Widely known today for her Frankfurt Kitchen, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzkyis the first female Austrian architect, working from the 1920s to the 1990s. For an architect, not to mention a female architect, who was working through political upheavals, Lihotzky managed to make an incredible impact through her works, not just in her home country, but also across two other continents. Her impressive years of experience, as well as her resolution in such challenging contexts, remain an inspiring reminder of her legacy till today.
Lihotzky was born in 1897 in Vienna, to a middle-class family. Under the liberal influences of her father, Erwin Lihotzky, who worked as a civil servant, and benefitting from her mother’s connections with artist Gustav Klimt, Margarete enrolled as the first female architecture student at the Kunstgewerbeschule (now Vienna School of Arts and Crafts) in 1915.
During her architecture training, Lihotzky studied under the architect Oskar Strnad, who was one of the key proponents of modern living made possible by the highly functional designs of modern social housings. Following Strnad’s suggestions, and upon witnessing the living conditions of the working-classes, Lihotzkymade it her priority to design buildings and housing that catered to the masses. Upon graduation, she kept to her goal and took up her first architecture job at the Vienna Housing Office.
In 1926, Lihotzky left Austria to join architect and urban planner Ernst May in the ‘New Frankfurt’ initiative in Germany. It was during this period where Lihotzky designed the ‘now well-known’ Frankfurt Kitchen, exemplifying the strong functionality that she had been exposed to in school. Although a small, economic work-only kitchen which is separated from the main living area, it nevertheless had visual access to the living room through the hall or door, to help mothers keep an eye on their children while cooking.
The design process that went into this seemingly straightforward space was nonetheless invested with great attention to detail. Lihotzky carefully analyzed the series of movements that take place over the process of cooking in a kitchen, noting moments where efficiency may be increased through design. She also laid out a set of considerations for the design, including lighting and ventilation requirements, circulation within the apartment, as well as building costs. Lihotzky conducted detailed research on these aspects before landing on the most desirable-set-up and dimensions of what would become the Frankfurt Kitchen.
According to Lihotzky’s writing in “Why I Became an Architect”, one of the main ideas behind the Frankfurt Kitchen was her prudent insight into potential transition of housewives into working women in ‘then-near’ future, prompting a need for “rationalization of housework” to streamline domestic labor. Additionally, Lihotzky theorized that the Frankfurt Kitchen, being such a crucial component to the design and planning of the new Frankfurt apartments, could bring about a new approach and inspiration to living and housing construction.
The Frankfurt Kitchen’s success can be witnessed in its 10,000 productions in some of Frankfurt’s public housings designed at the time. Apart from designing kitchens, Lihotzky also worked alongside other architects in designing schools, kindergartens, as well as large-scale housing projects in the Soviet Union. In fact, she regarded her best work to be a daycare facility.
Since her days as an architecture student, one of the main goals and concerns of Lihotzky’s works was to bring about social and political changes through improving the living conditions of the masses. This service to the public, never left her mind even as she left her home country to work in Germany and other countries. Before returning to Austria in 1947, Lihotzky traveled and worked in Britain, France, Bulgaria, Turkey, China, Japan, and Cuba, where she contributed to a great number of social and public projects as an architectural consultant and expert on these typologies.
Interestingly, while Lihotzky was a highly vocal feminist who actively sought to contribute to the movement through her architectural work and political involvement, she received criticisms in the 1970s, precisely from feminists who thought that the Frankfurt Kitchen, in its confined space and separation from the main living area, isolated the female in their domestic labor and thus, reinforced gender inequality. Even though much of Lihotzky’s work and contribution to architecture and design were not immediately recognized in the beginning, she slowly gained prominence in the 1970s in Vienna and became recognized for her outstanding works when she received the Architecture Award from the City of Vienna in 1980. Initially, Lihotzky’s main contributions to architecture were seen as limited to the Frankfurt Kitchen as many of her other works had been sidelined by architects, critics, and historians throughout history. However, by the 1990s, the many exhibitions, interviews, critical and press writings about Lihotzky, reveal that she was finally properly recognized for her wide range of works and contributions to the field. Today, Lihotzky remains to be not only the first female architect in Austria but also an impassioned architect who constantly and tirelessly pioneered change through her works. In these regards, she truly broke the many gender stereotypes that were prevalent in her time and even today.
- Henderson, Susan. “Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky.” Architectural Review, vol. 237, no. 1421, July 2015, pp. 96–98. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=103697635&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Kinchin, Juliet. “Passages from Why I Became an Architect by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky,” West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 18, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 2011): 86-96
- Archer, Sarah. “The Origins of the Humble Yet Mighty Apartment Kitchen.” CityLab, 10 May 2019, www.citylab.com/design/2019/05/modern-kitchen-history-design-ideas-domestic-architecture/586345/
Pace, Eric. “Margarete Schutte-Lihotzky, Noted Austrian Architect, 102.” The New York Times. The New York Times, January 23, 2000. https://www.nytimes.com/2000/01/23/nyregion/margarete-schutte-lihotzky-noted-austrian-architect-102.html.