when you’re standing outside the Centre Pompidou in Paris, say, or the Catedral de Brasília, the fact of a roof seems almost incidental.

Chefs build their monuments much as architects do, with collective, integrated teams and constant investigation and iteration. In “Setting the table,” page 28, architect Jennifer Preston and consultant Tristan Roberts explain how getting any kind of team to prepare a meal together reinforces “the skill sets of collaboration.” Empathy, flexibility, attention, patience—these are requirements in a successful kitchen as much as in a studio.

Food and architecture often march to the same societal trends. Local, indigenous ingredients serve the same purpose in buildings as they do in salads: they are more sustainable; produce less waste; and are more authentic to a place, culture, and climate. Evolution may explain why spicy foods are common in hot countries (because the antimicrobial properties in peppers helped to preserve foods in the millennia before refrigeration). So, too, certain architectural typologies evolved in certain climates, whether the open porches of Southern plantation houses, designed to catch every breeze, or the steeply pitched roofs of snowier latitudes.

Even our language carries echoes of each discipline. We say a dish is not “balanced” if it has too much acidity or sweetness. We speak of a vintage wine’s “body” or “structure” and praise its “finish.” Is it any wonder some architects become chefs? Or that the reviled form, the McMansion, got its name because it is generic, cheap, and supersized?

In the book Drawdown, a solutions-focused guide to reversing the effects of climate change, editor Paul Hawken ranks food at numbers 3 and 4 among the top 10 things we can do to create a more sustainable future. Reducing food waste and eating a plant-based diet are demand-side solutions to an agriculture system that often does more to deforest and pollute the planet than to feed the world.

The relationship between food and the earth is a dynamic one. In “Assemble the ingredients” (page 22), Boston-area architects and activists offer five short essays about food as a neighborhood planning tool, including urban beekeeping, restaurants as community catalysts, and land trusts as a way to slow the march of gentrification.

This year, for the first time, the Boston Society of Architects/AIA is offering an award for excellence in hospitality design, a recognition of the growing role of the food sector in the profession. One eyepopping example is the experimental restaurant Enigma in Barcelona, Spain, designed by RCR Arquitectes, the 2017 recipients of the Pritzker prize. The restaurant is all narrow curves and translucent resin walls, sea urchin sauce and teardrop peas. “The type of cuisine we make is determined by the space,” chef Albert Adrià told the publisher Phaidon. “If we were, for example, surrounded by nature, we would cook entirely different dishes.”

Not all restaurants need to be pantheons of design; even the most rudimentary food shack can exude a certain vernacular charm. (See the photo at left, taken this year in Jamaica.) The most basic structure created for meals, after all, is not even a building, but the table. It is where we meet, where we argue and celebrate, often where we pray. Far removed from the vainglorious concoctions of food as sculpture, breaking bread is a profound and ancient act of trust, and this simple communal slab is the foundation for peace and understanding. ■

Renée Loth HON. BSA Editor