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Adolf Loos

Adolf Loos

Adolf Loos is known mainly to architecture lovers. Nevertheless, Adolf Loos played an important role in creating not only the face of architecture in Vienna in the first decades of the 1900s, but also in forming the architecture of its present form.

In the 1900s, when the world community formed certain preconditions for the rethinking of existing styles - neoclassicism, historicism and eclecticism, several avant-garde architects from various parts of Europe and the world offered their ideas on the reinvention of style and form of new architecture. In this respect, the Austrian Adolf Loos is an outstanding example.


Why original? Adolf Loos was famous for his dislike of everything old, which in his understanding meant: ornamental and to some extent biedermeier, petit bourgeois. We can say that all (or nearly all) of his architectural practice and theory were inclined towards a propaganda of cleaning the art of architecture from the atavisms of the old. Loos considered ornamentality as the main atavism - first and foremost, the ornamental nature of architectural facades.

Thus, in 1913 Loos wrote an article entitled Ornament and Crime (Ornament und Verbreche) in which, starting from afar, he delivered a ruthless critique of primitive tribes, primarily for their adherence to body tattooing. According to Loos's version, tattooing the body was as archaic as applying ornament to the body of an architectural structure.

«All adornment is the childhood of humanity», he wrote, «which must be overcome, and ornament is an erotic symbol typical of the lowest stage of human development». To be fair, Loos himself admits that it was with the desire to cover one's own body with ornamentation that the fine arts began (perhaps as opposed to those who trace the roots of the fine arts back to rock and cave frescoes and sculptures?). «But the man of our time who, out of an inner compulsion, covers his walls with erotic symbols is either a criminal or a degenerate» - this was the architect's verdict on all unwanted ornamentalists at the height of the Art Nouveau era.

The paradox is that ornamentality is almost the main achievement of the Art Nouveau style, largely due to cultural borrowings from Eastern cultures on the one hand, and Europe's rediscovery of its own medieval art on the other. In this regard, Adolf Loos's harsh criticism of ornament as one of the protagonists of the decadent style reveals in the Austrian architect not only a kind of nihilist of his era, but also a futurist. At least because a dozen years later the French architect Le Corbusier would introduce the style of "purism" (from the word "pure"), and, having previously tried it out in pictorial compositions, would transfer purity of form to the architectural language. The heritage of European modernism (not to be confused with Art Nouveau!), including the above-mentioned Le Corbusier, the German school Bauhaus and the Dutch neo-plasticists Adolf Loos are indisputable. By the way, for all of them, as well as for Soviet architects of avant-garde epoch the question of «white», «cleaned» from the traces of the old epoch architectural facade was crucial. It was, as Le Corbusier admitted, with the advent of Loos that «the sentimental period came to an end» and the era of purism dawned.

Some biography.

In 1889 Adolf Loos served in the army, after that he moved to Vienna. The following year he began his architectural studies at the Technical Institute in Dresden under the direction of architect Weisbach. In 1893 he graduated from the institute and immediately decided to go to North America - to a relative who was a clock repairer.

After 3 years Loos returned to Vienna and gradually became part of the architectural practice. He mainly worked on the interiors of private flats and offices. While his early works still show a struggle between purism and atavisms of the old principles of space organisation, the later interiors of Loos are made with a greater share of rationalist minimalism. Previously used details completely disappeared. Last but not least, this extreme minimalism was inspired by a trip to the island of Skyros in 1904, where the architect saw the traditional «cubist» architecture of the Greek islands for the first time.


The first projects include Café Museum in Vienna (1899), Villa Karma in Motreux (1904) and the Kärntner Bar in Vienna (1908). Loos' first fully designed building is the millionaire's Steiner apartment building (1910), which the architect designed according to the principle «no picturesque construction».



Architectural plan of Steiner House

One of the most notable projects cannot be overlooked - the so-called «Looshaus» (built 1910-1912), originally intended for the Viennese tailor company Goldmann and Salatsch, for whom Loosh designed the interior of the shop in 1898. The house, which today is located at Michaelerplatz 3, was criticised by its contemporaries for its very plain facade, which just showed the straight window shapes and completely lacked the stucco decorations, canopies, etc. that the Viennese people were so used to (and loved). The Viennese gave the house the nickname «The House without Eyebrows» for this minimalist design of the facade. Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph so disdained the building that he avoided exiting the Hofburg through its main gate.


Loos founded the Independent School of Architecture in Vienna in 1912. In May 1921 he was offered the position of a head architect in the Vienna city planning department, and was responsible for the planning of the districts of Leinz (1921), Hoyberg (1923) and Hirstetten (1921). But Loos was the chief architect only for a year. In 1922 he entered into a disagreement with the Viennese Community, which was followed by a withdrawal of his responsibilities and his move to France until 1928.

A significant work of the period he spent in France was the design of a settlement of 20 villas on the French Riviera (1923). In 1925-26 he designed the studio house of the famous Dadaist Tristan Tzara in Paris. There, at the Sorbonne, Loos also gave lectures on architecture and organised exhibitions for the Paris Autumn Salon. This was a period of worldwide recognition: in addition to the Sorbonne, the architect gave lectures in Stuttgart and Graz, while still designing and taking part in competitions (e.g. for the Chicago Tribune building).

Another remarkable project by Loos of those years was the Villa Muller, which the architect designed in the early 1930s in Prague at the request of the millionaire and owner of the Kapsa and Müller construction company František Muller. One could say that the villa was Loos's manifesto, the result of his many years of building and intellectual practice. Today such a building would not surprise a resident of a metropolis. But for its time this building was a real breakthrough - and a break with «ornamented» architecture, although not final (just think of the pompous Art Deco projects that were so widespread in the 1930s).


In addition to its conciseness and work with shape as such, Villa Müller embodies Loos' ideas of economy and functionality. The spatial design, better known as Raumplan, is evident in the multi-level parts of the individual rooms, indicating their function and symbolic significance.

«My architecture is not conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes). I don't design floor plans, facades, sections. - I design spaces».

Based on an interview with Adolf Loos (1930)

The architect's final years were, alas, overshadowed by scandalous lawsuits. The situation was overshadowed by the deteriorating health of the architect: early signs of dementia, followed by a stroke. On 23 August 1933 Loos died at the age of 62 in Kalksburg near Vienna, where he was treated for the last year of his life. His ashes were taken to Vienna and buried in the Central City Cemetery, close to his friends and comrades.


Despite the ambiguity of his views and a certain scandalousness, Loos managed to «bring up» a whole pleiad of architects who were destined to realize and develop the ideas of modernism as we know it today.

Image sources

©Thomas Ledl

©Maria Thuroczy


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