Discover the First Modern Kitchen–the Frankfurt Kitchen–Pioneered by the Architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1926)

Near­ly 100 years after it was intro­duced, archi­tect Mar­garete (Grete) Schütte-Lihotzky’s famous Frank­furt Kitchen con­tin­ues to exert enor­mous influ­ence on kitchen design.

Schütte-Lihotzky ana­lyzed designs for kitchens in train din­ing cars and made detailed time-motion stud­ies of house­wives’ din­ner prepa­ra­tions in her quest to come up with some­thing that would be space sav­ing, effi­cient, inex­pen­sive­ly pre-fab­ri­cat­ed, and eas­i­ly installed in the new hous­ing spring­ing up in post-WWI Ger­many.

Schütte-Lihotzky hoped that her design would have a lib­er­at­ing effect, by reduc­ing the time women spent in the kitchen. Noth­ing is left to chance in these 1.9 by 3.44 meters, with the main empha­sis placed on the well-trav­eled “gold­en tri­an­gle” between work­top, stove, and sink.

The design’s sci­en­tif­ic man­age­ment hon­ored ergonom­ics and effi­cien­cy, ini­ti­at­ing a sort of house­hold dance, but as film­mak­er Mari­beth Rom­s­lo, who direct­ed eight dancers on a painstak­ing fac­sim­i­le of a Frank­furt Kitchen, below, observes:

…as with any progress, there is fric­tion and pres­sure. As women gain more rights (then and now), are they real­ly just adding more to their to-do list of respon­si­bil­i­ties? Adding to the num­ber of plates they need to spin? They haven’t been excused from domes­tic duties in order to pur­sue careers or employ­ment, the new respon­si­bil­i­ties are addi­tive.


(Note: enter your infor­ma­tion to view the film.)

Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Zoé Hen­rot, who also appears in the film, empha­sizes the Frank­furt Kitchen’s design effi­cien­cies and many of its famous fea­tures — the draw­ers for flour and oth­er bulk goods, the adjustable stool, the cut­ting board with a recep­ta­cle for par­ings and peels.

At the same time, she man­ages to tele­graph some pos­si­ble Catch-22s.

Its diminu­tive size dic­tates that this work­place will be a soli­tary one — no helpers, guests, or small chil­dren.

The built-in expec­ta­tions regard­ing uni­for­mi­ty of use leaves lit­tle room for culi­nary exper­i­men­ta­tion or a loosey goosey approach.

When crush­ing­ly repet­i­tive tasks begin to chafe, options for escape are lim­it­ed (if very well-suit­ed to the expres­sive pos­si­bil­i­ties of mod­ern dance).

Inter­est­ing­ly, many assume that a female archi­tect work­ing in 1926 would have brought some per­son­al insights to the task that her male col­leagues might have been lack­ing. Not so, as Schütte-Lihotzky read­i­ly admit­ted:

The truth of the mat­ter was, I’d nev­er run a house­hold before design­ing the Frank­furt Kitchen, I’d nev­er cooked, and had no idea about cook­ing.

Singer-song­writer Robert Rotifer is anoth­er artist who was moved to pay homage to Schütte-Lihotzky and the Frank­furt Kitchen, a “cal­cu­lat­ed move” that he describes as some­thing clos­er to design­ing a kitchen than “divine inspi­ra­tion”:

I sat on the train trav­el­ing from Can­ter­bury up to Lon­don… I was about to record a new album, and I need­ed one more uptem­po song, some­thing dri­ving and rhyth­mi­cal. While the noisy com­bi­na­tion of rick­ety train and worn-out tracks sug­gest­ed a beat, I began to think about syn­co­pa­tions and sub­jects.

I thought about the mun­dane things nobody usu­al­ly writes songs about, func­tion­al things that defy metaphor—tools, devices, house­hold goods. As I list­ed some items in my head, I soon real­ized that kitchen uten­sils were the way to go. I thought about the mechan­ics of a kitchen, and that’s when the name of the cre­ator of the famous Frank­furt Kitchen flashed up in my head.

There, in the nat­ur­al rhythm of her name, was the syn­co­pa­tion I had been look­ing for: “I sing this out to Grete Schütte-Lihotzky.” Writ­ing the rest of the lyrics was easy. The repet­i­tive ele­ment would illus­trate the way you keep return­ing to the same tasks and posi­tions when you are work­ing in a kitchen. In the mid­dle-eight I would also find space for some of the crit­i­cisms that have been lev­eled at Schütte-Lihotzky’s kitchen over the decades, such as the way her design iso­lat­ed the kitchen work­er, i.e. tra­di­tion­al­ly the woman, from the rest of the fam­i­ly.

Rotifer, who also cre­at­ed the paint­ings used in the ani­mat­ed music video, gives the archi­tect her due by includ­ing accom­plish­ments beyond the Frank­furt Kitchen: her micro-apart­ment with “a dis­guised roll-out bed,” her ter­raced hous­es at the Werk­bund­sied­lung, a hous­ing project’s kinder­garten, a print­ing shop, and the Vien­nese Com­mu­nist par­ty head­quar­ters.

It’s a love­ly trib­ute to a design pio­neer who, reflect­ing on her long career around the time of her 100th birth­day, remarked:

If I had known that every­one would keep talk­ing about noth­ing else, I would nev­er have built that damned kitchen!

Muse­ums that have acquired a Frank­furt Kitchen include Frankfurt’s Muse­um Ange­wandte Kun­st, New York City’s Muse­um of Mod­ern Art, London’s Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um, and Oslo’s Nation­al Muse­um.

Learn more about the Kitchen Dance Project in this con­ver­sa­tion between film­mak­er Mari­beth Rom­s­lo, chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Zoé Emi­lie Hen­rot, and Min­neapo­lis Insti­tute of Art cura­tor Jen­nifer Komar Oli­varez.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Recipes from the Kitchen of Geor­gia O’Keeffe

The Pol­i­tics & Phi­los­o­phy of the Bauhaus Design Move­ment: A Short Intro­duc­tion

Vis­it the Homes That Great Archi­tects Designed for Them­selves: Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Cor­busier, Wal­ter Gropius & Frank Gehry

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.