Sunday, September 27, 2009

Adolf Loos: denuding architecture in 1909

The design for Vienna’s Loos Haus is 100 years old. The what, you ask! The Loos Haus is a building in central Vienna designed by the modernist architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933). It is regarded as one of the most important buildings in twentieth-century architectural history.

Adolf Loos was one of the most notorious artists in turn-of-the-century Vienna, where his friends included the composer Arnold Schönberg, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the acerbic social and political commentator Karl Kraus. He lived a tumultuous life and his rigorously modern architecture offended the conservative elites of his day. His most famous essay was titled Ornament and Crime (Ornament und Verbrechen). This biting but visionary work was published in 1908 and described ornament in design as degenerate, primarily because it meant that items of design quickly went out of fashion when a new ornamental fad emerged. Loos foresaw a future when architecture would be free of ornamentation and “the streets will … glow like white walls.”

The so-called Loos Haus was commissioned in 1909 by the prominent Viennese company Goldman und Salatsch. The building Loos designed can still be seen today and looks as strict as ever amongst the nineteenth buildings and directly behind the old imperial palace. As building began in 1910 the Viennese and their emperor were so shocked by the bare external walls that the City Council ordered a stop to work. Construction eventually resumed when Loos agreed to the inclusion of window boxes. But the old Emperor Franz Joseph never liked the building. Little did he know that within ten years of the Loos' building being finished World War I would blow apart the Austrian Empire, drive the royal family into exile and usher in a world of architecture that owed a great debt to Adolf Loos.

Photo by Recluse 26.

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