Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky 

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.


Jelisaveta Načić

0Part 4 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Jelisaveta Načić (1878-1955) was the first woman to graduate from the architecture program at the University of Belgrade, which opened only in 1896. Her attendance at college was highly unusual in a country where the vast majority of women were not formally educated at all, let alone in a profession. As part of the inaugural class of Serbian architects, she was among those forging architectural education and practice in the nation. She joined several classmates in the newly-renamed Serbian Association of Engineers and Architects, which grew from the older Union of Engineers and Technicians of Serbia. However, unlike her peers, she was unable to earn a place at the Ministry of Construction due to its requirement for military service, from which she was blocked as a woman. Instead, Načić went to work for the municipal government, eventually becoming its first chief architect. Her third-place finish in a 1903 competition for a church in Topola helped further to establish her in the profession and attracted private commissions for apartments and private residences. More important independent and public work followed, including the 1906 Kralj Petar I (King Peter I) school, notable for its Renaissance style and modernist concerns for hygiene and natural and electrical lighting, heating and plumbing. Her Workers’ Housing Complex from 1910-1911, designed in a vernacular mode, was an early experiment in modern residential planning in the Balkans, as was a tuberculosis sanitorium, the first of its kind in Serbia.

Her vibrant career of just sixteen years–especially considering the odds against her–was cut short by the outbreak of war. Her work to redesign Terazije, the central square in the Serbian capital, was interrupted in 1914 while the Alexander Nevsky Church in Belgrade begun in 1912 was likewise left incomplete,  finished only in 1929 by other architects. Her TB sanitorium was a complete loss. Načić herself was taken to a camp in Hungary, retiring after her release in Dubrovnik. Today, her work is receiving well-earned attention: in 2004 a street opposite her workers’ housing complex was named in her honor.

The Political Symbol We Need


On January 21, 2017, hundreds of post-Inauguration Day protests, rallies, and marches took place across the US and around the world. Largely organized by women and around “women’s issues” (which are not really only pertinent to women), the Women’s March on Washington and its related events served a smorgasbord of issues that were probably not all, entirely, to the taste of every participant–which did not keep them from coming out by the millions. Such is the nature of progressive politics in its sweeping gestures toward inclusion and diversity. Even so, the various marches were alike in several factors, including their overwhelming numbers, their overwhelmingly peaceful character, and their overwhelming pinkness. The latter was in part due to many artifacts in the crowds utilizing that color so long associated with all things feminine, but one item rose above the rest: the headwear that many of the participants wore. Simple in shape, the flat, boxy hat, when slipped over the head, reveals pointy “ears” that gives rise to its name: the pussyhat.

Given the success of the marches and ubiquity of the hats within them, the pussyhat may become one of the great examples of political headwear in the history of this sub-sub-sub-set of material culture history, which is a long one. Hats have enjoyed a rather rich association with politics through time, as their meanings might be casually hewn or (as in this case) intentionally sewn. Ancient Greeks recognized different tribes by their chapeaux, especially those who donned a pointy cone later called Phrygian caps, which were later embraced to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty during various eighteenth-century revolutions: Americans called it them Liberty Caps. In the early twentieth century, hats were intentionally wielded within the strive toward Turkey’s westernization during the establishment of the Republic when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk required men to wear European-style hats in replace of the fez that had been traditional for about a century, thinking that modern hats would modernize their wearers. Meanwhile, Americans popularized straw boaters, usually festooned with bunting and buttons, as the canonical rally and convention hat. Again in the 1960s, activists and revolutionaries countered the decorum of broad-brimmed hats by donning berets to conjure a militarist attitude, famously captured in the Guerrillero Heroico.

Hats have only gained prominence at political rallies–especially televised ones–in the most recent decades, as a way for individuals to draw media attention to themselves (and, of course, their party), and for organizers to indicate solidarity among a crowd. Such was certainly the case during the 2016 presidential election, when the platform of the candidate who ultimately won the Electoral College became closely identified with a red trucker hat bearing an ostensibly, but backwards-looking and nostalgic, patriotic slogan. Reaching a certain portion of the electorate that was clearly feeling left out of global change, its form identifies with traditional masculinity and blue-collar labor, while its color is associated with the American flag but, perhaps more to the point, is also the shade favored by bullfighter to enrage their prey and thus may likely pump up (if not help to flat-out enrage) rally attendees. The factory-made hat (sometimes labeled “made in the USA,” but not necessarily so and not entirely so) was a tremendously successful element of the campaign, yet as ill-fitting and foreign in its candidate’s wearing–one might argue–as are the values it symbolizes within his actual life experience.

How different, then, is the hat we saw amidst the crowds flowing through the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Boston and beyond on January 21: not a device shrewdly chosen and mass-produced to elicit common response among a crowd of followers, but the result of a totally grassroots campaign, like the rallies themselves. While the innocent (or out-of-touch) might see their shape as having some vaguely feline-feminine quality appropriate to a Women’s March, no one was calling these kittyhats; they of course were a direct response to one of the most degrading and disparaging comments to come out of the red-capped candidate’s mouth. In no way is the pussyhat’s hue a washed-out, weaker version of the candidate’s hats; in this context, pink is potentially more biologically referential than generically pretty–although it’s that, too (and, depending on the wearer, ironically so–or not).

hatsAlso unlike the uniformity of the manufactured red hats, the pussyhats reveal a variety of shades and patterns of pink, as diverse in their slightly different shapes, fabrics, and methods of fabrication (some real works of art by skilled knitters and others clearly a person’s first go at a sewing machines). This too is significant, for the making of these hats is as important as their wearing. The real gist is for them to be handmade–so much so, that knittters took pity on their non-needlework-able sisters and passed them around both through small social circles as well as through a well-organized online campaign (no doubt the need also drove some robust Etsy traffic).

The mass creation of hundreds of thousands of pussyhats in a relatively short time frame is a testament to both contemporary social media and age-old needlework technology. The two merge in what may be the biggest global act of Craftivism in history: a pointed use of handicraft for the cause of activism, oftentimes (maybe usually) from a feminist point of view and making use of crafts that have been traditionally associated with the feminine sphere. In the best Craftivist practice, the pussyhats accomplish both goals by merging the advocacy of voice and hand, while also bridging the divide between the personal and the global.

So the pink hat is at once an individual, unique artifact in the making and a communal event in the wearing, much as the marches themselves joined vast swaths of people from broad demographic representations. As a specifically feminist strategy they reclaim and repurpose a word that had been used to belittle and degrade while claiming and proclaiming a color that is a powerful, clashing counterpoint to last summer’s red hat and its regressive attitude. With varying levels of craft expertise, fiber, fabric, pattern and color, they announced diversity within overall unity, perfectly symbolizing the recognition of plurality’s strength within any movement–or society–that hopes to march forward.


William Morris & the Minor Arts


On this day in 1882 William Morris presented a lecture titled “Some of the Minor Arts of Life” before the Birmingham and Midlands Institute.

It was a significant iteration of ideas that he had shared with audiences at places like Trades’ Guild of Learning as early as 1877 and that would, in a later and revised form, becomes the famous “Lesser Arts of Life” essay (available in its full form here).  Morris described the “Greater Arts” as those that appeal “to [man’s] emotions and his intellect,” as well as his memory, imagination and spirit, by the direct means of his senses–say, by looking at a Giotto fresco.  On the other hand, the “Lesser Arts” have as their first intention the service of “bodily wants” and “material needs:” Giotto’s boots…

Read more by our friend Clio

‘Death by Designer:’ Aaron Schock and the Downton Downfall


The Red Room’s to Blame

How often does a piece in the Style section tank a Congressman’s career?  What started as a pretty mild inquiry by Washington Post writer Ben Terris in early February, blossomed as his visit to the congressional office of Rep. Aaron Schock apparently accidentally but very importantly overlapped with one by its eager designer, Annie Brahler of Euro Trash, prompting a major PR fumble and more serious investigations into the Republican’s finances and travel, leading to the all-too-predictable dénouement (the media are distracting me from my job, blah blah blah).

The story of Rep. GQutiepie’s plummet from power might have happened eventually, given all the apparent financial malfeasance, but it sure does look like it’s the office that precipitated his sudden and very public demise: by all accounts, a stunning fall (we will avoid the obvious pun and you’re welcome!).  Surely the private planes, concert tickets, and dubious mileage math might have been enough to swat his erstwhile meteoric rise out of the political stratosphere.  But the story that took root was about the office: brilliant red rooms with a hefty sprinkling of gilt (or at least gold-painted), lavish crystal, multiple urns of pheasant feathers, a table with flying-eagle legs.  Of all the possible reasons for Rep. Xtreme to meet his end, how was it design that did him in?

Was it just the ridiculous crudeness of it all?  A suite of rooms that were more akin to an Old West Madame’s Saloon than the meeting place of a legislator?  (But then, Rep. Glossypage did not accomplish much during his tenure in office.)  Note to future office holders: avoid associations with businesses that feature the words “Euro” and “Trash” in their names.

Was it somehow the style itself: sort of Neo-American-Classical-Exceptionismesque, with vaguely traditionalish pieces glamored up and arranged in wacky, unexpected ways?  That’s especially true of the overlapping frames and floating pictures of presidents that hover within them (ostensibly sourced by staffers from the print-on-demand station at the National Portrait Gallery).

Was it the way this suite stood so brashly out from the pack, its red color not only generally announcing soe kind of rebel spirit manifesting Rep. Abulous statement that he wasn’t one of the “old crusty white guys” and dismissing critics of the office with a bon mot featured in a Taylor Swift song, but specifically disregarding the paint color guidelines set down by the architect of the Capitol?  (Yes of course there are rules about these things, even if the Washington Post calls them “arcane.”)

Or might it have been the description of the room that took hold in the media as “based off of (sic) the red room in Downton Abbey.” This statement, told to reporter Terris by an unamed “woman behind the front desk” of Rep. Instagram‘s office, struck a nerve with the public, even though it seems like a false comparison.  The Congressman’s denials of having ever seen the show are probably true, since PBS rarely plays at 24-Hour Fitness.  Likewise, designer Brahler has huffed at the comparison, demanding the design is her own, with no inspiration from the show or otherwise.  This seems reasonable too.  By her own admission, Brahler is not a designer: she rather proudly proclaims to have avoided being “classically trained” (whatever that means), in other words, she is uneducated in design.  She describes her work as being a purchaser and arranger of stuff, kind of like the people who load up TGIFs and Chili’s restaurants with garage sale loot–just with more crystal and feathers.  And now, political scandal.

For Unnamed Lady Behind The Desk to make the remark with such certainly, there must be something to the comparison, and something that triggers the real criticism and outrage over a lavishly decorated room that perhaps represented a misuse of taxpayer money but is by no means one of the grossest expenditures on office equipage by Congressional representatives.  Perhaps it’s not the dough, or the degree to which Schock’s office simulates the alleged original English estate, but the fact that the comparison can be made at all.

The backlash is one more example of a sentiment rooted in the aspirational, chip-on-the-shoulder aesthetic desires of a certain brand of striving, self-loathing American for the elegance and taste that the landed, royalist Brits seem to do so easily.  Since we cut the cord back in 1776, Britain has been a source of admiration and scorn, longing and denial.  Although (often) unconscious, this national tendency may explain why this extravagant room, which might have been just a source of eye-rolling without the allusion to a television show, became such a lightening rod once it was tied to the story about English elites.  Not only that, but Downton is of course the biggest hit on PBS: the visual equivalent of NPR, the station of Prius-drivers and soy latte-drinkers; it’s not the network for real red-meat guns-rights ‘Merika.  A $40,000 design that emulated Duck Dynasty would have a been a different thing all together.

Maybe Rep. Fancypant’s office was a misguided, silly, excessive recreation of the Downton set; maybe not.  Surely it is a fitting tribute to a (former) congressman who placed high priority on sizzle and appearances, one who was expert at gobbling up power rather than wielding influence.  And fear not, fans of Schock, for this is not the death of a congressional career, but–we bet dollars to doughnuts–rather the birth of cable-channel personality, once the inevitable cross-over travel/design/political programming is launched.  Stay tuned.



3On Tuesday, 11/11 (the date chosen, no doubt, for the lovely sadness of all those lonely numbers standing side by side), the Nein Quarterly #FailedIntellectual Goodwill Tour crept into Chicago, making stops at some university and the Goethe Institut (where severe eyewear abounds, as you would expect).  If you are not hip to Nein (a “compendium of utopian negation”), by all means fix that.  Go, now: we’ll wait right here.

Dr. Eric Jarosinski, the mind behind the Twitterfeed, is no caricature; he just plays one on the interwebs.  His presentation and the ensuing Q & A included observations on social media, academic life, dumb luck, the mathematics of humor and the virtues of being nice, and of course the awful beauty of the German language.

We left with questions:

  • Why is the umlaut funny but the ß not so much?
  • How many #SuccessfulIntellectuals are just #FailedSomethingElses?
  • Will the monster under the bed ever open his own Twitter account?

If the #FailedIntellectual Goodwill Tour comes to your town, go.  In proper Nein fashion, expect nothing.  But we warn you: your expectations will be disappointed.

the other tastiest place in the world


Arts & Crafts gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum

Back in 2010 we named the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna as the tastiest place in a very, very tasty city, but must report that its crown is challenged by one single room in London.  (Surely a topic of such weight merits the esteemed position of this post, which is our 100th, thank you very much & you are welcome!)

During our most recent jaunt through Dear Old Blighty, which was awash with Artsy-Craftsy wonderfulness, we swooned in the Arts and Crafts galleries of the Victoria and Albert.  The museum presents, as one might expect, a singular collection of this great movement that we’ve been increasingly obsessed about (and that we’ve talked with you about before, like here, here, here, and here).  Any reasonable gallery with a reasonable nineteenth-century design collection will have a bit of Morris, maybe some Voysey; perhaps something shiny by Archibald Knox if they’re really fancy.  Well howzabout all of that, and then some, gathered up in one place at one time.

That image at the top is a veritable family picture: Burne-Jones glass, Liberty & Co. washstand, Voysey owls & clock, Farnham pottery, Knox pewter, Webb candlesticks & chair, De Morgan pottery, Ashbee decanter, Townsend fabric, a Morris cabinet and carpet and, of course, the movement’s unofficial mascot, the Strawberry Thief.

Seriously, just look at this stuff:

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in the Medieval Gallery

And because it’s the V & A once you’re finished swooning here, you can walk yourself down to the medieval stuff and see their inspiration. Or over to an adjacent room for Pugin and the Crystal Palace.  It’s almost too much for nineteenth-century people to bear.

Just one downside to the V & A.  Unlike the KM in Vienna, the environment of its wonderfully-designed cafes trumps the nosh.  Such a pity.  Then again, and while there are probably scones to be had in Kensington, why not make your way two miles to Conduit Street, where you can have the cream tea at the Sketch cafe and commune with other tasty ghosts at this former home to the RIBA?

why not, indeed

why not, indeed


we’re five!

Ordonnance des cinq especes de colonnes selon la methode des anciens (Claude Perrault: 1683 )

Ordonnance des cinq especes de colonnes selon la methode des anciens (Claude Perrault: 1683)

original post & theme (24 Sept. 2009)

original post & theme (24 Sept. 2009)

Happy Birthday, Matters of Taste, and congratulations on five years of celebrating martyrs and dogs and architects’ birthdays (here’s looking at you, birthday-buddy Francesco Borromini), castigating Barbie dolls and men’s feet, assessing the architecture of Lord of the Rings and the Avengers  and Harry Potter, swooning over all the wonderfulness of the Arts and Crafts Movement in all its varieties, feeding wizards, hobbits, and padawans, avoiding pumpkin spice,  and lots and lots of buying presents for architects–on all the world’s continents (well except Antarctica).  It seems to us that a milestone birthday calls for a new dress, and so today we retire the old ChaosTheory and don Triton Lite make that Suburbia!

We extend our thanks to you, dear reader, whether you are an old subscriber or new to the party.  Glad you are here.  Make sure to join us in a slice of celebratory cake today and, of course, stay tasty!

apparently have no need for the Taste

these guys apparently have no need for the Taste