My Vienna: Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, mother of the modern fitted kitchen
Who: Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky.
Key: 1st woman architect in Austria, designer of something we take entirely for granted.
Quote: “I developed the kitchen as an architect, not as a housewife.”
I always liked how cooking had well-defined endpoints: a desirable start, and a satisfying conclusion. I enjoy the process: the contemplation of “what to make,” the gathering of ingredients, the preparation, and naturally, the consumption. There might also be something to say about the duality of creation and annihilation …
That got me to thinking about kitchens as a critical unit of a home. Before the 20th-century, the wealthy could afford to have staffed kitchens; everybody else had access to no kitchen or an unsafe unhygienic kitchen in a building separate to their living quarters. The assumed universality of a kitchen within a home is a 20th-century concept and implementation that sought to overcome social and economic class. The design of a modern kitchen invites repeated patterns of movement and action around where cookware, utensils, condiments, glassware, etc. are stored and where the central focus of cooking activity takes place.
For everyone who spends any time in a kitchen, we have Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (MSL) to thank.
Architect, between Wien and Frankfurt
- About Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky
- Globus building (20.)
- MAK Wien: Frankfurt Kitchen (1.)
- MSL mural (5.)
- MSL Zentrum (5.)
- Otto-Haas-Hof (20.)
- Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien (1.)
- Werkbundsiedlung Wien (13.)
- Zentralfriedhof / central cemetery (11.)
About Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky
Born: 23 January 1897, Vienna.
Died: 18 January 2000, Vienna.
Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky became Austria’s first woman architect in the early 1920s. In 1926, she joined the municipal planning department in Frankfurt am Main, Germany where the city’s leaders addressed the lack of available housing for the growing working- and middle-class living in poor cramped conditions. Schütte-Lihotzky had been inspired by Frederick Winslow Taylor’s ideas of “scientific management” analyzing patterns of workflow to improve efficiency and productivity, and by Christine Frederick’s early ideas about “scientific scheduling” to optimize efficiency and workflow at home #.
With her mind primed and leading towards social housing, Schütte-Lihotzky designed a kitchen which was reproducible and built-in to the planned design, reducing time, money, and effort for overall construction. The keys were affordability, efficiency (regarding use of built space and use of afforded time), and functionality. As part of the “New Frankfurt” public housing program, over 10-thousand apartments including her kitchen design were constructed between 1925 and 1930.
By 1936, the “Frankfurter Küche” (Frankfurt Kitchen) became a leading design, one that’s the predecessor of today’s fully-fitted kitchen. Schütte-Lihotzky’s design of the Frankfurt Kitchen was included in the architectural standard book Bauentwurfslehre (Architects’ Data) by German architect Ernst Neufert %.
Globus publishing house (20.)
MAK Wien, Frankfurt Kitchen (1.)
Museum für angewandte Kunst / Museum for contemporary art
Shortly after arrival in Vienna, I head back out to catch a train on the city’s U-Bahn to the MAK, the city’s Museum for Applied Arts. The MAK’s big focus is on the evolution and development of design through an historical collection of fine china, furniture, glassworks, silver, and textiles.
My main goal is to learn more about Schütte-Lihotzky and see the 1990 reconstruction of her 1926 “Frankfurt Kitchen.” Located inside the MAK Design Lab, the “Frankfurt Kitchen” reconstruction is an idealized version enabled by Schütte-Lihotzky based upon her own memories ^. How we think about and value our kitchens today is only a century in the making. The ubiquity of fitted kitchens within the developed world makes it difficult to conceive how innovative Schütte-Lihotzky’s kitchen design was at the time compared to what came before. It’s also important to point out that her design came out of necessity in an architectural design, and not out of any personal need or experience. In a 1997 radio interview to celebrate her 100th birthday, she said:
Es wird Sie überraschen dass ich, bevor ich die Frankfurter Küche 1926 konzipierte, nie selbst gekocht habe. Zuhause in Wien hat meine Mutter gekocht, in Frankfurt bin ich ins Wirtshaus gegangen. Ich habe die Küche als Architektin entwickelt, nicht als Hausfrau.
(It might surprise you to know that when I designed the Frankfurt Kitchen in 1926, I never cooked for myself. My mother cooked at home in Vienna; in Frankfurt, I went to the pub. I developed the kitchen as an architect, not as a housewife.)
As the 1920s design below shows, there was no home refrigerator (Kühlschrank) as households at the time used insulated iceboxes for refrigeration. Incorporating the refrigerator as a “built-in standard kitchen fixture” within modern German (European?) homes began in the 1960s (Frankfurter Rundschau, 29 Aug 2011).
MSL mural (5.)
MSL Zentrum (5.)
Universität für angewandte Kunst (1.)
University for contemporary art
• Formerly (ehem.) Kunstgewerbeschule.
• MSL studied here, 1915–1919.
Werkbundsiedlung Wien (13.)
Vienna Craftwork Association Housing Estate
Zentralfriedhof / central cemetery (11.)
Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky grave
Schütte-Lihotzky died on 18 January 2000, just five days before her 103rd birthday. She is buried at Vienna’s main cemetery Zentralfriedhof; her grave location is group 33G number 28.
Memorial to the victims of a free Austria 1934–1945
(Mahnmal für die Opfer für ein freies Österreich 1934–1945)
Notes and more
# Christine Frederick’s 1913 book, “The new housekeeping; efficiency studies in home management“, is available on archive dot org. Her book was translated into German by 1922.
% First published in 1936, Bauentwurfslehre (Architects’ Data) is a standard book on architecture known simply as “The Neufert”; this reference is now printed worldwide in multiple languages. The 3rd edition by Ernst and Peter Neufert is available in English on archive dot org; the Schütte-Lihotzky design appears from page 251.
^ The sketch of Schütte-Lihotzky’s kitchen design appears in the article “Mechanisierung des Wohnungsbaues in Frankfurt a.M. (Mechanizing residential construction in Frankfurt am Main)“, in “Das Werk: Architektur und Kunst”, pp. XIII-XXI, issue 7, volume 14, 1927. The article is available in e-periodica at ETH Zürich.
• Physical versions of the Frankfurt Kitchen also appear in the permanent collections of Frankfurt am Main’s Museum Angewandte Kunst, Berlin’s Museum der Dinge, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (GA&C).
• Kitchen Dreams, as part of Bauhaus’ 100th anniversary in 2019.
• “Architektin, nicht Hausfrau: Nachwort zum Tod von Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky“, von Ulrike Baureithel, Der Freitag, 28. Jänner 2000.
• “Diese verdammte Küche!“, Der Standard, 20. Jänner 2017.
• A modest museum space dedicated to her life is the MSL-Raum in Vienna’s Landstrasse (district 3).
Except for the image of MSL’s kitchen design, I made all other images above with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime in 2018 and 2022. Alle Fotoaufnahmen sind von Wasserzeichen versehen worden. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-dpo.
6 Responses to “My Vienna: Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, mother of the modern fitted kitchen”
Thank you Henry, for revealing this woman architect, I truly enjoyed to learn about her work, the simplicity and practicality struck me. Really interesting projects she had accomplished. Have a great productive week. From Cornelia
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Hi Henry, Very interesting to learn about how the modern kitchen came about and also to learn about this remarkable architect, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky. Thank you! Nicole
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Hi, Nicole; it’s great to hear from you!
It was a great pleasure learning about Schütte-Lihotzky. Given how little known her name is outside Austria and, perhaps, architectural circles, the short post is a little contribution to the greater masse of the interwebs. And even if it isn’t seen by many, I’m hopeful it’ll reach some eyes; I’m glad it reached yours! She had a very interesting life history which I didn’t really touch upon, especially during World War 2 and during post-war reconstruction within Austria. One of the next things I’m working on is a short examination of Hedy Lamarr, best known as an actress, but, as you may or may not know, this Austrian-American Jewish woman was also an inventor whose technological development led to a patent and to our everyday use of Bluetooth and WiFi. Her story is absolutely fascinating, one which definitely deserves a lot of eyeballs.
Thanks for your kind comment and for stopping by!
Thank you very much for an informative article. I am planning to make a model of the original kitchen in 1:12 scale.
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Hi, Neil. I’d be fascinated to know how your 1:12 scale model turns out. Her fitted kitchen really was fascinating to see in person, even though most take for granted a kitchen as something that comes with a house or apartment. (I found out that’s not exactly the case when I moved to Germany, but that’s another story.) Thanks for stopping by and for your comment!