Details

Keywords Change this

Feminist Modern Design, Kitchenless, Commune

Project timeline

1913 – 1918

Type

Masterplan

Location Change this

Lano, California
USA

Architect Change this

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Article last edited by Bostjan on
January 14th, 2018

Llano del Rio Change this

Lano, California, USA
by Alice Constance Austin Change this

A 1914 issue of The Western Comrade, “devoted to the cau ...

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Description Change this

Llano del Rio was a commune in Llano, California, east of Palmdale in the Antelope Valley, Los Angeles County. The colony was devised by lawyer and socialist politician Job Harriman after he had failed his bid to become the mayor of Los Angeles in 1911. The colony's land was acquired in 1913 and it was formally launched on May 1, 1914. Llano del Rio is Alice Constance Austin’s most recognized project. She was hired in the early 1910s by Job Harriman, a socialist with the intentions to build a cooperative community in Palmdale, California. It was a circular city plan which included administrative buildings, restaurants, churches, schools, markets, etc. The houses had a modern feminist design and included plans for a kitchenless house, communal daycare areas, built-in furniture and heated tile floors; which would serve in cutting down the amount of domestic work done by women. Austin’s feminist concepts greatly complemented the socialist ideas of Harriman because both approaches questioned the patriarchal history of social status. They attempted to envision a new type of city. The Llano Cooperative Community was never fully realized due to a lack of capital and water.

Settlement

The Llano del Rio Colony settled in the southern edge of the Mojave Desert along Highway 138 near the San Gabriel Mountains. The colony took advantage of water from Big Rock Creek, an intermittent stream that flowed from the San Gabriel Mountains. Several structures were constructed using local granite boulders and lumber, including a hotel, meeting house, and water storage tank. There was also a small open aqueduct made of granite cobbles and cement. The remnants of the built features are still visible at the site, which has been abandoned for decades. During 1918, the colony was abandoned. Llano del Rio turned out to be too far from other settlements to develop a sustaining economy, and the water supply from Big Rock Creek proved to be unreliable. Some of the settlers, approximately 60 families in all, relocated to form New Llano, Louisiana.

Feminist Modern Design

In most contemporary home design, the kitchen is designed to be a central gathering space for families to eat, cook, and socialize. At the turn of the 20th century, during the emergence of the first modern American suburbs, the middle-class kitchen transformed from a servant’s workplace hidden from view to a housewife’s domain—a transition further encouraged by the emerging advertising industry intent on selling newly mass-produced items like refrigerators and electricity. But what if there was no open concept kitchen, or even a kitchen at all? For some people, that idea sounds ludicrous. For feminist architect Alice Constance Austin, it was revolutionary.

To create the kitchenless house, Austin looked to technological developments in electricity, automation and railways for her designs. She didn’t envision a place where nobody cooked; instead, kitchens would become centralized (as would laundry), and treated as part of the larger infrastructure of the community. The houses would be arranged in rows, with paths in between for automobiles and pedestrians. In The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities, urban historian and architecture professor Dolores Hayden writes that Austin planned for food preparation that “would arrive from the central kitchens to be eaten in the dining patio” of each home she designed. Dirty dishes “were then to be returned to the central kitchen for washing by machine.” She drew up plans for houses with a living room at one end and bedrooms at the other, with a large dining patio in between. She also included built-in furniture in her plans for each dwelling’s rooms, to reduce hours spent dusting and sweeping. Hayden writes that Austin’s plans relied heavily on an “underground network of [rail] tunnels” that could shuttle deliveries from the center of the city to the residential areas. Surrounding each house were shrubs, trees, and flowers, because, as she wrote in the community’s Western Comrade newspaper (owned by Harriman) in October 1916, the socialist city should be beautiful.

Women Equality

By the time Austin was working on the Llano Del Rio plans, community kitchens and cooperative housework projects were popping up around the country, promoted by radical feminists as an effective cure for housewife fatigue. Austin took these ideas of empowerment through outsourcing a step further than other feminist activists, imagining a complete redesign of private and public spaces in the name of furthering equality for women.

Ultimately, the kitchenless house was never built. In Utopianism and Radicalism in a Reforming America, Francis Robert Shor writes that, due to a lack of capital and water, as well as American involvement in the First World War in 1917, the Llano Del Rio commune had all but disappeared in California by 1918. Austin’s dream of a kitchenless socialist city died with it, but she continued to write and speak about the possibilities of the design into the 1920s and 1930s, focusing on technology and the role it would play in eliminating housework for every citizen. While Austin’s design for the kitchenless house was not the first of its kind, Hayden writes in the academic journal Signs in 1978 that Austin was the first architect to envision an end to domestic drudgery on such a large scale, and the first to expand the idea outside the confines of an individual dwelling and into an entire community.

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