Customization Defeats Efficient Labor in the Home: The Failure of the Frankfurt Kitchen Author: Maisie Weinschenk Date Written: 04.10.13
Abstract The Frankfurt Kitchen was designed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky during the Weimar Republic Period in Germany. Ernst May, German architect and city-planner, commissioned a kitchen design from Lihotzky for his satellite cities surrounding Frankfurt, Germany. Lihotzky focused her designs on the efficient labor models of Fredrick Taylor, a scientific engineer and philosopher. My paper examining the Frankfurt Kitchen design through the lens of two theories: the theory of usability and the theory of generativity. This paper will be examining why the Frankfurt Kitchen was not able to meet the needs of Frankfurt citizens. The object containing both these theories that I will be comparing the Frankfurt Kitchen to is the Apple iPhone. By viewing a successful and popular object like the iPhone, I hope to enlighten the design of the Frankfurt Kitchen, and uncover a possible future interior kitchen design that utilizes Lihotzky’s methods of work-flow efficiency, and the iPhone’s ability to garner generativity and customization. I will begin my paper by giving context to the Frankfurt Kitchen and its conception by exploring the history of the Weimar Period.
Usability, Generativity, Taylorism, Satellite Cities, Weimar Republic, iPhone, Frankfurt Kitchen, Taylorism, Interior Design, Information Design Author Maisie Weinschenk is a senior at Columbia College of Chicago. She is graduating with two bachelors: Art History and Public Relations. Her specialization is in architecture, interface design, technology design, and modernistic theories of the early twentieth century.
Thesis Taylorism brought models of scientific efficiency to labor workers. Designer Margarete Sch端tteLihotzky infused Taylorism with theories of socialist housing design and created a kitchen for working class women. She worked to increase efficiency, uniformity, and for the kitchen to be manufactured and installed at a low price. Lihotzky conducted extensive time and motion studies to optimize workflow in the kitchen. She was ultimately motivated to make life easier for the working class people of Frankfurt. However, the Frankfurt Kitchen was not sustainable and criticism for the design grew amongst the working class families in Frankfurt who used it. The Frankfurt Kitchen failed because in order for a technological object to be successful when being used by humans it must have two elements: generativity and usability. The Frankfurt Kitchen just contained one, usability. I will comparing the Frankfurt Kitchen design to the iPhone in order to demonstrate how Apple designers were able to create a successful object using theories of both usability and generativity. Usability is what Lihotzky understood when she designed the kitchen. She knew that the kitchen had to be easy to use, and had to be designed specifically for her target demographic, but what she failed to realize is that she left no room for customization or innovation. By just focusing on usability and not on generativity the design could not sustain itself because it did not give the user any means of improvement or personalization. Apple proves through their design of the iPhone that one technology can have multiple applications that can be configured and generated in multiple ways by the user themselves. This is known as the Standard Innovation Model, and it is my recommendation to improve the design of the Frankfurt Kitchen.
The Weimar Republic
Fifty years following the unification of Germany in 1871 at the Versailles Palaceâ€™s Hall of Mirrors in France , the German Empire transitioned into a parliamentary republic (fig. 1). Germanyâ€™s first attempt at a democracy took place under these circumstances, alongside modernization and industrial expansion. This political period is known as the Weimar Republic. 1 Ultimately, the Weimar period did not last long due to the rise of the Nazi regime following it, but this period is referred to as one of the most intellectual and kproductive eras in human history. The social environment during this period was politically progressive and many institutions and cities at this time were rethinking the prior political and social structures that once were regarded untouchable. Socialism and the Democratization of Housing Between the years of 1928 and 1932 in Germany, the National Socialist movement attempted to change its image from an insurgent fringe party into a serious, political force. 2 This transformation is partly due to the deterioration of the German economy beginning in 1929. The party began aggressively strategizing to attract and mobilize segments of the German population. As living standards went down, the German population gravitated towards a social and economic structure that would favor the working class population. The primary concerns for working class families in Germany at that time were shelter, food, financial stability, and equality amongst the classes. It was during this time that Ludwig Landmann became mayor. He had previously been city councilor and head of the office housing policy in Frankfurt. Landmann was a leading member of the Democratic Party in Frankfurt, and was largely supported by Social Democrats in Frankfurt. He set forth a new program that aimed to modernize all aspects of municipal functions, especially the improvement of transportation and housing. 3 In 1925, Landmann
appointed Ernst May, as the director of a metropolitan area. For Landmann and the city of Frankfurt, May designed the “New Frankfurt”, (fig. 2 ) encapsulating a new era of social reform.
The Frankfurt Kitchen May commissioned Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (Fig. 3) to design a kitchen for his new social housing projects. 4 Her goal for designing this kitchen was to create a template for May, but she also hoped that her design would be globally adapted as a new model for interior kitchen design. The goals were to make daily life for the working-class in Germany easier. 5 She hoped that the Frankfurt Kitchen would make all aspects of daily life more efficient, hygienic, and to create a space for cooking that was less time-consuming. Unlike larger kitchen quarters that had been designed previously, the Frankfurt Kitchen was not built for servants and in-home cooks, but rather for the average citizen in their own home. The the kitchen was based on the principles of F.W. Taylor’s “Scientific Management”, a system invented to bring methods of scientific management and reasoning to the world of manufacturing. 6 A classic example of scientific management is that of the factories in America during the automotive boom. Taylorism’s goals were to make life easier and more efficient by applying scientific methods of production towards everyday life. This was a groundbreaking idea at the time, and it was even more groundbreaking to take these ideals and put them towards kitchen design. The goal was to create the ultimate kitchen in efficiency. While designing the Kitchen, Lihotzky detailed time-motion studies to determine how long it would take the average housewife to complete different kitchen tasks. 7 She then put together a plan to optimize workflow, thus improving the ergonomics of the kitchen. Lihotzky stated in Das Neue Frankfurt in 1927 that, “The problem of rationalizing the housewife’s work is equally important to all classes of the society. 8 Both the middle-class
women, who often work without any help in their homes, and also the women of the worker class, who often have to work in other jobs, are overworked to the point that their stress is bound to have serious consequences for public health at large.â€? The Frankfurt Kitchen, was only big enough for one housewife to work alone. The kitchen measured 1.9 m by 3.4 m. 9 The entrance for the kitchen was located in one of the walls opposite of the window. Along the left side there was a stove placed next to a sliding door, connecting the kitchen to the rest of the house. Until this point kitchens were typically large, mixed rooms where the family would eat, lounge, and sometimes sleep, since it was commonly the warmest room (Fig 4 ). During the â€œNew Frankfurtâ€? social innovations, there was new emphasis on hygiene in the home. Lihotzky wanted to create a cleaner, safer space that was self-contained. By removing other activities from the kitchen, she sought to elevate household chores to the status of real work. This was a large step towards the emancipation of women. It was very uncommon during the 1920s and 1930s for a man to be making the meals in a household, so the Frankfurt Kitchen was designed primarily for a woman. Every surface in the Frankfurt Kitchen was keep clear, and the design avoided embellishments in moldings that would trap dirt and make cleaning more difficult. Common traits of the kitchen include the bank of metal storage containers for commodities like flour, rice and sugar. 10 A housewife could reach them easily, without having to open a cupboard door. Every material cooking utensil had a designated place, this was so that the average housewife could easily be trained in how to use this kitchen in the most effective ways (Fig 5). There were no electric refrigerators at the time, but a low-level cupboard was vented from the outside to keep food cool. There was an ironing board that was hinged to the wall and could be lowered for use. This was an intentional design choice to make the kitchen a one stop
room to fill many needs for the average housewife. Each Frankfurt Kitchen had a window for light and air, and a stool where the woman could sit comfortably while performing tasks (Fig. 6). The dish racks and shelves were within easy reach from the sink. The cabinets are all painted blue because at the time they believed blue-colored surfaces would resist bugs. 11 Three different sizes for the Frankfurt Kitchen were made for different size apartments. The varieties are known as “Type 1”, “Type 2”, and “Type 3”. 12 The Frankfurt Kitchen design was installed in around 10,000 units in Frankfurt and were also installed in Romerstadt, a satellite community designed by the Frankfurt School and Ernst May. Romerstadt, which translates as The Roman Town (Kutschow), was developed in 19271929 under the direction of May and the “New Frankfurt” initiative (Fig 7.). Through my research, the question I struggled with was why was the kitchen received so poorly? If Lihotzky had spent so much time trying to perfect her design by studying the time and motion of women in the kitchen the model should be have a perfect example of successful design. What was missing? Why was it not embraced by the citizens of Frankfurt? I believe the Frankfurt Kitchen was designed as a show piece, not a practical solution. Lihotzky forgot to consider real life circumstances and the social implications of her design. Quoting from “Genius of Design”, “despite all of the well laid plans, many first time users were apparently baffled by the layout. 13 They found the inflexibility of the design frustrating, and they proved to be disappointingly undisciplined when it came to using the carefully labelled food bins. When people actually went to use the Frankfurt kitchen, people found them very cold.”
The answer to my original query can be solved by examining the design of the cellular phone developed by Apple known as the iPhone. The iPhone in this study represents the ideal object which to interact. By comparing the iPhone object to the Frankfurt Kitchen, I will be able to accurately show how the Frankfurt Kitchen could be improved for future interior kitchen designs. The iPhone has become a design icon for the twenty-first century. Appleâ€™s success for this object is due to its use of usability and generative theories. Usability refers to how easily people can use the object. It relates to how the user experiences using the technology and how satisfying it is. These characteristics have been extensively addressed in the field of Human-Computer Interaction but can be translated to any device or space in which humans interact. 14 Nielsen has developed a widely used definition of usability as being related to the following components: learnability, efficiency of use, memorability, few and non-catastrophic errors and subjective satisfaction. The challenges that engineers had when first developing personal computers, are extremely similar to the challenges of designers in the Frankfurt School when designing interior spaces and living quarters. In the book The Invisible Computer, (1999) Don Norman argues that the personal computer (PC) had become too complex. He stated that as it naturally develops, the PC in the future will change into an appliance to solve challenges. He argues that the PC did not serve the needs of its users, and it appears as an annoying tool crafted by engineers without the proper understanding of usability needs. He argued that a PC should be working unobtrusively in the background, supporting the tasks that humans hope to achieve. 15 I am drawing a direct connection to the goals and aims of Don Norman to designer Lihotzky. Both critiqued a system that was too complex for users. Both
critiqued a design they felt to be outdated, and both felt that their criticisms could better the user and improve efficiency and usability, ultimately improving the userâ€™s quality of life. Generative theory is innovation in technology that can occur by a large, varied, and uncoordinated audience. Writer Zittrain believes that this concept is directly linked to the success of the internet. 16 The infrastructure is originally created by an engineer, or in the case of the Frankfurt Kitchen - a designer, but the technology itself is controlled by the applications that are created via the users, or for the Frankfurt Kitchen - the housewives using the kitchen. Generativity is foremost about how innovation influences the technology, and how the infrastructure will eventually grow with those innovations. The infrastructure is not a separate entity, but successful generative technologies invite the user to arrange properties and create new applications. Successful generative technology focuses on delivering standardized and easy to understand services based on decentralized and independent innovation. The design of the iPhone allows for customization, which is the key ingredient missing in the Frankfurt Kitchen design. The iPhone has a large touch screen, and application icons that can be moved around to fit the need of the user. 1 7 Almost all applications can be chosen directly by the user. While the phone provides a general template for the placement of these applications, they allow the user to arrange and organize. The applications are provided by entrepreneurs who create applications to be sold by Apple. This is the example of a balance between generativity and usability. While the infrastructure is stagnant on each particular device, innovation is facilitated by decentralizing the activity of application development to entrepreneurs, and the design is put in the hands of the user.
So far I have discussed the elements of the iPhone that make a successful device. In many devices, usability and generativity do not go hand-in-hand. For example, the Frankfurt Kitchen excelled in usability, but not in generativity. Typically, an open space for innovation does not result in a high degree of usability. Usability typically requires limitations and standardization (Fig. 8). The Frankfurt Kitchen had successful usability due to the fact that it was highly controlled. In order for an object to master generativity, it is likely to inspire a range of independent innovators. When balancing generativity and usability, often the technology will result in a messy, fragmented product. A fair criticism of my proposal for the Frankfurt Kitchen is that the controlled applications cannot be altered because it would decrease efficiency. It is essential that the usability is altered just enough to leave room for customization; through this balance the product can achieve a higher level of usability because each user can improve the usability for their own goals. When viewing the iPhone as well as the Frankfurt Kitchen, it is necessary to view the designs as not one piece of technology with one trajectory, but multiple technologies with parallel trajectories. In the model of the iPhone, the applications are separate entities and are used for separate purposes. In the model of the Frankfurt Kitchen, the sink, stove, counters, storage containers, etc, are all used for different purposes and are for the purposes of this paper- applications. By understanding the concept of several technologies in one device, we are better able to improve how generativity can create different configurations, and thus improve usability.
Models The process of balancing generativity and usability are projected in four different models (Fig 9). 1 7 These models are: the feature driven model, the open innovation model, the usability
by simplicity model, and the standard innovation model. Each of these models is considered to have their own strengths and weaknesses. The goal is not to find the best overall model, but to always find the model that fits your specific needs for a particular design. Feature Driven Model The feature driven model is what is used by the majority of mobile phone companies. This model leans on the development of extra features and improving performance. These innovations are put in the hands of the phone manufacturers, but are based on the technical innovations that the customers demand. 17 By this definition it does balance generativity and usability, but is not ideal for the Frankfurt Kitchen and is not the model used for the iPhone because it takes the power out of the users hands and demands that an engineer keep releasing new products. Lihotsky would have not liked this model because her goals and aims were to create socialist housing programs for the working-class. She did not want people to have to keep purchasing new features or products. This is partly a capitalist model because it is dependent on the manufacturers to keep releasing new products to be bought in order to customize the product. Usability by Simplicity Model The usability by simplicity model is focused on offering usability as ease of use. This model uses theories of functionality and eliminates unnecessary, irrelevant functions. The simplicity model in a phone would eliminate features like mp3 players, cameras, or web browsers. 17 These phones would exist only to call people. In terms of a kitchen, this could be see as having only a stove and a sink. This model is not ideal for the iPhone nor the Frankfurt Kitchen because it does not leave appropriate room for easy innovation. You are able to innovate, but it involves more labor because the designers did not facilitate the innovation. The designers do not offer appliances that
serve a legitimate purpose and are desired by the user. The designers in this model step back and do not play any role in innovation, and that is not the ideal model for the Frankfurt Kitchen.
Open Innovation Model The open innovation model puts more emphasis on generativity than usability. This model offers designs that are widely open for innovation without any centralized constraints and filtering. 17 This model is cheap to produce and, is not ideal for the Frankfurt Kitchen because it does not put enough emphasis on usability and how a user would interact with the product if they have little to no experience with innovation. Standard Innovation Model Ultimately, the iPhone uses the model of standard innovation. This model allows independent entrepreneurs to contribute with innovations, while at the same time filtering and standardizing innovation in a way that secures usability. 17 This is the ideal model for the iPhone as well as the Frankfurt Kitchen. The model puts the emphasis on securing usability, this means limiting some innovation while supporting other kinds. This is done by creating a marketplace where independent developers can create applications. The applications can therefore be arranged in a multitude of ways on the products interface or interior space. The power is in the user, because the space is defined by the organization of the applications. Conclusion The application of the standard innovation model should be put towards improving the Frankfurt Kitchen. This would involve customizing to the space. The user would be able to arrange the containers, storage spaces, appliances, and chairs for how they see fit. This would
allow each user to innovate the space, and it would also allow the kitchen design to function in twenty-first century, capitalist life because it leaves room for new appliances and innovations to take place in the design. By applying the standard innovation model of usability and generativity, I believe the Frankfurt Kitchen can hold onto its original principles set forth by Lihotsky and May in Frankfurt Germany. The space could still be cheap to produce, be easy to replicate, and could keep the same models of efficiency by utilizing the usability standards in standard innovation models.
Endnotes 1. Peukert, Detlev. The Weimar Republic. Chapter 1. The Weimar Republic and the Continuity of the German History. Germany: Macmillan, 1993. 2. Peukert, Detlev. The Weimar Republic. Chapter 7. Social Milieux and Political Formations. Germany: Macmillan, 1993. 3. Blau, Eva. The Architecture of Red Vienna: 1919-1934. Grosstadt and Proletariat. Pg 168. MIT Press, 1999. 4. O’Connor, Aiden. Kinchin, Juliet. Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. New York, New York. The Museum of Modern Art, 2011. 5. Blau, Eva. The Architecture of Red Vienna: 1919-1934. The New Dwelling. Pg 198. MIT Press, 1999. 6. Betts, Paul. The Authority of Everyday Objects: A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design: Coming in From The Cold. Pg. 225. University of California, 2004. 7. O’Connor, Aiden. Kinchin, Juliet. Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. New York, New York. The Museum of Modern Art, 2011. 8. Grassi, Giorgio. Das Neue Frankfurt (1926-1931). EDIZIONI DEDLAO, 1975. 9. Dluhosch, Eric. The Minimum Dwelling. MIT Press, 2002. 10. O’Connor, Aiden. Kinchin, Juliet. Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. New York, New York. The Museum of Modern Art, 2011 11. Blau, Eva. The Architecture of Red Vienna: 1919-1934. The New Dwelling. Pg 198. MIT Press, 1999. 12.
Dluhosch, Eric. The Minimum Dwelling. MIT Press, 2002.
13. BBC: Film. The Genius of Design: The Compelling Five Part Serioes on Designs that Shaped Our Lives. BBC, 2010. 14.
Nielsen, Jakob. Heuristic Evaluation: Usability Inspection Methods New York, NY, 1994.
15. Norman, A. Donald. The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, The Personal Computer is So Complex and Information Appliances are the Solution. The MIT Press, 1999. 16.
Zittrain, Jonathan. The Generative Internet. Havard Law Review, 2006.
17. Petter, Nielsen. Ole, Hanseth. Towards A Design Theory of Usability and Generativity. 18th European Conference on Information Systems, 2010.
Fig. 1. The national assembly is in agreement with signing of the Peace treaty , 1919. Photograph and Text. 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Fig. 2 .Mart Stam. 1920-1930. dâ€™Architecture/ Architecture Collection, am Main, Germany, 1899-New
Photomontage of projects, Centre Canadian Centre for MontrĂŠal, Ilse Bing, (Frankfurt York City, New York, 1998)
Fig. 3. Schütte-Lihotzky Archive, 1931. University of Applied Arts, Vienna Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Kunstsammlung und Archive.
Fig 4. From left: Building Construction, 1926-27; Architectural Architectural Graphic
Radford’s Details of 1911; Frankfurt Kitchen, Graphic Standards, 1941; Standards, 1951
Fig 5. Historical photograph published in “Das Werk” magazine, 1927. Collection: Schütte-Lihotzky Archive, University of Applied Arts, Vienna
Fig 6. Dr, O, Wolff. Kuche ausgestellt von der, Atiembaugesellsehaft fur kleine Wonugen, 1927. Published in “Das Werk” magazine, 1927. Collection: Schütte-Lihotzky Archive, University of Applied Arts, Vienna
Fig 7. The RĂśmerstadt housing estate. Aerial photograph, 1929. Chronology: Emergence of a Modern City 1866-1945. Institut fĂźr Stadtgeschichte Karmeliterkloster, Frankfurt am Main.
Fig. 8. Petter, Nielsen. Ole, Hanseth. Towards A Design Theory of Usability and Generativity: Table 1. 18th European Conference on Information Systems, 2010.
Fig 9. Petter, Nielsen. Ole, Hanseth. Towards A Design Theory of Usability and Generativity: Figure 1. 18th European Conference on Information Systems, 2010.
Bibliography BBC: Film. The Genius of Design: The Compelling Five Part Serioes on Designs that Shaped Our Lives. BBC, 2010. 1999.
Blau, Eva. The Architecture of Red Vienna: 1919-1934. The New Dwelling. MIT Press,
Betts, Paul. The Authority of Everyday Objects: A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design: Coming in From The Cold. Pg. 225. University of California, 2004. Dluhosch, Eric. The Minimum Dwelling. MIT Press, 2002. Grassi, Giorgio. Das Neue Frankfurt (1926-1931). EDIZIONI DEDLAO, 1975. Nielsen, Jakob. Heuristic Evaluation: Usability Inspection Methods New York, NY, 1994. Norman, A. Donald. The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, The Personal Computer is So Complex and Information Appliances are the Solution. The MIT Press, 1999. Oâ€™Connor, Aiden. Kinchin, Juliet. Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. New York, New York. The Museum of Modern Art, 2011. Petter, Nielsen. Ole, Hanseth. Towards A Design Theory of Usability and Generativity. 18th European Conference on Information Systems, 2010. Peukert, Detlev. The Weimar Republic. Chapter 1. The Weimar Republic and the Continuity of the German History. Germany: Macmillan, 1993. Zittrain, Jonathan. The Generative Internet. Havard Law Review, 2006.