Part 9 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month
Born into a privileged life in Vienna, Margarete “Grete” Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) turned connections made possible through her advantageous situation to work for the less fortunate. In 1918 she was the first woman to enroll at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Vienna, where she focused her studies on public housing. In her first professional positions she planned settlements for war veterans with Adolf Loos and designed social housing, student housing, schools and kindergartens in the Municipal Building Department in Frankfurt. It was in this context that she designed the renowned “Frankfurt Kitchen” of 1926, a mass-produced and prefabricated “housewife’s laboratory” that manifest her studies of the scientific management studies of Frederick Taylor with typical railroad dining car design. By increasing hygiene, efficiency, and living space in modest apartments, the kitchen also promoted the further effects of allowing women to seek careers and financial independence while spending more time on their personal development and the upbringing of their children. Schütte-Lihotzky’s political leanings became more pronounced as she traveled to Moscow in 1930 with other architects to design vast new settlements for steel workers under Stalin’s five-year plan. Political difficulties and danger prompted a series of moves through the 1930s, from England to France and finally to Turkey. During a return to Vienna in 1938 to participate with the Resistance, she was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned. After her release by US troops in 1945 she worked for Communist clients in China, Cuba, and the GDR. Only in much later life did she receive significant recognition from her home state, including an architecture award from the City Vienna in 1980, the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 1992, and the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold with Star for Services to the Republic of Austria in 1997.