Elaine Zmuda

Influential Books


Along with all the very specific research required for every project I have worked on, I also read for general interest.  These are the books I have read over the past few years that have made the biggest impression on me, even if they don't directly play out in my work.

Food Maps


A month ago, I moved to Stockholm for a semester at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.  While it is a foreign country to me, it's not really that different from my life in Chicago.  However, one thing that did throw me off the first few weeks was the grocery stores - they are so small.  I'm used to American supermarkets - the small Coop or Lidl I find near me has nothing on them.  The selection is what was the most surprising.  There are fewer choices in brands or types of food.  Living in Chicago, I'm used to getting whatever I want at any time of the year, with relatively minimal cost difference.  That is not the case in Sweden.  Strawberries were 80 kronor ($8.70) when I first arrived, just a few weeks after their season ended.  And then they weren't even available.  People are eating with the seasons.  And most food comes from much closer.  Local foods are highlighted.  Which is common in the US, but that tends to be the gourmet choice.  Here, it seems to be the standard.  So I was interested to see where exactly my food was coming from.  I mapped out my typical breakfast and was delighted to see everything was from within the EU, but also shocked to see nothing from Sweden itself.

As I continue to cook here, I plan to map some more meals.  And when I am home, I will have the opportunity to do the same, but with products purchased in America.  I wonder what meals will travel the most.

Untangled House


We played a semester-long card game in my Design Communications II  (DC) course during my first year studying architecture at IIT.  During the second half of the semester, I pulled a card:

design communications spring 2015 cards

Following this prompt, I made a drawing of my morning as I prepared for my 8:35 DC course.  I photographed everything I stopped at and showed images of what it recalled to my mind.  This lead to a drawing of my hall turning into Paris based on associations I had with different things I saw walking, which although fun, is not what I’m thinking of 3 years down the road.  I've now become more interested in the first drawing I made:

a visual documentation of my morning routine and thoughts circa april  2015

detail of the tangled activities

 Rather, I’m interested in the repetition of the different elements.  Although I no longer live in a cramped dorm room anymore, I still find myself walking back and forth between different rooms, going from bed to bath to kitchen to bed to kitchen to bath to kitchen to bed to kitchen on a standard morning.  I imagine this is the same for nearly everyone else.  While this is totally normal and not the worst thing ever, what if we could organize our lives differently?  Rather than have distinct rooms with a purpose, we could set up our living spaces to run more like an assembly line (a machine for living?), totally based on individual circulation, moving in a straight path from activity to activity.  Assuming everyone could follow a routine throughout the day, we could predict what object they will need in an order specific to them.


 First, I step out of bed.  Then, rather than having to put a robe on because I walk to another room, I could just step into the shower, because in my untangled house, it is right there.  As I exit the shower, I put my bagel in the toaster and immediately reach to my right, where my drawers are to grab clothes.  As I’m doing this, the toaster moves to my next spot, and is right there on my side when I’m ready to eat.  All I had to do was continue walking in the path I started since I got up.

This would continue, with objects repeating to match what my morning routine calls for. There would be weird adjacencies: my mascara is placed next to the sink sponge, but that would be the most efficient, as would having my backpack waiting for me to leave in the bathroom.


 Obviously, this proposal, while being efficient in circulation, is actually horrendously inefficient in basically every other aspect – who is willing to have the 7 sinks that would wind up being in this house (and that’s just my morning) when 2 is enough. And what if I forgot to braid my hair at the correct time? I don’t actually believe we should design our houses in such a forced way – design is a mediation of many different needs – but I find it fascinating to think through situations like this, I believe it can help one (me at least) to become a better designer.

 I would also love to see how other people would order their mornings; I take forever to get ready, but my partner just gets up, showers, puts on his usual outfit, and is out the door to get coffee.  His space would be wildly different! How do those two spaces intersect?  If we live in these individualized assembly lines, do we see each other? Do we overlap? I could see two solutions: 1. The house is designed based on two people’s routine somehow or 2. I enjoy it being a  bit tangled.