MoMA’s Bauhaus survey Workshop for Modernity closed this week. All things modern seem to eventually lead to the Bauhaus (if only for a stop over), the kitchen of the future is no exception.
Early this month, when a friend organized a get-together to discuss the exhibit, I went back to take another look and ended up spending my whole visit watching a nine minute long loop of film called:
Wie wohnen wir gesund und wirtschaftlich. IV. Teil: Neues Wohnen. Haus Professor Gropius, Dessau (How we live in a healthy and economic way. Part IV: New Living. The House of Professor Gropius, Dessau) - I tried to find the film online, but all I could find was this smarmy fragment.
The film is of the Walter Gropius' home, and features a series of innovations designed by Bauhausers (Bauhausen? I remember seeing the real term in the exhibition, it was odd-ball, but can’t recall what it was), from dressing rooms with electric lights that automatically turn on and off when you open and shut the doors to chrome tea infusers. What was amazing to me is how much Gropius’ home of the future was spot on, and how odd the wrong bits were.
"When I was young I never expected to be so poor that I couldn't afford a servant, or so rich that I could afford a motor car."Agatha Christie
Gropius had designed a rationalized kitchen with work surfaces closer together to facilitate efficiency of movement; created specialized work stations, like a space for washing with racks for drying dishes: and special built in double sided cabinets to easily move dishes to and from the dining room.
Although watching the film I got the feeling that Gropius himself had never spent an evening washing dishes in his life; everything the young maid did looked a bit awkward. These are the sorts of ergonomic concerns have been carefully worked out and turned into formulas by engineers in the years since - Gropius and other early moderns made those first mistakes that others refine.
But all of Gropius' mistakes/innovations were made with a young maid in mind. Unlike Agatha Christie, Gropius did imagine a world of material plenty, but exactly like Christie he had not imagined that the maid would benefit so much that she would no longer want to work for him. I am sure he understood that the luxuries of his time (electric tea pots) would become common place, but that the common place (maids and even housewives) would become the extraordinary seems to have been harder to predict.
Gropius not only failed to understand that the decedents of his maid would not be working for his decedents, he failed to see that instead of a tiny kitchen hidden from polite company (like a bathroom) her decedents would want big open kitchens; that the kitchen would become the hub of social life – and that the entire family would share in the work, instead of being the soul responsibility of a maid or house wife.
I find myself thinking back to my grandmother’s kitchen; which was a chunk smaller then her bathroom. I remember her discomfort when I would insist on washing dishes after dinner ; it was very much her domain, but it was also her private space. (Although looking back it probably had as much to do with the fact that a 17 year old boy is not going to be as thorough cleaning pots as an 80 year old woman.)
Had the Bauhausites projected the gender equality they aspired towards into the future (evidently they didn't even act on it in the moment, female students were siphoned off to wall paper and textile design) they still could not could have guessed that it would lead to a future of open plan kitchens much less why.