Conflict Kitchen

Conflict Kitchen is a take-out restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. The food is served out of a take-out style storefront that rotates identities every six months to highlight another country. Each iteration of the project is augmented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. These events have included live international Skype dinner parties between citizens of Pittsburgh and young professionals in Tehran, Iran; documentary filmmakers in Kabul, Afghanistan; and community radio activists in Caracas, Venezuela.

Operating seven days a week in the middle of the city, Conflict Kitchen reformats the preexisting social relations of food and economic exchange to engage the general public in discussions about countries, cultures, and people that they might know little about outside of the polarizing rhetoric of U.S. politics and the narrow lens of media headlines. In addition, the restaurant creates a constantly changing site for ethnic diversity in the post-industrial city of Pittsburgh, as it has presented the only Iranian, Afghan, Venezuelan, Cuban restaurants the city has ever seen. Upcoming iterations will include North Korea.

Conflict Kitchen is a transformable takeout window floating in front of a turn-of-the-century building in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 14’x14’ façade is simultaneously a billboard for the restaurant and the point of sale. Since Conflict Kitchen’s mission is to foster cultural exchange through food, the architecture appears as a foreign object in contrast to its host. The existing building is an ornate example of Carnegie-era American wealth. Conflict Kitchen is almost ornament-less, as the entire surface area is transformable through colors, graphic patterns, and text. Ordering food requires a personal interaction with a trained staff member who not only takes the order, but also begins a conversation with the patron about the particular nation we are in conflict with. In that interaction, the façade’s size means that the customer is fully immersed in the patterns, textures, and aromas of a new culture. The context of the American sidewalk is just outside their periphery as they momentarily talk about Iran while eating kubideh, or Afghanistan as they taste bolani, Venezuela and Cuba as they partake of arepas and black beans and rice.

A simple 2x6 frame is bolted to the existing brick pilasters of the building. This frame supports MDO panels with paint and graphics applied. The main sign above is routed on a CNC router to provide crisp text, be it in Farsi, Arabic, or Spanish. Each version of the restaurant receives a new graphic treatment inspired by the culture represented by the menu. The edges of the façade are beveled and never touch any surface of the building, including the sidewalk. The effect is that of a temporary portal to another land connected by the aroma and taste of a national dish.

The food wrappers, also square in format, unfold to reveal quotes by locals from the represented country about their food and culture. On the reverse, a large pattern replicated from the building façade with the nation-specific restaurant name performs like a small version of Conflict Kitchen to take home after eating a meal and absorbing a far-off culture.

Conflict Kitchen is a project by Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski and is funded by the Sprout Fund, Waffle Shop, and the Center for the Arts in Society. Graphic design by Brett Yasko. Architectural design by Pablo Garcia. Special thanks to Illah Nourbakhsh, Marti Louw, Harrison Apple, Sara Faradji, and Courtney Wittekind, and all of those from the Iranian community who supplied us with their opinions and perceptions.

Website: Conflict Kitchen

Press: Azure
Fast Company
AOL Travel
Web Design Cool
Skewed Magazine
Peace and Collaborative Development Network

Related: Message Board

The Kitchen facade is a serve-through window, built out in front of the existing building.
Kubideh Kitchen, open for business.
Conflict Kitchen is a take-out window, where small dishes from different countries is served through the kitchen's facade.
While waiting for food, the staff engages customers in conversations about the cuisine and culture of the featured country. Up close, the facade becomes the entire field of view, immersing customers in the foreign country.
Kubideh Kitchen (Iran)
Bolani Pazi (Afghanistan)
La Cocina Arepas (Venezuela)
Cocina Cubana (Cuba)
The food wrapper is also redesigned with each iteration, containing quotes from residents and immigrants from the featured country.
The restaurant keeps the same format, but completely transforms to reflect the featured nation's culture and cuisine.