January 26, 2011  |  Collection & Exhibitions
So You Want to Design a Kitchen

From left: Radford’s Details of Building Construction, 1911; Frankfurt Kitchen, 1926-27; Architectural Graphic Standards, 1941; Architectural Graphic Standards, 1951

It’s 1926 and, like Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, you want to design a functional kitchen. If you’re in the U.S. or Great Britain, you might then turn to a standards manual. At the time, there was Radford’s Details of Building Construction (1911). Then, five years after Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen, two underemployed architects created an expanded manual more suited to 20th-century life. Their Architectural Graphic Standards (1932) has been continuously revised ever since.

Unfortunately the authors were clearly unfamiliar with the Frankfurt Kitchen, Taylorism, or Christine Frederick. For example, Radford’s shows one plan and details for a “conveniently arranged house-keeping workshop” (above left).

The 1932 Architectural Graphic Standards has no layouts at all. While one might not expect this of a detailing book, numerous plates are devoted to greenhouses, stables, and a decathlon’s worth of sports facilities. The 1941 and 1951 editions introduce several layouts, such as the “small” kitchen (above right), in which key elements are somewhat more efficiently arranged.

The 1951 edition established the idea of “work centers,” with “ideal locations” for range, sink, and storage (above right). But with virtually no difference between it and the 1941 layout, how ideal is it? In subsequent editions the work center idea became standard, showing distance ratios between elements—but not optimum distances or functional relationships.

In terms of these standards, then, Schütte-Lihotzky was decades ahead of her time. Kitchens today are more technologically complex, but their basic functions—and human considerations—remain the same.

For more on the history of Architectural Graphic Standards, see George Barnett Johnston, Drafting Culture: A Social History of Architectural Graphic Standards (MIT, 2008).