The Frankfurt Kitchen
The New Dwelling sets for its occupants the task of rethinking everything afresh, organizing a new lifestyle, and of winning freedom from the irrelevant clutter of outmoded habits of thought and old-fashioned equipment.
– Franz Schuster, Das neue Frankfurt (The New Frankfurt), 1927
The New Frankfurt, 1925–30
War and inflation precipitated a housing crisis in all major German cities, including Frankfurt, where the response was an ambitious program known as the New Frankfurt. This initiative encompassed the construction of affordable public housing and modern amenities throughout the city. At the core of this transformation were about 10,000 kitchens designed by Grete Schütte-Lihotzky and constructed as an integral element of the new dwelling units.
The Frankfurt Kitchen, as it was known—rational, unpretentious, and socially oriented—was conceived as one of the first steps toward building a better, more egalitarian world in the late 1920s. Under the overall direction of chief city architect Ernst May, new architectural forms, new materials, and new construction methods were applied throughout. Within five years, more than ten percent of Frankfurt’s population was living in housing and communities that were newly designed. In 1930, at the request of the Soviet Russian government, May led a “building brigade,” whose members included Schütte-Lihotzky, to implement the lessons of Frankfurt on an even larger scale in the planning of new industrial towns in the Soviet Union.
The Architect: Margarete (Grete) Schütte-Lihotzky (1897–2000)
The Frankfurt Kitchen is the earliest work by a female architect in MoMA’s collection. Reminiscing about her decision to study architecture, Schütte-Lihotzky remarked that “in 1916 no one would have conceived of a woman being commissioned to build a house—not even myself.” Inspired by her mentor at the Vienna School of Applied Arts, Oskar Strnad, she became involved in designing affordable housing and worked with another Viennese architect, Adolf Loos, on planning settlements for World War I veterans.
Impressed by the functional clarity that she applied to housing problems and kitchen design in these projects, Ernst May invited her to join his Frankfurt department in 1926. She remains best known for the Frankfurt Kitchen, but her achievements as an architect working in the Soviet Union, Turkey, and Austria were more varied. During World War II her career was interrupted by four years in prison for her activities in the anti-Nazi resistance movement. In the Cold War period that followed, her professional opportunities in Austria were limited because of her continued membership in the Communist Party.
The Frankfurt Kitchen
The Frankfurt Kitchen was designed like a laboratory or factory and based on contemporary theories about efficiency, hygiene, and workflow. In planning the design, Schütte-Lihotzky conducted detailed time-motion studies and interviews with housewives and women’s groups.
Each kitchen came complete with a swivel stool, a gas stove, built-in storage, a fold-down ironing board, an adjustable ceiling light, and a removable garbage drawer. Labeled aluminum storage bins provided tidy organization for staples like sugar and rice as well as easy pouring. Careful thought was given to materials for specific functions, such as oak flour containers (to repel mealworms) and beech cutting surfaces (to resist staining and knife marks).
The Frankfurt Kitchen 2008
Black and white, sound
Music, words, paintings, and script by Robert Rotifer
Animation, camera, and production by Lelo Brossmann and Stefan Csaky (Shock & Awe Video Productions, Vienna)
Courtesy Robert Rotifer and Lelo Brossmann