By Eric Page,, January 23, 2000
Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, an Austrian architect known for her work in Weimar Germany and for being jailed for her role in the Austrian resistance against Nazism, died on Tuesday, January 18, 2000 at a hospital in Vienna. She was 102. Peter Scheifinger, president of an organization of Austrian architects and related professionals, summed up her importance in an Austrian daily newspaper, Der Standard: "With her concern for social welfare and her unyielding anti-fascism, she erected socially significant road signs for the Republic of Austria that extended beyond her artistic field of endeavor."
Miss Lihotzky was born in Vienna, the daughter of an Austrian civil servant. In 1915 she enrolled in what is now the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna. She studied architecture and went on to design structures including public housing for working people.
In 1926 she moved to Germany. There she became a member of a team assembled by Ernst May, who was Frankfurt's architect and overseer of city planning in the late 1920's. Peter G. Rowe, a Harvard professor of architecture, wrote about her work in his book "Modernity and Housing." A particularly interesting and praiseworthy achievement of hers, Professor Rowe wrote, was her innovative design of a standardized kitchen.
"It was a kitchen in the form of a laboratory, with specific types of work surfaces, drawers, and cabinets for specific functions and utensils," he wrote. Mass production of her kitchens began in 1927; 10,000 of them were added to housing units in Frankfurt.
In 1927 she married Wilhelm Schütte, and the couple moved to the Soviet Union in 1930. Her work ranged from architectural designs for kindergartens to planning for heavy industry centers. In 1938 she took a post with the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul and designed school buildings. In the late 1930's she joined the Communist Party.
In 1940 she journeyed from Turkey to Austria on a clandestine mission involving Austria's Nazi resistance. Accounts of her resistance activity differ, but a Swiss newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, reported last year that she went to Austria to intensify the relationship between the Istanbul section of the Austrian Communist Party and the resistance network inside Austria.
"In Vienna she worked closely with the leader of the resistance movement, Erwin Puschmann," the Swiss newspaper said. But during the war, "She was arrested and condemned to death," the account said. "At the last moment, her sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison."
After World War II, the newspaper said, she was released from a prison in southern Germany. An Austrian television film about her experiences,
"One Minute of Darkness Does Not Make Us Blind," was made in 1986.
In 1946 she returned to Austria, where she became the leader of the Federation of Democratic Women, which was close to the Communist Party, to which she still belonged. Her party membership prevented her from getting more than a handful of architectural assignments in that period of cold war tension.
But in 1980 she received the Architecture Award of the City of Vienna. She went on to receive other honors and was much written about by the press at the time of her 100th birthday.
In 1988 she was offered the Austrian Medal for Science and Art, but she declined it then since it would have been presented by Austria's president at the time, Kurt Waldheim, who had been accused of suppressing his Nazi past. Years later, she accepted it.
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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov