Inspiring Austrian Women: Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2015 we would like to introduce you to a few Austrian women that have impressed and inspired us. Today our Project Manager Theodora writes about architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky.

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky

Before I moved to London to manage the programme at the ACF I worked in Vienna’s Museum of Technology for many years. Learning about science on a daily basis was pretty exciting. We talked about planes and old cars; the first telephones, televisions, typewriters; hydro power, wind power, nuclear power. Brilliant inventors and scientists seemed to parade past me. And guess what? Most of them were men. Who do you think of when you think of physics, of chemistry, of technology? Galileo? Bernouli? Bohr? All men.

Luckily, then as now I worked with a team of strong women who sought to highlight the contributions of women to science and technology. My favourite among the women featured in the museum, and one of my personal heroines, is Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, a kickass architect and socialist who worked in the resistance movement during the Nazi era.

Schütte-Lihotzky studied to become an architect in a time when architecture was overwhelmingly, exclusively male. In fact she was the first woman studying architecture in Vienna. She worked with some of the most famous architects of the early 20th century on the social housing projects that defined Viennese architecture after the First World War. Her fame, however, rests firmly on a project she developed in Frankfurt: the famous Frankfurt Kitchen. Inspired by dinner cars on trains, she created the first fitted kitchen. With limited space in many of the new council houses, interior design became more and more important. Fold-out beds, built-in wardrobes, and yes, the Frankfurt Kitchen changed how that space could be used. Schütte-Lihotzky was inspired by the drive to rationalize daily life that influenced many thinkers at the beginning of the 20th century. If work in factories could be perfected and made as efficient as possible, why not do the same for work in the home? The kitchen, traditionally seen as part of the women’s sphere, was to become “the laboratory of the housewife”: a highly efficient workplace where food could be prepared quickly and easily, and without wasting time trying to find ingredients in inefficient drawers, or running from cupboard to cupboard. Schütte-Lihotzky clearly saw her work on the kitchen as connected to furthering the independence of women: she was convinced that “women’s struggle for economic independence and personal development meant that the rationalization of housework was an absolute necessity.“

The Frankfurt Kitchen

To me, Schütte-Lihotzky’s work is a great example that feminism has a profound impact on our social wellbeing. The functionality and social impact of her work and her personal political engagement in the Austrian communist party and the anti-Nazi resistance are further proof that Schütte-Lihotzky was invested in improving the life of the many. As one of the first female architects working in Vienna, who when she was studying at university thought it wouldn’t be possible for her, a woman, to design and build a house, she’s definitely a pioneer.

The Frankfurt Kitchen is, unfairly, the thing that Schütte-Lihotzky is remembered for most, even though she was an accomplished architect who worked on some of the most exciting projects in Vienna. Her political views – she was an outspoken communist – made it hard for her to find work or recognition in post-WW2 Vienna.  She finally achieved the recognition she deserved during the 1980s and 90s. In the last few years, there has been an exhibition at MoMA dedicated to the Frankfurt Kitchen, and there’s even a fantastic tribute in pop song format to Schütte-Lihotzky. To me, her work was a highlight in a museum filled with nothing but great achievements.

Theodora Danek is the ACF London’s Project Manager. She has a degree in History from the University of Vienna, and an MA in Religion and Society from Durham University. Previously she worked at the Technisches Museum Wien.

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