Monday, April 22, 2013

Einkuechenhaeuser (One-kitchen-buildings): a 20th century architectural-social experiment

The term Einküchenhaus translates into English as one-kitchen-building. It describes a building typology that was used to experiment with concepts of communal living and housing in the beginning of the 20th century. Multi-unit residential buildings or housing complexes facilitated by one central kitchen were emerging in many industrializing cities in North America, Western Europe and Russia questioning and reorganizing reproductive labor. They were realized in varying forms and for different reasons – as tools for emancipation for the early women's movement, as reformist, socialist or communist experiments, but also out of a mere capitalist interest in economic profit.

This brief outline follows the history of the Einküchenhaus along several examples as to show not only the continuities and developments but also conflicts and contradictions (e.g. class conflicts) persisting throughout the typology's history. There are of course many more examples that cannot be all included in a brief introduction like this – some of them have become classic examples of the history of modern architecture like the Narkomfin building, a test project for state organized communal living built in 1932 in Moscow, or the Heimhof Einküchenhaus in Vienna, which was incorporated into the building activities of Red Vienna.

Utopian Model: Early Socialists and the Phalanstère

In the beginning of the 19th century, nonsectarian utopian socialists were advocating collective housework and child care to support equality between women and men. The french philosopher and early socialist Charles Fourier (1772-1837) came up with a utopian model, which he called Phalanstère. Fourier was outspokenly criticizing capitalism and was a supporter of womens rights. He conceptualized the Phalanstère as a self-contained community, ideally consisting of 1500-1600 people working together for mutual benefit. The complex would include private apartments and social halls and would provide shared infrastructures for people living in the Phalanx community – dining rooms, meeting rooms, libraries and studies. Work should be distributed between women and men equally.

Even though Fourier was never able to realize his ideas of the Phalanstère due to a lack of financial support, his model of communal living inspired many experiments in Europe and the US (often by sectarian groups) such as the North American Phalanx, established in New Jersey in 1843.

Laurent Pelletier, "Das erträumte Phalanstère von Charles Fourier" (1868)

Social Palace: The Familistière, Guise, France, 1859

One of the most famous experiments in Europe was initiated by the french factory owner and Fourierist André Godin, who set out to realize Fouriers ideas providing innovative housing for the workers of his cast-iron factory in Guise, France, in the second half of the 19th century (built between 1858 and 1883). The complex was based on the Phalanstère and included communal facilities like a large dining hall, a café, and a child care center but was less radical in terms of Fouriers ideas of a unitary living, since the Familistère sought to sustain the private unity of the family. In 1880 Godin converted the housing complex to cooperative ownership and management by workers called l'Association coopérative du Capital et du Travail.

"Le Familistère Godin à Guise" (19th century)
Familistère: view from inside

Cooperative Housekeeping in the US

The ideas of the early socialists were very popular among the women's movement in the United States in the late 19th century. Influenced by the idea of the socialization of housework, feminist activists like Fay Peirce (1836-1923) developed and propagated cooperative housekeeping. In 1868, Fierce demanded payment for housework and started to organize a mutual aid and neighborhood association in her hometown Cambridge, Massachusetts, trying to also mobilize her female colleagues from the literary and intellectual elite. The aim was to centralize reproductive labor (cooking, washing, sewing) in one building and financially compensate the workers. After the implementations of her ideas into cooperative housekeeping failed –also due to the husbands' resistance– she wrote the book Co-operative Housekeeping: How not to do it and How to do it (1884).
Fay Peirce: Co-Operative Housekeeping. How not to do it and how to do it.- J. R. Osgood and company: Boston (1884).

Settlement House: The Hull House in Chicago

One of the most successful examples of communal infrastructures for reproductive labor and cooperative housekeeping in the US is the Hull House in Chicago, which was founded in 1898 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. Influenced by the reformist settlement movement, the Hull house became, at its inception, a community of university women whose main purpose was to provide social and educational opportunities for working class people (many of them recent European immigrants) in the surrounding neighborhood. 

At one point in its long history it featured not only a central kitchen and a dining room for the 50 inhabitants and people living in the neighborhood but also functioned as a hub for cultural or educational activities and political organizing (e.g. for the women's right to vote). In 1891, Jane Adams helped to organize the Jane Club, a self-organized boarding house for young women workers, which was based on cooperative housekeeping and was later on incorporated into the Hull House.

"At a meeting of working girls held at Hull-House during a strike in a large shoe factory, the discussion made it clear that the strikers who had been easily frightened, and therefore first to capitulate, were naturally those girls who were paying board and were afraid of being put out of they fell too far behind."
Jane Addams: Twenty Years at Hull-House (1910; New York: New American Library, 1960)

 Poster for educational program at the Hull House
Coffee room at the Hull House

Haushaltsgenossenschaft in Berlin: Lily Braun

Lily Braun (1865-1916) was an active member of the women's movement in Germany and was strongly influenced by developments like the Hull House in the US. She was also a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and was the first one in Germany to bring up the idea of the Einküchenhaus. She writes about the advantages of the Einküchenhaus in her text Frauenarbeit und Hauswirtschaft (1901) picturing a building that features one central kitchen for 50-60 units. In her text she stresses the political meaning of such a design, which would free woman of reproductive labor and thus foster emancipation of women in general. 

Since Lily Braun herself was coming from a wealthy background she had to endure a lot of critique by many members of the socialist party as well as the women's movement. All the more since her proposals for an Einküchenhaus and her ideas of economic independence for women were interfering with very hot topics of the time: the general debate on working conditions –the demand of the employment of women was not necessarily welcomed by all male members of the socialist party– and the discussion of housing reforms. Many of her socialist colleagues argued that the issues of women could not be solved before the general goal was fulfilled: the collectivization and socialization of all means of production. 

Even protagonists of the socialist women's movement like Clara Zetkin dismissed her ideas as economically unrealistic and bourgeois dreams. In spite of all the critique Lily Braun founded the Haushaltsgenossenschaft and hired an architect to develop a plan. Like many others she could not find the necessary financial support.

Lily Braun: Die Frauenfrage. Ihre geschichtliche Entwicklung und wirtschaftliche Seite.- Hirzel: Leipzig (1901).

Service House for the Middle Class: Copenhagen and Berlin

The Service House in Copenhagen was the first built construction, which was labeled as Einküchenhaus in Europe. Influenced by the model of the apartment-hotel, it was built in 1903 as a capitalist enterprise, which aimed to attract married employed woman. The owners were advocating the traditional family model, distancing themselves rigidly from any possible communitarian impression the building could evoke. In a promotional leaflet, the owners highlighted that the apartments were completely separate from each other as to live an unaffected intact family life.

A similar enterprise was executed in Berlin: in 1905 the first 5 Einküchenhäuser were completed – all aiming at a middle class audience that was suffering from a lack of domestic staff available on the labor market at the time. Similar to the Danish model the Berliner Einküchenhausgesellschaft was distancing themselves from cooperative models discussed by the likes of Lily Braun. Consequently they left out the central dining room that was still optional in Copenhagen. The promoted image was that of a family friendly high-tech building offering extra programs like a reformist kindergarden or a space for gymnastics.

centralbyggnad kopenhagen

centralbyggnad kopenhagen


Franziska Bollerey: Architekturkonzeptionen der utopischen Sozialisten: alternative Planung und Architektur für den gesellschaftlichen Prozeß.- Verl. Moos: München (1977).

Selim O. Chan-Magomedov: Pioniere der sowjetischen Architektur: Der Weg zur neuen sowjetischen Architektur in den zwanziger und zu Beginn der dreißiger Jahre.- Dresden: Verlag der Kunst (1983).

Dolores Hayden: The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities.- Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (1981)

Ulla Terlinden, Susanna von Oertzen: Die Wohnungsfrage ist Frauensache. Frauenbewegung und Wohnreform. 1870–1933.- Reimer: Berlin (2006).

Günther Uhlig: Kollektivmodell “Einküchenhaus”. Wohnreform u. Architekturdebatte zwischen Frauenbewegung u. Funktionalismus 1900 – 1933.- Anabas-Verl: Gießen (1981).

1 comment:

  1. Moscow, or the Heimhof Einküchenhaus in Vienna, which was incorporated into the building activities of Red Vienna.Elizabeth