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Grete Lihotzky, "Rationalization in the Household" (1926-27)

Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) made design history with her Frankfurt Kitchen. In 1926, she started working for Frankfurt’s Municipal Building Department, where she was involved in designing new housing as part of the “Neues Frankfurt” [New Frankfurt] urban development program, which was tasked with addressing the city’s acute housing shortage in the 1920s. Schütte-Lihotzky’s kitchen design, which incorporated modern design principles such as functionality and standardization, was first exhibited at the Frankfurt Fair in the spring of 1927. Several variations on the Frankfurt Kitchen were later installed in numerous Frankfurt housing developments. The article below appeared in the industry journal Das Neue Frankfurt. Monatsschrift für Fragen der Großstadt-Gestaltung [The New Frankfurt. A Monthly Publication on Urban Development Questions]. Published between 1926 and 1933, the journal eventually became an important medium for contemporary theories of architecture and design. Lihotzky led an eventful life, which took her to Moscow in 1930 and from there to London, Paris, Istanbul, and Sofia, among other places. She became active in the Communist resistance against the National Socialists in Vienna and narrowly escaped execution in 1942.

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Rationalization in the Household

Every thinking woman must be aware of the backwardness of current methods of household management and see in them a severe impediment to her own development and therefore to the development of the family as a whole. Today’s hectic urban life-style imposes demands on women far exceeding those of the calmer conditions of eighty years ago, yet today’s woman is nevertheless condemned to manage her household (aside from the relief offered by a few exceptions) just like her grandmother did.

The problem of finding a more rational organization of the housewife’s work is of nearly equal significance for all levels of society. Both the middle-class woman, who often has to run the house without help of any kind, and the working-class woman, who frequently has to pursue an occupation outside the home, are so over-worked that over the long run it cannot but have a negative effect on the general health of the whole population.

For more than a decade women leaders have recognized the importance of relieving the housewife of unnecessary burdens and have spoken out for the central management of residential buildings, that is, for the establishment of centralized cooking facilities. They said: Why should twenty women have to shop for groceries when one can do the same for all of them? Why should twenty women make a fire in twenty stoves when food could be prepared on one for everyone? Why should twenty women cook for twenty families when the proper organization would allow four or five persons to do the same work for twenty families? Such considerations are illuminating for every reasonable person, and they have had their effect. Buildings with centralized kitchens were constructed.

Soon, however, it became apparent that it is not possible simply to unite twenty families into one household. Aside from personal quarrels and conflicts, sharp variations in the material conditions of the respective inhabitants are unavoidable, which is why the merging of several families necessarily leads to conflicts. For workers and private employees, who are subject to unemployment at relatively short notice, the centralized kitchen arrangement is out of the question from the start, because it prevents them from lowering their standard of living to the necessary extent once they become unemployed. The problem of rationalizing the household, therefore, cannot be solved in isolation, but must go hand-in-hand with associated social considerations.

We recognize from past experience that the single-family dwelling is here to stay, but that it must also be organized as rationally as possible. The question is how to improve the traditional methods of household management, which waste both energy and time. What we can do is transfer the principles of labor-saving management developed in factories and offices, which have led to unsuspected increases in productivity, to the household. We must recognize that there is a best and simplest way to approach every task, which is therefore the least tiring as well. The three main working groups involved—housewives, manufacturers, and architects—face the important and highly responsible job of working together to discover and make feasible the simplest way of executing every household chore.

Among housewives the woman with some intellectual training is always going to work more rationally. Supported by the appropriate devices and appliances, and given that her dwelling is correctly arranged, she will quickly find the most efficient way to do her work.

Among manufacturers (with the exception of furniture builders) there are already a considerable number who have accepted the new requirements of our time and are putting labor-saving devices and appliances on the market. The greatest backwardness, however, continues to be represented in the way dwellings are furnished. Years of effort on the part of the German Werkbund and individual architects, countless articles and lectures demanding clarity, simplicity, and efficiency in furnishings, as well as a turn away from the traditional kitsch of the last fifty years, have had almost no effect whatever.

When we enter dwellings we still find the old knick-knacks and the usual inappropriate “decor.” That all the efforts to the contrary had so little practical success is primarily the fault of women, who are remarkably uninterested in the new ideas. The furniture dealers say that the customers keep on wanting the old stuff. And women would prefer to take on the extra work in order to have a “snug and cozy” home. The majority still takes simple and efficient to mean the same thing as dull.

The Frankfurt housing office attempted to convince people of the contrary by displaying a completely furnished model building as a part of the exhibition, “The New Dwelling and Its Interior Structure,” at the local trades fair. The point is to prove that simplicity and efficiency are not merely labor-saving but, executed with good materials and the correct form and color, represent clarity and beauty as well.

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