The Frankfurt Kitchen
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Katie Thornton [00:01:49] But one room in these new housing units was far and away the most lauded and influential. And that was the kitchen.
Roman Mars [00:01:58] That’s reporter and friend of the show, Katie Thornton.
Katie Thornton [00:02:00] Many consider this room, which has come to be known as the Frankfurt Kitchen to be nothing less than the first modern kitchen. And looking at it today is a real trip because you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re looking at an IKEA display. It’s tidy, practical, and simple.
Jennifer Komar Olivarez (field tape) [00:02:19] Okay. Shall we?
Katie Thornton (field tape) [00:02:21] We shall.
Roman Mars [00:02:22] A handful of these original Frankfurt Kitchens still exist, mostly in museums. And Katie went to check out one at MIA, the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Jennifer Komar Olivarez (field tape) [00:02:30] Okay, watch your step.
Katie Thornton (field tape) [00:02:31] Thanks.
Katie Thornton [00:02:34] Jennifer Komar Olivarez, head of exhibition planning and strategy at the museum, led me over the stanchion and into this room to see it firsthand. And it’s honestly kind of strange to see it in a museum because to our modern eyes, it doesn’t appear to be high art.
Jennifer Komar Olivarez (field tape) [00:02:51] So coming in is the electric cooker…
Katie Thornton [00:02:53] It just looks like a kitchen.
Jennifer Komar Olivarez (field tape) [00:02:56] It has two burners on the top, one large one, and one small one…
Roman Mars [00:02:59] It may look ordinary, but many of the things that are now standard kitchen features were pretty unheard of before the Frankfurt Kitchen–things like a modern stove.
Jennifer Komar Olivarez (field tape) [00:03:08] So, wow, I’m sure it was transformative.
Roman Mars [00:03:11] And well-planned storage to stash your plates and glasses.
Jennifer Komar Olivarez (field tape) [00:03:15] These, I think, are for pot storage…
Katie Thornton [00:03:18] And a way to wash dishes that didn’t involve hauling a heavy tub of water into the house.
Jennifer Komar Olivarez (field tape) [00:03:23] It’s a double sink…
Katie Thornton [00:03:24] And racks for drying those dishes.
Jennifer Komar Olivarez (field tape) [00:03:26] The idea is to have them dry off the counter to free up the counter space for other things.
Katie Thornton [00:03:31] Even the countertops themselves were revolutionary because before this there weren’t long continuous surfaces that were uniform in height. Most kitchens just had whatever random assortment of tables you could throw in them. And my back aches just thinking about hunching over their variable heights while prepping food.
Roman Mars [00:03:51] The Frankfurt Kitchen now appears so commonplace that it’s difficult to comprehend just how groundbreaking it was when it was first designed. And that’s all thanks to a woman named Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky.
Katie Thornton [00:04:02] Born in 1897 in Austria, Schütte-Lihotzky was one of the country’s first woman architects. And early in her career, she started designing for people who had never been designed for on a large scale–especially women, who were often saddled with childcare, laundry, and cooking.
Roman Mars [00:04:20] She brought that same approach to the Frankfurt Kitchen. She wanted it to be a streamlined space that made cooking less burdensome and faster so women could get it done and then pursue lives and jobs outside of the home. It was a feminist kitchen made with the needs of women in mind.
Katie Thornton [00:04:37] But Schütte-Lihotzky wasn’t actually the first to tackle the problem of the home kitchen, a space fraught with complications for a lot of women. In fact, by the time Schütte-Lihotzky designed the Frankfurt Kitchen, many feminists had already been questioning whether private kitchens could ever be designed to liberate women or whether the kitchen itself was irredeemable and just needed to be abolished.
Roman Mars [00:05:06] For much of modern history, in most cultures, kitchens were the realm of women and of servants who worked in the home. And those spaces weren’t considered worthy of an architect’s expertise.
Mary McLeod [00:05:16] For the most part, it’s very difficult in publications of architecture to ever find plans–photographs–of kitchens. You’d see beautiful images of living rooms, even sometimes bedrooms, and just very few kitchens.
Katie Thornton [00:05:34] This is Mary McLeod. She teaches at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture and Planning. And she says what we do know about kitchens prior to the 20th century–at least in Europe and America–is that they were really unpleasant.
Mary McLeod [00:05:49] They’re hodgepodges. They’re full of objects with no order. It was smoky. They were really unconscionable conditions with very little air circulation or light.
Katie Thornton [00:06:02] One American feminist from the 19th century wrote of “roasted ladies scorched and sooty from preparing meals day in and day out.” Remember, this was before restaurants were common or affordable in the U.S. and much of Europe. No fast, easy, cheap, prepared food. So, on top of raising children, plus hand washing and drying laundry, and sometimes juggling factory jobs outside the home, preparing the 1,095 meals a year for the family was regarded as absolute drudgery by many women.
Roman Mars [00:06:34] Absolute drudgery that was also unpaid. And in the years after the Civil War, a number of American feminists started to argue that uncompensated housework was keeping women financially and intellectually oppressed. And one of the ways they thought they could change that was through urban design.
Dolores Hayden [00:06:51] In the period right after the Civil War, they were debating whether or not there were new ways to organize housing that would eliminate women’s unpaid labor.
Katie Thornton [00:07:01] Dolores Hayden is a trailblazing architectural historian and professor emerita at Yale. She says that some feminists thought you could design your way out of unpaid housework by removing so-called “housework” from houses. And in the U.S., one of the early activists who called for this kind of design solution was a writer and organizer named Melusina Fay Peirce.
Dolores Hayden [00:07:24] And Melusina Peirce was particularly clear that women should not be expected to render unpaid services to the men and children in their households, but that they should receive some economic compensation for their labors. And what she proposed was the former Producers Co-op of Housewives, in 1868, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Katie Thornton [00:07:48] Peirce started the Cambridge Cooperative Housekeeping Society. And that operated out of a big building near Harvard Square. The Co-op employed women who were paid to do laundry and bake bread for nearby families–tasks most women had to do on their own and without pay. Producers’ cooperatives where workers would pool much of their labor in their power were common. But Peirce’s was the first to take on housework.
Dolores Hayden [00:08:12] So she infuriated people who thought that women shouldn’t be asking for pay for the work they should be doing out of love and obligation.
Roman Mars [00:08:20] Peirce’s Co-op lasted for about two years, which is a feat. But she never achieved her bigger vision, which was to integrate housework cooperatives into the designs of new housing projects. She imagined big apartment blocks with collective kitchens and laundry.
Katie Thornton [00:08:35] But other feminists were also getting interested in this idea that so-called “housework” should be removed from the home. One of them was Marie Howland, a textile worker turned architect who was inspired by a cooperative community she spent a year at in Guise, France. It was known as the Social Palace.
Roman Mars [00:08:53] The Social Palace was built around an iron foundry. And the residents there took turns in a shared housekeeping program, which included a prepared food service for the 350 armed workers and their families. And as Howland studied the design of the community, she began to dream up her own utopian society, where a place like the Social Palace was the norm.
Dolores Hayden [00:09:12] And she wrote a novel about it when she came back to the U.S.
Roman Mars [00:09:16] Marie Howland wasn’t the only person using fiction to dream up an ideal future full of kitchenless houses. A lot of people were writing futuristic novels, including some books that depicted a feminist future with shared cooperative kitchens. The sense of possibility was palpable.
Dolores Hayden [00:09:32] And it wasn’t only that women were writing them. I was surprised how much I found men were writing these novels about women’s liberation through new housing and new infrastructure. Some of them had everyone living in high rise buildings. Another person sited everyone on a feminist planet Mars.
Katie Thornton [00:09:48] Between popular fiction and a few real-world experiments, the concept of a kitchenless house was spreading. And in 1874, Marie Howland saw her chance to implement some of those ideas. She started working with two men, designers Albert Kimsey Owen and John Deery. They were among the many people in the U.S. at the time who believed that a more harmonious society was possible–one where people lived collectively and jointly owned all means of production. And in the 1870s, together with Marie Howland, they set out to build a perfect town.
Dolores Hayden [00:10:22] They were promoting a new town in Mexico at the end of a railroad line.
Roman Mars [00:10:27] The town was called “Topolobampo.” And originally their designs just had single family homes with kitchens. But Marie Howland convinced them to sketch in small groups of kitchen-free houses, each with access to a shared kitchen, where residents would take turns working.
Dolores Hayden [00:10:41] They had elaborate plans. They spent a lot of money drawing up these plans and publicizing the plans. So, a lot of people heard about Topolobampo.
Roman Mars [00:10:50] But not a lot of people got to live at Topolobampo. The project ran out of money pretty quickly before Howland’s kitchenless houses could even be built. To the male founders, those weren’t a priority.
Katie Thornton [00:11:01] But the dream wasn’t over. In 1915, another feminist, named Alice Constance Austin, embarked on another kitchenless, utopian experiment. Together with Job Harriman, a socialist politician, she set out to create a community called “Llano del Rio,” outside LA.
Dolores Hayden [00:11:16] She thought it could be a city of kitchenless houses. And she thought that the food could come through some underground tunnels by trains.
Roman Mars [00:11:26] Oh, right. Food trains. Now we’re talking.
Dolores Hayden [00:11:29] Not railroad trains, but lines that would carry the food from a central kitchen to each house and would take away the dirty dishes.
Katie Thornton [00:11:36] Austin drew maps upon maps and tons of floor plans. She published her ideas in the journal out of Llano del Rio, The Western Comrade, and even applied to patent her underground food train idea.
Roman Mars [00:11:48] But like Topolobampo, Llano del Rio also struggled to get enough funding. The male founders weren’t that into the idea of the kitchenless houses, and the community fell apart before they could ever be constructed.
Katie Thornton [00:12:01] But the kitchenless house movement still didn’t die. Around the same era in England, the urban planner, Ebenezer Howard, actually incorporated kitchenless homes into some of his garden city communities. He called these complexes “Cooperative Quadrangles.” They had a shared courtyard and shared kitchen, surrounded by smaller kitchenless dwellings.
Dolores Hayden [00:12:22] He thought that they would be perfect for single women who were working or for couples who didn’t want to run an elaborate domestic establishment. And he and his wife lived in one of them.
Roman Mars [00:12:34] By the late 1910s in the U.S., the idea of ending the private kitchen was pretty mainstream. Big publications including Ladies’ Home Journal, a magazine whose very title literally puts women in the home, ran articles promoting kitchenless houses. They compared the private kitchen to the private spinning wheel, a relic of the past and a manifestation of oppressive unpaid labor that could be done much better on a larger scale.
Katie Thornton [00:12:59] It was a popular and progressive movement, but it certainly wasn’t without flaws. Many of these utopian movements were led by middle class white women who didn’t appear to seriously embrace the needs and contributions of Black women and women of color. Many of these women had been violently forced into caretaking and housekeeping roles for generations through slavery and indentured servitude. And they were also fighting their own battles for dignity and pay.
Roman Mars [00:13:26] In time, the movement for kitchenless houses faced roadblocks it couldn’t overcome. Inflation hit hard after World War I, and people were struggling. Figuring out how to pay for prepared meals in service of women’s liberation just wasn’t a priority for everyone. Plus, more private kitchens meant more customers for electric companies, who aggressively marketed their appliances to women.
Katie Thornton [00:13:47] Instead of continuing the additional taxing unpaid work of rallying for a shared drudgery-free future, many women settled for a dishwashing machine.
Roman Mars [00:14:00] The dream of mainstreaming the kitchenless house was coming to an end. But the problem of the kitchen remained. And that brings us back to Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, the Austrian architect from the beginning of our story.
Katie Thornton [00:14:12] In the 1920s, a young Schütte-Lihotzky took a very different approach to the home kitchen. She didn’t want to eliminate it; she wanted to elevate it with clever and scientifically informed design. She wanted kitchen work to move with the ease and the quickness of a factory so women could get in and out and on with their lives beyond the kitchen.
Roman Mars [00:14:34] Schütte-Lihotzky’s early work in public housing attracted the attention of city planners in Frankfurt, Germany. They were working on an ambitious government program to overhaul the way that residents of Frankfurt lived in the years after World War I. At the time, many Germans faced immense shortages of almost everything, including food, fuel, and crucially, housing. In Frankfurt, people were living in old tenement buildings or sometimes just in garden plots. So, the city government stepped in with an architectural agenda. It was called the “New Frankfurt.”
S.E. Eisterer [00:15:08] For the architects of the New Frankfurt, the question really becomes: “How can we create good housing for a large amount of people in a short amount of time?”
Katie Thornton [00:15:20] S.E. Eisterer is an assistant professor at Princeton. She’s currently working on a biography of Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky. And she says, “To answer that question, the architects of the New Frankfurt took a novel approach. They looked to mass production.”
S.E. Eisterer [00:15:35] The idea becomes: “How can we use prefabricated elements–like walls, but in some cases also entire room units–to produce housing stock quickly?”
Roman Mars [00:15:47] For the first time ever, the German government encouraged the shells of buildings and sometimes entire rooms–fixtures and all–to be assembled in a factory by machines and then set down on the construction site by crane.
Katie Thornton [00:15:59] These new mass-produced apartments needed cheap and compact kitchens. And for that, the director of the New Frankfurt project tapped Schütte-Lihotzky. And she began by studying kitchens on trains and ships.
Mary McLeod [00:16:12] They were obviously wonderful models for efficiency because they didn’t have much space. And space was expensive.
Katie Thornton [00:16:21] That’s Mary McLeod again. And she says that Schütte-Lihotzky came up with all of these thoughtful, practical, and super space-saving touches for her kitchen design–designs I got to see firsthand when I visited that kitchen in the museum–like a Murphy Bed-style, fold-down ironing board, or this thing called the “Cook Box,” which is kind of like today’s crock pot, except it just used residual heat from the stove to slow cook meats or grains or whatever else, and one of my favorite features, these 12 identical measuring cups with spouts that fit into cubby holes on the wall, each labeled with the name of a different grain or foodstuff. Those let you measure and pour without dirtying up multiple cups and dishes.
Mary McLeod [00:17:07] There were complaints that she didn’t have a big enough container for potatoes. But for the most part it was seen as amazingly efficient.
Roman Mars [00:17:17] And that efficiency was, of course, by design. Schütte-Lihotzky was inspired by scientific management, a popular idea in the States back in the 1920s. It was mostly applied to factories, where managers would obsessively streamline workflows in order to theoretically maximize their profits.
Katie Thornton [00:17:34] Schütte-Lihotzky applied those ideas to the kitchen. And in the interest of minimizing work for so-called “housewives,” she did tests to eradicate any excess movements.
S.E. Eisterer [00:17:45] Schütte-Lihotzky designed so-called “motion studies” for the design of the Frankfurt Kitchen, where she mapped intensely what are the shortest paths between different kitchen elements that you would use in a regular cooking session, let’s say.
Katie Thornton [00:18:03] She tracked women’s movements like football plays or complex dance steps, with little lines across the floor, and then streamlined accordingly. In her kitchen, no single step or reach of the arm was unnecessary. Women would be like basketball players holding the ball–never more than a pivot or step away from where they needed to go.
Mary McLeod [00:18:22] She really just wanted to make women’s life easier, so they had time for more creative, pleasurable activities and even intellectual pursuits. That was the real goal of it.
Roman Mars [00:18:41] The Frankfurt Kitchen was mass produced in batches of 10 to 15, with little variations or changes made throughout. Between 1926 and 1930, the prefab kitchen was installed in about 10,000 public housing units in Frankfurt. And architects and public housing leaders across Europe quickly sang its praises.
Katie Thornton [00:18:59] But in practice, this renowned kitchen didn’t always jive with how people–women, actually–wanted to use their kitchen. Sure, there were those complaints that the bin for potatoes was too small, but there were bigger issues. For a long time, kitchens had been integrated into large living rooms, where people would cook around a big open hearth. But in the compact new Frankfurt housing, the kitchen was now separate from other living spaces.
Mary McLeod [00:19:27] First, there’s work–and that’s the kitchen. And second, there’s living, relaxation, pleasure, free time–and that’s the living room.
Katie Thornton [00:19:38] That sounds pretty good in theory; leave the drudgery behind you when you close the kitchen door. But for many women, household labor was so gendered that they also had kids to take care of. Those joint living room kitchens of old with the big open hearths and the slap together furniture–they may have been slipshod, but you could have company or watch the kids even while you cooked. But now the kitchen was way too small to watch a child in.
S.E. Eisterer [00:20:05] There are reports of people trying to cram their dining sets into this small 60 square foot Frankfurt Kitchen because these were the habits and customs they were used to, and they wanted to continue life as it suited them.
Roman Mars [00:20:21] Then there was the fact that all those glorious handy doodads proved to be a bit of a trap. The fold-down ironing board, the 12 identical, easy to access, aluminum measuring cups, the modern stove and oven–they may have been placed efficiently. But that efficiency made it possible to do so much more. Sure, it may take only four seconds to fold your ironing board down from your wall, but now you have this omnipresent ironing board in the kitchen. And now you’re expected to press your napkins. Who does that?
S.E. Eisterer [00:20:51] The societal expectations on what constituted labor well done within the domestic were just raised so you would have to launder more often, or you would have to cook more elaborate meals. And more technologies usually would not mean less work, but a higher expectation on the laborer.
Katie Thornton [00:21:14] On top of all that, many of these new kitchens relied on electric appliances. And electricity was still really expensive; it was pretty new. When residents couldn’t pay the electric bill, that meant they couldn’t cook. Some residents wrote to their local housing office through tenants’ groups. Others took their complaints directly to the press. But the city wasn’t interested in going back to the old ways.
S.E. Eisterer [00:21:37] When they voiced their concerns, the response by the municipality was not to tweak the designs but to actually implement quote unquote, “education programs.”
Roman Mars [00:21:50] They held classes on how to use the Frankfurt Kitchen and its new technologies. They made a silent film as a sort of PR campaign. The complaints about the cordoned off kitchen didn’t die down, but the leaders of this architectural revolution were adamant that so-called “modernism” was the way of the future. They kept building Frankfurt Kitchens and other architects kept taking notes.
Katie Thornton [00:22:15] But as the Nazi Party gained power throughout the late 1920s, they cut a lot of the public housing initiatives. Manufacture of the actual Frankfurt Kitchen ended in 1930.
Roman Mars [00:22:26] Even so, the design remained hugely influential in a lot of places. In the U.S., everyone from private companies to government agencies were coming up with kitchen designs that looked a lot like Schütte-Lihotzky’s.
Step-Saving Kitchen Ad [00:22:38] These plans were developed for people just like you…
Katie Thornton [00:22:42] Like when the Department of Agriculture launched the Step-Saving Kitchen in the late 1940s.
Step-Saving Kitchen Ad [00:22:47] Since you folks have an old-fashioned kitchen, you know, the amount of stooping and reaching that must be done and the running from one corner of the kitchen to the other. That’s why we’ve developed this kitchen.
Roman Mars [00:22:59] Even though imitators were everywhere, Schütte-Lihotzky didn’t always get credit as the mother of the modern kitchen in the decades after she designed it. But then, as the ’50s gave way to the ’60s and ’70s, Schütte-Lihotzky and her Frankfurt Kitchen started to get renewed attention from architects and historians.
S.E. Eisterer [00:23:17] She was rediscovered, you know, in the context of second wave feminism as kind of a main figure that should be canonized.
Katie Thornton [00:23:29] In 1980, the city of Vienna gave her a big architecture award. But Schütte-Lihotzky’s resurgent popularity opened her ideas up to criticism from some other second wave feminists who took a harder line against women’s unpaid labor. Some architects and academics pointed out that Schütte-Lihotzky’s kitchen may have been streamlined, but it still accepted that women would have to do a lot of cooking and cleaning without pay.
Roman Mars [00:23:55] And activists, including members of a new international movement called “Wages for Housework,” picked up the unfinished business of the 19th and 20th century feminists. They argued that the entire capitalist system would collapse if there was a widespread demand for pay. One vocal leader of the movement even called for a return to the shared kitchen efforts of the 19th century.
Katie Thornton [00:24:16] So was Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s design really so radical? She absolutely wanted to lessen the burden of housework for women. But the legacy of the Frankfurt Kitchen is pretty murky. And toward the end of her life, even Schütte-Lihotzky herself came to turn her back on this kitchen she designed before she even turned 30.
S.E. Eisterer [00:24:37] So the famous quote is “If I would have known that this is everything that anyone would ever talk about, I would have never designed this damned kitchen.”
Katie Thornton [00:24:59] That seems like the end, right? But there’s one more thing–another side to this whole story–because you can intellectualize the design of a kitchen until the watched pot boils. But the thing is, a lot of us–regardless of gender–we love our kitchens. There’s a magnetism to kitchens. Like, every party ever somehow finds all attendees crammed into the kitchen. Kitchens are hallowed grounds because kitchens are where food is.
Kayla Stewart [00:25:28] Food and cooking were not invented as mechanisms for women to be oppressed, right? Like, food is for us to eat and be nourished by. The way it became a tool of oppression is because of men.
Katie Thornton [00:25:41] Kayla Stewart is a food and travel journalist who writes primarily about African American foodways. And she says, “The kitchen is not to blame for a centuries old system that doesn’t value women’s work.” Kayla really likes to cook; she writes about food for a living. I also love to cook, and I worked in commercial kitchens for years. And we both think that the idea of simply streamlining kitchens or especially eradicating them–it has some holes.
Kayla Stewart [00:26:11] Yeah, I think it misses a lot of things.
Katie Thornton [00:26:13] Kayla says, “Many women across the world, across eras and generations, have had a special knowledge of food.”
Kayla Stewart [00:26:19] Much of what we are eating today, we have thanks to women–and many women, unfortunately, whose names we might never know.
Katie Thornton [00:26:28] A lot of the knowledge that women have about food is rooted in oppression. But to Kayla, not celebrating and valuing that knowledge just adds insult to injury because the home kitchen can also be a classroom–a place to connect with loved ones and family and culture. To her, the issue is more about whether or not women have a choice to be in the kitchen.
Kayla Stewart [00:26:50] I’m less concerned about whether or not a woman should be in the kitchen and more concerned about are women able to transform the cooking that they’ve done and the ways in which they’ve nourished societies for centuries into a career if they want to–if they so choose. If women do not want to be in the kitchen, do they have other options? To me, those are the things that we should be focusing on when we’re talking about feminism in the kitchen.
Roman Mars [00:27:15] Yes, design matters. But a few less trips across the kitchen is not what’s going to fix the great discrepancies in care work.
Katie Thornton [00:27:23] That takes a whole system–a system that not only respects and values the contributions of home cooks but also offers affordable food options if we don’t want to cook and things like school meals and jobs that leave us with energy so that cooking can be fun. If those things were in place, any number of kitchen layouts could be empowering–from Schütte-Lihotzky’s lightning fast, bite-sized design to Alice Constance Austin’s utopian collective kitchens–because I love to cook, but some evenings I would gladly receive my prepared dinner on a miniature train, especially if it takes my dishes away, too.
Roman Mars [00:28:05] Coming up after the break, the incredible story of Schütte-Lihotzky’s life after the Frankfurt Kitchen. This show is sponsored by BetterHelp. It’s pretty easy to get caught up doing everything for others and forget that you need to support yourself sometimes, too. Therapy can help you clarify your values and find more balance in your life, so you can keep being a rock star for others without forgetting yourself in the process. Therapy is really helpful for learning positive coping skills and learning how to set boundaries. It empowers you to be the best version of yourself. It isn’t just for people who’ve experienced trauma. Everyone can benefit from it. If you’re thinking of starting therapy, give BetterHelp a try. It’s entirely online, designed to be convenient, flexible, and suited to your schedule. Just fill out a brief questionnaire to get matched with a licensed therapist, and switch therapists at any time at no additional charge. Find more balance with BetterHelp. Visit betterhelp.com/invisible today to get 10% off your first month. That’s betterhelp.com/invisible. With MasterClass, you can learn from the best to become your best anytime, anywhere, and at your own pace. Annual memberships start at just $10 a month. And you get unlimited access to every instructor, thousands of online lessons, exclusive content, insights, and much more. There are over 180 classes to pick from–everything from Bill Nye teaching you about science to Steph Curry teaching you how to play basketball–with new classes added every month. Gain new skills in as little as 10 minutes either on your phone, computer, tablet, Smart TV, and even audio mode to listen on the go. I’m a big film buff and I like hearing filmmakers talk about storytelling because I think it actually helps my own craft. And the lineup of filmmakers on MasterClass is absolutely crazy. You’ve got Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Ken Burns, Aaron Sorkin. I mean, Werner Herzog alone is worth the price of admission. Get unlimited access to every class. And right now, as a 99% Invisible listener, you can get 15% off when you go to masterclass.com/99invisible. That’s masterclass.com/99invisible for 15% off in annual membership. masterclass.com/99invisible. The best thing about summer is getting to do all your favorite indoor things outside, like sharing meals and accidentally falling asleep on the sofa. Article’s curated catalog of outdoor furniture is here to help you do all your favorite things this summer. They’ve got everything you need, from outdoor sofas to dining sets to decor. Their team of designers is all about finding the perfect balance between style, quality, and price. And they’re dedicated to thoughtful craftsmanship that stands the test of time. Article offers fast, affordable shipping across the U.S. and Canada. You just pick the delivery time, and they’ll send you updates every step of the way. I have a beautiful Article outdoor dining set. It’s kind of this heavy, wood, three-piece picnic table kind of thing, and it is robust. It is quality. Article is offering our listeners $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more. To claim go to article.com/99, and that discount will be automatically applied at checkout. That’s article.com/99 for $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more.
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Roman Mars [00:32:00] We are back with reporter Katie Thornton. And we want to talk a little bit more about who Schütte-Lihotzky was as a person because she was pretty amazing.
Katie Thornton [00:32:09] Yeah, she really was. And specifically, I wanted to talk a bit about her political trajectory after the Frankfurt Kitchen because she really is a remarkable person. And I think her life helps shed some light onto the sort of complexity of her legacy.
Roman Mars [00:32:23] Cool.
Katie Thornton [00:32:24] So we mentioned that, in the story, in the 1930s and as the Nazis rose to power in interwar Germany, they did away with a lot of the social housing projects and efforts that were going on. And Ernst May–who was directing the New Frankfurt project–he ended up gathering 16 architects, including Schütte-Lihotzky, and fleeing to the Soviet Union in 1930. And Schütte-Lihotzky ended up working there. She and her husband, Wilhelm Schütte, helped design collective kitchens and nurseries in the Soviet Union. They left there in 1937. And in 1938, they moved to Istanbul, where another architect had secured them jobs.
Roman Mars [00:33:03] So I guess she would have been in Turkey as what ends up becoming World War II was really escalating.
Katie Thornton [00:33:09] Yeah, exactly. And in Turkey, she actually joins the clandestine Communist Party and an anti-fascist resistance cell.
Roman Mars [00:33:16] So, she’s fighting Nazis.
Katie Thornton [00:33:18] She is. Yeah. She goes to fight the Nazis. And as part of her resistance work in 1940, she’s sent on a mission to Vienna where she’s tasked with gathering anti-fascist literature so it can be reproduced and distributed back in Turkey. She also does things like deliver messages to members of the Communist resistance throughout Austria, and she communicates with the leader of the resistance there, warning him to leave the country when it becomes clear that he may be in danger.
Roman Mars [00:33:46] Wow. I mean, this is really risky spy stuff.
Katie Thornton [00:33:48] It’s super risky. And in fact, you know, when she’s on this mission on the day before she’s set to return home to Turkey, she’s actually captured by the Gestapo and imprisoned.
Roman Mars [00:34:00] Oh my.
Katie Thornton [00:34:01] And she’s moved between various prisons and labor camps in Austria and Germany. And ultimately, she’s imprisoned for four years. She’s forced into solitary confinement for a lot of that time. And she’s also brought to the Gestapo’s headquarters to be interrogated, and that is just an absolutely horrific place. An estimated 50,000 people were murdered at that location alone. Schütte-Lihotzky’s male comrade who she was captured with–he was one of the people who was executed.
Roman Mars [00:34:30] But she eventually made it out?
Katie Thornton [00:34:31] Yeah, she does. In April of 1945, Schütte-Lihotzky is finally freed by American soldiers. But this is where her life takes another turn. A couple of years after she’s freed, she returns to Austria, her home. And Austria had been part of Nazi Germany until 1945. And when Schütte-Lihotzky returned to Austria as a former political prisoner of the Nazi regime, she was not warmly received. Here’s S.E. Eisterer, who we heard from in the main story.
S.E. Eisterer [00:34:58] She had left Austria, when she was in her late 20s, as a fairly successful young architect who had completed very large commissions–had published work at a very young age. She returned to Austria in her late 40s, starting 50s, as somebody who would soon come to realize that she had lost her career as an architect in Austria over her resistance activity.
Katie Thornton [00:35:30] There was still deep anti-Semitism among many Austrian citizens and leaders. The resistance movement in Austria was always very marginal during the war, S.E. says. After the war, the Austrian government tried to ignore the nation’s history as perpetrators of Nazi violence. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, anti-communist sentiment grew in the 1950s. And having worked with the Communist resistance, Schütte-Lihotzky maintained her allegiance to the Communist Party of Austria for the rest of her life. So, when Schütte-Lihotzky comes back after working with the resistance, she only got two contracts from the city of Vienna despite her architectural expertise and her knowledge of kitchens and childcare and everything.
Roman Mars [00:36:11] Wow. So, she was really shut out after this?
Katie Thornton [00:36:14] Yes, she really was. I mean, for decades, she worked almost exclusively on private homes, or she would take on big public projects in China or Cuba or the Soviet Union. And all the while, she’s getting sort of more and more involved in both the Communist Party of Austria and also the women’s movement.
Roman Mars [00:36:31] So I guess in the story when we said that she didn’t always get the credit she deserved as the mother of the modern kitchen, this is why.
Katie Thornton [00:36:38] Yeah, I think that’s right. She was really shut out.
Roman Mars [00:36:42] Yeah. But I know in the ’70s and ’80s, she was kind of put back in the spotlight. I mean, so how did that happen?
Katie Thornton [00:36:47] Yeah. You know, in the piece, we talked a lot about how the growth of second wave feminism meant that her work sort of got a second look. And in 1980, she got a big award for her architectural work from the city of Vienna. So slowly, you know, the government was beginning to embrace her again. But, you know, it was really complicated. In 1988, for example, she was selected to get this incredibly high honor for arts and sciences in Austria, but she rejected it because it would have been awarded by Kurt Waldheim, who was the president of Austria at the time and had been an intelligence officer with the Nazi army. And he was banned from entering the U.S. due to his involvement with war crimes.
Roman Mars [00:37:27] Whoa.
Katie Thornton [00:37:27] So she was a very political figure until she died just before her 103rd birthday in 2000.
Roman Mars [00:37:34] Well, what a fascinating human being. I’m so glad I know a little bit more about her after the Frankfurt Kitchen.
Katie Thornton [00:37:40] Yeah, she really is incredible.
Roman Mars [00:37:43] Well, thank you so much for talking with us, Katie. It was a pleasure, as always.
Katie Thornton [00:37:46] Thanks, Roman.
Roman Mars [00:37:51] 99% Invisible was produced this week by Katie Thornton. It was edited by Delaney Hall. Original Music by Swan Real. Sound Mix by Haziq bin Ahmad Farid. Kurt Kohlstedt is our digital director. The rest of the team includes Chris Berube, Jayson De Leon, Emmett FitzGerald, Martín Gonzales, Christopher Johnson, Vivian Le, Lasha Madan, Jeyca Maldonado Medina, Kelly Prime, Joe Rosenberg, and me, Roman Mars. The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stefan Lawrence. S.E. Eisterer’s forthcoming book is called Memories of the Resistance: Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky and the Architecture of Collective Dissidence, 1919-1989. That will be out in the next 18 months from Leuven University Press. Special thanks this week to historian Martina Hessler for her scholarship on resistance to the Frankfurt Kitchen. And huge congrats to Katie Thornton who, by the way, just won a Peabody Award for her series on rightwing radio. It’s called The Divided Dial. We featured part of her reporting, but you should check out the whole series on the On the Media feed if you haven’t heard it already. It’s fantastic and award-winning. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora Building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. You can find the show and join discussions about the show on Facebook. You can tweet me @romanmars and the show @99piorg. We’re on Instagram, Reddit, and TikTok too. You can find links to other Stitcher shows I love as well as every past episode of 99PI at 99pi.org.