A proposed family hotel in New York City, 1874.
Writing with six hands from two different spaces in Barcelona, Ethel, César, and Anna are typing a piece about New York City residential hotels. In one of their spaces, two rows of IKEA Billy shelves sigh under the weight of books; an eternal cup of coffee sits on each desk. The second space is a luminous co-working space with a row of tables and an interior patio. But together there is a third space, the virtual space of Google Docs, which brings them together. In a way it is a metaphor for the piece they are writing. By looking backward to old forms of shared domestic accommodation, they are also looking forward. With sharing and collectivity increasingly taking place online, can this get re-translated into the spaces we live?
By Ethel Baraona Pohl, Anna Puigjaner, César Reyes Nájera
Blurring the Kitchen Work Triangle
Before the establishment of our post-war consumer life style there was a time when hotel life defined a standard type of housing where the limit between private and public was blurred in favor of social engagement. Cities like New York were filled with apartment houses that of fered domestic services as hotels did: collective kitchens, dining rooms, dancing halls, shared maids, centralized vacuum systems, nurseries, etc. Due to the pressure of scarce land and housing stock during the economic depression after the Civil War (1860 – 65), most American cities needed to build apartment houses for middle class tenants who needed to cut down on their housing expenses. Different housing typologies then appeared which, recalling hotel living, combined the European apartment type with the American hotel type. This typol ogy between apartment and hotel allowed for the elimi nation of housekeeping annoyances and thus, reduced significantly its costs. Unfortunately the nuances and typological complexities of this particular building type have been lost over the course of the twentieth century; perhaps these dwelling typologies can again become a reference to address a new domestic realm focused nowadays on a relational approach to the city.
Sharing under the same roof
Since their inception hotels have offered a very desirable housing type for wealthy society because it removed the responsibility for house management while offering luxury domestic services in the best locations of the city. For instance, the first major hotel in New York, the Astor House, built in 1836 on Broadway Avenue between Barclay and Vesey Street, was mainly occupied by per manent residents. Shortly after opening its doors, Horace Greeley published at the New Yorker: “We hear that half the rooms are already engaged by families who give up housekeeping on account of the present enormous rents of the city.” Designed by Isaiah Rogers, the hotel had 309 rooms and restrooms available on each floor, a great novelty, since even the most luxurious mansions lacked such facilities. Primarily residents of the hotels were singles or young couples from moderately wealthy families who were unable to bear the cost of keeping a dwelling at the level that their social relationships required. Hotels offered at a much lower cost, extravagant and luxurious furnishings, as well as housekeeping services which were unaffordable in a detached house. With the exception of lavishly expensive hotel life, before the Civil War it was inconceivable that a moder ately wealthy family could share the same roof with other families. However after the Civil War the situation changed drastically. In October 1866 the New York Times warned of the lack of housing for the middle class: working families with median salaries, teachers, artists or vendors, could neither afford to buy a townhouse, nor to accept living in a tenement building due to its social connotations. Most of them ended up living in boarding houses, or shared their own house with other families. This situation forced the construction of New York’s first apartment buildings for the middle class; trying to adapt the European apartment building type to the American way of living, some of them took into account the tradition of hotel living and incorporated hotel services. In 1871, only a year after the first apartment build ing was built in New York – the Stuyvesant Building1 – another apartment building called the Haight House opened incorporating hotel services. It was an adaptation of an old family home into a multi-family dwelling for
twenty families and several bachelors. situated at the corner of 15th Street and Fifth Avenue. Of its five floors, four were devoted to family apartments and the fifth floor devoted to bachelor apartments. In each floor plan there were five family apartments composed each of three bedrooms, a parlor, a living room, a kitchen, a pantry, a bathroom, and two bedrooms for the service staff. In the basement, a laundry and a kitchen could serve via dumbwaiter the different apartments. Meals were served in the common dining room or in each of the apartments on demand thanks to pneumatic tubes and electric bells that connected the private rooms with the kitchen and the reception of the building.2 After the construction of the Haight House many similar buildings began to proliferate in New York. During these early years several examples were built around Fifth Avenue, between 10th and 27th Street, but after the opening of the elevated railroad along Ninth Avenue in 1879, most of them were built on the Upper West Side – among them the Beresford, the Winthrop, the Endicott, the San Remo, the Rutledge, and the Brockholst. In contrast to the Haight House, most of the apartments lacked kitchens and had more flexibility in terms of the composition of the apartments; rooms could be added or subtracted depending on the need. One of the key factors of the success of this housing type was the lack of domestic service and the consequent rising of its fees during the second half of the nineteenth century. After the war several articles were published in the newspapers warning about the excessive domestic costs; the prob lem of housekeeping (of owning your own staff) was widely discussed and the apartment hotel was seen to offer a possible solution.3 In 1868, just before the construction of the Stuyvesant, Melusina Fay Pierce published a book titled Cooperative housekeeping: how not to do it and how to do it, a study in sociology4 where she first introduced the term ‘cooperative housekeeping’. Pierce proposed that women should undertake domestic work together in special facilities and that their work should be paid for by their husbands. In that way every woman could do what best suited their capabilities, optimizing the time spent and the cost for each act of domestic labor. She proposed a way to professionalize domestic work, incor porating women into labor, and offering them economic independence. Pierce’s proposal had a clear impact on architecture, not only because it promoted a new type of community-services building and therefore a new type of city structure, but also because it consequently involved removing kitchens and other service rooms from housing. Shortly after the publication of the book, the journalist Nathan Meeker published a New York Times article in opposition to the proposal for construction of domestic-services buildings, encouraging the incorpo ration of those services into apartment buildings, pre dicting what later came into being at the Haight House. It was in those years when ‘the grand domestic revolution’ started, in the words of architectural historian Dolores Hayden5, due to this communalizing of kitchens, nurseries, and housing. Hayden connects this to the feminist move ment, when she notes that most feminists wished to increase women’s rights in the home and simultaneously bring homelike nurturing into public life. We can see how the evolution of housing between late nineteenth and early twentieth century not only affected the intimate life of families, but somehow it was reshaping the relations between neighborhoods and the urban context in general.
During this epoch several urban projects emerged that tried to give an answer to this general concern taking into account the collectivization of domestic services. Among them Albert K. Owen’s project was the more ambitious one. In 1884 Owen designed a city called Topolobampo in Mexico which was created following Charles Fourier’s utopian principles and where apartment hotels and cooperative domestic buildings were to be built.6 Owen believed that the city had to be planned as a unitary grand hotel, where streets were halls and houses were rooms, everything planned, connected, and well served. For instance, every block of row houses included, apart from the dwelling: meeting rooms, schools, bath rooms, a laundry, a nursery and bedrooms for guests. The dining room, where meals were served daily, was located on a corner of the block. From its restaurant, meals could be served in the homes à la carte at any hour and in the manner ordered by telephone, as in a hotel. There was also a plan for a city-wide transport of goods which would be done by electric cars to different shops and from there through pipes to different homes, allowing citizens to shop without leaving the house.7 There is a counterpoint to Owen’s vision, the col ony is a proposal that becomes a contradiction in itself. His project was based on the idea that the colony would be owned and operated by a chartered company.8 The conflict between the idea of ‘communal spaces’ and the concept of ‘privately-owned space’ is useful to reflect on the possibilities behind different scales. It raises the question if a homelike urbanism is possible? Although Topolobampo was never built as it was planned, it was – and still is – an important influence for the imaginary
During the First World War the concept of efficiency was applied everywhere, but especially to housing. Because men were mobilized in the military, women took up their job vacancies, aggravating the situation of the lack of domestic services and the incompatibility between housekeeping and business hours. Many articles were published about Christine Frederick’s domestic scientific methods which, based on Taylorist principles, and offered through a correspondence course, gave women the opportunity to earn a ‘domestic engineering’ degree, elevating the category of housework to pure science. Multiple ‘labor-saving’ devices came out to allow for more efficient housekeeping. When the New Deal began, household appliances proliferated and the lack of a kitchen in a house was suddenly inconceivable. The kitchen, and its devices, became an important key to the growth of the economy, and spurred further research in the matter. Developed in the 1940s the ‘kitchen work triangle’ is probably one of the most researched ergonomic princi ples.11 Following ideas from fin de siècle productivist thinkers, this model was intended to address the effici ency of the kitchen space between its main work func tions: cooking, preparation, and food storage, emphasizing cost reduction by standardizing construction. Once thoroughly established in post-war consumer lifestyle, further developments focused on improving the amen ities of appliances. It remains a commonly used principle of design today even though domestic habits have significantly changed since 1946 and our list of cooking tools and small appliances have increased. New forms of living in the twenty-first century have us constantly reviewing and exploring the impor tance of the kitchen as a catalyst of social relations. The necessity for optimizing processes in the early 1940s shifted to a need for sharing spaces (the open-kitchen) in the 1980s, and today certain homes are even dispensing with the kitchen as a particular space in the house altogether. When Dan Hill says12 that in some ways, the history of food holds up a mirror to the history of the country, we can add – paraphrasing – that the history of the kitchen represents somehow, the history of living models. Tendencies related with mobility, work schedules, or even street food culture can dramatically change the
The Hotel Lucerne, West 79th Street, New York City, built in 1903.
of the future city. In Topolobampo the apartment hotel organization is extrapolated to the entire city encourag ing that the cooperative household should not be limited to the organization of buildings but to urban planning in general. Even if this type of urban planning was not successful, in the United States apartments offering hotel services were widely used as permanent dwellings up until the Great Depression. This phenomena of communal services was not only an American trend. In the London of 1900, Alfred Smith refers in his book The Housing Question9 to the Model Lodging Houses in London as a response to the lack of space for accommodating the growing city population. This building model was based on the example of the Municipal Lodging House located on Parker Street, which contained 324 separate cubicles; a large common kitchen, and a large reading room, among other facilities. And in 1920, Müller-Lyer10 suggested measures of socializing domestic labor that would later be advocated by the Soviet avant-garde: collective laundries, kitchens, cafeterias.
Domestic goes urban
The Kitchen Work Triangle
The Kitchen Work Triangle from Neufert Architectsâ€™ Data
May I borrow a cup of sugar?
The relationship between urban planning and economy is undeniable and so is the influence of cyclical struggles and economic downturns in new urban ideas. We can still take references from historical lifestyles to address a new domestic realm that is more socially constructive in terms of economy, ecology, and everyday comfort. From the 1970s and starting in Denmark the cohousing movement has tried to realize certain people’s aspirations for a house with sense of community. In late 1980s the model spread and was adopted in some places of North America. Although developments made during the 1990s have ultimately attracted mostly white, educated, upper-income people, it is a model that could be useful for reinvigorating existing urban neighborhoods avoiding the need to build new buildings from scratch and considering neighborhood connections that might previ ously exist. It also has the potential to reduce the amount of resources we consume individually while enhancing notions of ‘the sharing economy’. But transitions are not always easy. Back in New York City the first attempt to develop a co-housing project has failed. In 2010 the group Brooklyn Cohousing14 quit in their efforts to develop a project from scratch. Meanwhile in Barcelona a group named Vida+Facil is working at spreading the idea of cloud-housing, considering the house as a service rather than a property.15 Nowadays access to planning schemes is as easy as downloading an app,16 but human relations are not com pletely subject to iOS code. Then, what about encour aging the use of spaces with shared and rarely used appliances to provoke interactions among neighbors? It could result in some conflicts but it could also slow down consumption and open up the possibility to untested relational models in the transition zone between the urban and domestic realm. Dialectics of consumerism is powerful. It drags us in a spiral of acquisitions under the promise of improving our wellness, while increasing individualism and chal lenging social interactions that don’t match with some productivist postulates. But we have seen that it wasn’t always like this, at least in western cities. The kitchen is more than a laboratory operating under principles of scientific management; it is a space hosting human inter actions that can even surpass the limits of a single house. Under consumerist eyes, domestic space is a fertile ground to plant seeds of isolation. But it also has been an arena of cohabitation that could be revisited to help us to face future urban scenarios.
1 The Stuyvesant was located at 142 East 18th Street and designed by architect Morris Hunt. It is generally regarded as the first upscale apartment building in New York. It was built in 1869 – 1870 2 ‘French Apartment Houses’ New York Times, April 16, 1871 3 World, January 15 1867; ‘Wanted good servants’ New York Times, October 4 1863 4 Melusina Fay Pierce. Cooperative housekeeping: how not to do it and how to do it, a study in sociology. (Boston: J.R. Osgood, 1884). 5 Dolores Hayden. The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities. (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 1981). 6 Leopold Katscher, ‘Owen’s Topolobampo Colony, Mexico’ American Journal of Sociology , Vol. 12, No. 2, Sep., 1906, pp. 145 – 175. At: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2762382 7 Albert K. Owen, Integral Co-operation at Work. (New York: John Lowell Co., 1890). 8 ibid. 9 Alfred Smith, The Housing Question. Swan (London: Sonnenschein & Co., 1900) 10 Franz-Carl Müller-Lyer. The History of Social Development. (London: George Allen & Unwin. 1920) p. 228. 11 ‘Kitchen Work Triangle’ design principle was developed at The Building Research Council (Illinois, USA) with the aim to produce efficient solutions for post-war need of low-cost housing. 12 Dan Hill, Brian Boyer, Helsinki Street Eats. (Helsinki: Sitra, 2012). At: http://www.sitra.fi/julkaisut/muut/Helsinki_Street_Eats_ .pdf 13 Werker 3. A collective and political representation of domestic space open for constant improvement and study. At: http:// www.werkermagazine.org/domesticwork/category/kitchen/ 14 Robert Sullivan, ‘The Real Park Slope Co-op’. New York Real State Magazine, Nov 1, 2009. http://nymag.com/realestate/features/ 61743/ (accessed August 17th 2012) 15 http://www.vidamesfacil.com/en/ 16 http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/designvision/id487932771?mt=8 (accessed: August 18th 2012) & http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ kitchen-design/id382595472?mt=8 (accessed August 18th 2012)
way we conceive the kitchen today; and we can even go further, wondering if there is a need for such domestic spaces at all ... at least in the way it was conceived in the middle of last century. From New York to London, from the post-war reces sion to our current economic constraints, the kitchen has been that place of comfort, social relations, and even secret passions.13 But what happens now? If we realize that the kitchen work triangle is the result of a research laboratory, which meticulously planned the perfect form according to some temporal and spatial context, we must admit that maybe it doesn’t work anymore. No matter if we’re talking about triangles, squares, or circles, maybe our response as architects should be open to untested options.
Published on Mar 13, 2013
"Blurring the Kitchen Work Triangle" article written by Ethel Baraona Pohl, Anna Puigjaner, and César Reyes Nájera for Volume #33 "Interiors...