In this article, I explore the gender of everyday design in the Werkbund discourse. The German Werkbund, an alliance of artists, critics, and business-people, sought to restore harmony to German culture through the aesthetic transformation of daily life. Analyzing new sources that introduce the voices of women and expand the category of texts hitherto used for Werkbund scholarship, I examine the role of gender in the organization's efforts to impose a new aesthetic discipline. In the first section, I address attitudes toward women as consumers, sellers, and producers of everyday commodities. Whether seeking to portray women as agents of reform or to dismiss them as lovers of kitsch, women and men in the Werkbund employed gender norms in formulating their notions of good design and in devising strategies for its implementation. In the second section, I focus on how contemporary theories of gender, and particularly the idea of a female aesthetic lack, contributed to shaping the Werkbund's central design values of quality and Sachlichkeit. In the concluding section, I track the convergence of these issues at the Haus der Frau, the women's pavilion at the 1914 Werkbund exhibition in Cologne. I discuss how the organizers of the Haus der Frau attempted to feminize Werkbund design values in their conception and presentation of female-designed spaces and objects. The pavilion's critical reception reflects deeply divided beliefs on gender and modern design. By bringing together these elements, I seek to demonstrate that the Werkbund's discipline, which promised a new spiritual and aesthetic unity in Germany, was grounded in conflicting assumptions about gender roles in modern society.
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Research Article| December 01 2003
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Despina Stratigakos; Women and the Werkbund: Gender Politics and German Design Reform, 1907-14. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 1 December 2003; 62 (4): 490–511. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/3592499
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