Food as Cultural Expression and Architectural Catalyst: A Case Study of the TIAFI Community Center in Izmir, Turkey 

Research reflection 


Undertaking the research project on the role of food as a cultural and architectural expression among displaced Syrians in Turkey has been a truly enlightening and rewarding experience. Throughout the process, I have gained valuable insights into the significance of food in preserving cultural identity, fostering social bonds, and creating economic opportunities for the displaced community. 

One of the key findings that emerged from this study is the cultural significance of food and cooking practices among displaced Syrians. Traditional dishes, flavors, and cooking techniques play a vital role in maintaining a sense of home and identity for individuals who have been uprooted from their homeland. The community kitchen at the TIAFI center strives to incorporate these cultural elements into the meals, despite facing challenges related to resources and ingredients. It has been inspiring to witness the resilience and adaptability of the cooks and users of the community kitchen as they navigate these constraints while keeping their cultural traditions alive. 

The research also shed light on the growing demand for communal cooking services among displaced Syrians. The number of portions served at the community kitchen has increased significantly over time, highlighting the importance of such spaces in addressing the basic needs of the community. However, the limited physical space of the kitchen presents a challenge for expanding its operations. It was fascinating to explore strategies being considered, such as equipment replacement and increased efficiency, to meet this rising demand. 

One of the most captivating aspects of this study was the role of food as a platform for socializing, bonding, and sharing knowledge. Food not only nourishes the body but also acts as a catalyst for interpersonal connections and community building. The interviews revealed the significance of women in cooking traditional dishes, particularly during special occasions, and the communal nature of these experiences. While the community kitchen provides a space for food preparation and distribution, it was observed that meaningful social connections among the users are somewhat limited. Exploring ways to enhance the socializing aspect within the community kitchen environment could potentially strengthen the sense of belonging and support among the displaced individuals. 

From an architectural perspective, the design of the community kitchen primarily prioritizes practical considerations such as water and electricity supply. While functionality is crucial, there is an opportunity to incorporate more cultural and social elements into the design to better support the users' needs and aspirations. The interviews with the cooks highlighted their desire for certain tools and machines that were part of their original kitchens in Syria. Addressing these specific requirements and adapting the design to replicate elements of their Syrian kitchens could contribute to a more culturally responsive and empowering environment. 

Overall, this research project has contributed to the growing body of knowledge in the fields of food and architecture, as well as the broader discourse on culture and displacement. It has provided valuable insights into the multifaceted role of food in preserving cultural identity, promoting social connections, and offering economic opportunities for displaced Syrians in Turkey. By adopting a qualitative and interpretive approach, the study captured the lived experiences and perspectives of key stakeholders involved in the TIAFI community center.