top of page
  • noam661

Feminism in the kitchen

The modern kitchen for the New Woman was designed in Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century. In her lecture, architect Dr. Sigal Davidi will talk about what happened at the time in Palestine Architect Dr. Sigal Davidi recently won the Goldberg Foundation Prize of the Open University for her doctoral dissertation, a study of female architects in Mandatory Palestine. Dr. Davidi, who holds a bachelor's and master's degree in Architecture from the Technion and a Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University, teaches a course dedicated to gender issues in modern architecture.

When did you become interested in the architectural history of the kitchen? “I began studying the work of female architects and it led me to the kitchen. I realized that kitchen planning was a serious issue in European modernism, particularly in Germany. The kitchen was at the center of domestic planning experiments, and many exhibitions featured models and ideas for designing the most efficient, functional and suitable kitchen for modern women.” Who was this Modern Woman? “The New Woman (Die Neue Frau, in German), as she was referred to, was the result of the social, economic, political and cultural climate in the Weimar Republic after the First World War. This was a woman who has been given the right to vote and gained new job opportunities.” Who took part in planning the kitchen for the New Woman? “You could say that this was a broad collaboration between the ‘female reformers’ of the household, who developed methods to facilitate the work of women in the kitchen and promoted modern kitchen planning with all the technological innovations available at the time; and women's organizations, whose agenda focused on the idea that planning a more efficient, practical kitchen that would suit women's current needs would make it easier for them to complete their chores. That is to say, the feminist approach was not to free women from the kitchen, but to provide them with better conditions and a more adapted, effortless working setup. Fewer women were involved in architecture at the time, but one of the most important female architects of modernism was Lilly Reich, an interior design and kitchen planner who also curated an exhibition featuring the ideas of the New Household.” How did the new modern kitchen look like? “The fundamental theme of kitchen design in the 1920-30s was reducing the woman's effort, both in terms of movement in the kitchen and in terms of the body movements involved in various activities. The kitchen occupied a central place in the modern dwelling. The most influential kitchen of the period, in and outside of Germany, was the Frankfurt Kitchen, designed by Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky for a new residential project in Frankfurt. Around 10,000 units were built in 1926-1929, all small spaces dubbed the ‘work kitchen’ which were designed for a single woman. You could only cook in this kitchen, not eat.” And what happened here at the time? “Lotte Cohn, the first female architect in the country, was the leader in kitchen planning for local women. Cohn, who immigrated in 1921 and worked as an architect until 1967, was an important architect in many aspects, including the fact that her planning was attuned to the welfare of women. She has worked and planned apartment buildings that promoted these ideas throughout her entire career. Cohn was a pioneer in many ways: she was the third woman to graduate from Architecture studies at the Technical University in Berlin. She immigrated to Israel out of Zionism and worked with architect Richard Kaufman, one of the most important architects who worked in Palestine at the time. She worked with Kaufman in the Planning Department of the Jewish Agency, and in 1931 was the first woman to open her own independent architecture firm in Tel Aviv. Cohn was actively involved in the professional community: she was secretary of the Association of Architects, a member of various planning committees and a judge in competitions. She wanted to utilize her planning skills not only for the benefit of her clients but also for the greater good; she aspired to influence and shape the emerging society in the country. Cohn thought that in order to avoid the unnecessary movement and effort of women, a kitchen different from the Frankfurt model should be planned; she wrote and talked about a Living Kitchen - a place not just for cooking, but also for eating. This was at the core of the discussion about modern residential planning.

A French feminist writer noted that the distance she spent walking from her kitchen to the dining room for 40 years was equal to the distance between Paris and the Baikal Sea in Siberia.”

So Lotte Cohn had a significant influence on local kitchen planning? “Not really. The ideas of the Frankfurt Kitchen were dominant here in the 1930s. The international style buildings in Tel Aviv had tiny, work-only kitchens and huge rooms. It was only twenty years later that the kitchen became what Lotte Cohn thought it should be: a kitchen where you cook as well eat. Cohn didn’t just design, she also wrote much in various publications - the women's section in Haaretz, Ha'isha newspaper, and the architects' magazine. She also lectured. She talked about a woman who wasn’t just a housewife, but someone who had a job and a career - like herself - a woman who ‘deserves to be considered in terms of time-saving.’ During the Second World War, construction in the country has ceased almost entirely and no one was interested in ideas about women and the help they needed; the focus was mainly on quick, cheap construction. Even in those years, local architects preferred to engage in economic, formalistic, and climatic issues, rather than exploring Cohn's ideas in depth.” Who promoted these ideas here at the time? “The women's organizations, but this is a subject for another lecture.” When did you start researching female architects? “About 15 years ago, when I was studying for my master's degree at the Technion, I conducted a historical study on the Levant Fair and wrote about all the architects who were involved in the planning of the fair - Arieh Sharon, Joseph Neufeld, all the prominent modernist architects of the period. Among them were two female architects who planned Cafe Galina (which no longer exists): Genia Averbuch and Elsa Gidoni-Mandelstamm. I found information about Averbuch, who designed the Dizengoff Square and was mentioned in Nitza Metzger-Szmuk’s book on architecture in Tel Aviv, but I couldn’t find anything about Gidoni-Mandelstamm and my motivation increased. From there I discovered more female architects.” Dr. Sigal Davidi’s lecture is part of a series of short lectures about the kitchen in the past and present. It will take place on Thursday, January 25, at 20:00. Admission is free.

Photos: from the estate of Gustav Rubinstein, courtesy of his son, Adam Rubinstein; The Visible City, Beit Ha'ir, Tel Aviv.

bottom of page