Grete Lihotzky worked for the Municipal Building Department in Frankfurt under the direction of Ernst May. The department set out to standardise building elements and mechanise construction along American lines, as propagated by Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford. These attempts at rationalisation and efficiency applied also to the design of flats and, notably, to the design of kitchens. 10,000 Frankfurt Kitchens (as they were known at the time) were installed in Frankfurt flats. This was not the first fitted kitchen, nor even the first Modernist fitted kitchen, but it was the first made in quantity. It was undoubtedly the most successful and influential kitchen of the period, and stood as a symbol of ‘scientific’ attempts to make the domestic workspace more professional.
Like many designers aiming at efficiency in the home, Lihotzky would have known Erna Meyer’s hugely popular manual, Der neue Haushalt (The New Household) (Stuttgart, 1926). This in turn was based on the classic American text, The New Housekeeping (Chicago, 1913) by Christine Frederick. Both analysed the bodily movements and circulation patterns of the housewife as she engaged in daily work in order to arrive at new principles for household design and labour.
In the design of the Frankfurt Kitchen, Lihotzky studied the positioning of each element in relation to others to minimise unnecessary steps or movement. She also devised special features that would save labour and provide physical comfort; a work table under a light-giving window and adjacent to the sink, both at seat height; storage chutes with handles and pouring spouts for dry foodstuffs, so there was no need to open cupboards and jars, then spoon out the contents; and a drop-down ironing board that did not have to be dismantled and stored.
The principle of the compact kitchen owes much to the design of galleys in ships and trains of the era. Its small size reflected a pursuit of efficiency, the belief that eating in the kitchen was unhygienic, and the desire to save space for the living spaces of the flat. Not only was the idea of labour saving important to the layout of the kitchen but it was central to its construction and cheap price. The cabinets had no backs and as they were continuous they needed only one side wall. To enable residents to buy a kitchen, there were special loans which could be paid off with the monthly rent.
Frankfurt Kitchen as illustrated in Das Neue Frankfurt in 1927
(Sammlungen der Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien / Collections of the University of Applied Art, Vienna)
From the Am Höhenblick housing estate, Ginheim, Frankfurt
Grete Lihotzky (Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky) (1897-2000)
About 3440 x 1870 cm in plan
Museum no. W.15-2005
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