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.”
Where: MAK Vienna.
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 to thank.
Architect, between W and FFM
Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) 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 %.
Frankfurt Kitchen, MAK Vienna
Shortly after arrival in Vienna, I head back out to catch a train on the city’s U-Bahn underground network to MAK Vienna (Museum für angewandte Kunst), 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, and 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 used insulated iceboxes for refrigeration. Incorporation as “built-in standard kitchen fixture” within modern German (European?) homes began in the 1960s (Frankfurter Rundschau, 29 Aug 2011).
To reach MAK Vienna easily with public transport, the nearest U-Bahn stations are Stubentor (U3) and Landstrasse (U3, U4). The nearest train station is Wien Mitte, served by the CAT airport train, ÖBB’s S-Bahn and regional trains, and Westbahn.
Vienna central cemetery
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 is at Gruppe/Group 33G, Nummer/Number 28.
Wien Zentralfriedhof (Vienna Central Cemetery) can be reached with public transport with regional train or U-Bahn U3 to Simmering station. From Simmering, take street tram 6 or 71 to stop “Zentralfriedhof 2.Tor” which is directly in front of the cemetery’s main entrance. Alternatively, you can take S-Bahn S7 train to stop “Zentralfriedhof,” followed by a walk of about 100 metres north to the cemetery’s southwest entrance. At each entrance is a map display which you can also retrieve here (German-language only).
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).
I made all pictures above with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime at the MAK Vienna on 15 May 2018 and at Wiener Zentralfriedhof on 20 May 2018. Alle Fotoaufnahmen sind von Wasserzeichen versehen worden. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-dpo.