The Model Kitchen: Domesticating Modernism in the American Home, 1942–1966

Juliana Rowen Barton, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

The kitchen, located at the heart of the American home, became a compelling site of domestic debate in the mid-twentieth century. This dissertation explores moments in the history of the American kitchen from the early-1940s to the mid-1960s, when modernism gained prominence and popularity in mainstream architecture and design in the United States. It was in the kitchen that architectural debates about modernism, the shaping of space, and the determining role of technology and standardization intersected with dynamics of cultural change. Presented at World’s Fairs, trade shows, museum exhibitions, and other sites of display, model kitchens were cultural texts that revealed how race and ethnicity were negotiated, which often entailed the coding of constructions of gender and motherhood with–or against–constructions of race. However, questions of race have figured minimally in architectural studies of the modern kitchen, and this dissertation aims to reposition these social debates in the scholarship. As this study shows, these spaces represented ideals that stood in stark contrast to contemporary reality. Each chapter analyses model kitchens that were produced in institutional and cultural contexts, positioning them alongside representations in film, television, magazines, and exhibitions in order to paint a clear but complex picture of the modern American kitchen. The varied contexts in which the modern kitchen was created are considered in turn: the home economics department of a research University; the techno-utopic visions of the future at trade shows; and finally, the iconic demonstration houses of the Case Study program. Whereas scholars have previously studied the spatial contours of the kitchen within the modern home as a barometer of aesthetic and technological change, this dissertation puts pressure on the intersections of kitchens and their representations, addressing the ways that ideas about gender and racial identities were communicated and circulated through these designs. To do so, it unpacks how words, images, objects, and spaces operated–and perhaps continue to operate–to construct a gendered and racialized depiction of the past, present, and even future. Together, the chapters trace how the design of model kitchens cultivated conformity and gave material reinforcement to ideological constructions of American identity.

Subject Area

Art history|American history

Recommended Citation

Barton, Juliana Rowen, "The Model Kitchen: Domesticating Modernism in the American Home, 1942–1966" (2020). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI28029414.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI28029414

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