Ornament and Crimehaus

Looshaus (1910), by Adolf Loos, author of "Architecture and Crime" (also 1910). (eikongraphia.com)

Looshaus (1910), by Adolf Loos, author of “Ornament and Crime” (also 1910). (eikongraphia.com)

Recently, after several contributors to a TradArch discussion of Adolf Loos and his famous building in Vienna, Andres Duany pointed out that the windows in the upper floors don’t align with the building’s ground-floor features. Earlier comments had referred to the lush quality of the marbling on those ground-floor features as amounting to ornament.

And of course it is – notwithstanding that Loos is most famous as the author of Ornament and Crime (1910), a bible of modernist ideology. By the way, the building is on the Michaelerplatz and directly across from the palace of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz Josef, who hated the Looshaus and refused to exit onto the plaza so as to avoid seeing the building. Indeed, as lovely as it might strike us these days compared with most iconic modernism, it is definitely several rungs down from the level of ornamental encrustation of its neighbors.

Anyhow, after Duany’s comment about the window alignment, Joel Pidel wrote the following, which strikes me as a most enchanting classical discourse on a supposedly modernist icon of a building. It is pure wonkitecture – almost archiporn in prose:

Just the in-between windows don’t align.  But this “mis-alignment” is not an unusual classical feature, as we’ve pointed out in the past (Pantheon, S. Maria Novella, etc). It gives the elevation some tautness and rhythm by not aligning “everything.”  But it needs the points of consonance (alignment at middle and ends) to resolve the “dissonance” or tension created by the intermediary windows not aligning.  Especially since there is no intermediary plinth or platform between the upper stuccoed portion of the building and the lower stone portion of the building.  Having  such a “restated ground” above the entablature would possibly allow even greater flexibility in arrangement of the upper windows if it was desired. And, of course, he does the same pattern of “alignment/misalignment” on the side elevations.

After I asked Joel whether I could post his comment, he added:

Sure. With the caveat that this is with regard to the sliver of Loos’s oeuvre that we are discussing.  Loos understood all of this because he was classically trained, and such “deviations” were part of the milieu of that education.  The point is that dissonances can’t be arbitrary, but find their meaning subsumed within a greater resolution.  Later, Loos deviates more fully from the classicism exhibited in his earlier work.

Personally, I’m no Loos scholar and have only seen his work in Vienna, but I would wager that the disparity between his polemic and his built work is simply the result of a call for something that he himself was not allowed to build at the time (based on his clients’ tastes and civic locations), and thus his work exhibits a gradual evolution and decreased ornament, in line with his polemic, as the taste for greater minimalism and experimentation allowed, particularly outside of civic contexts.

Below is a link to a column I wrote on a visit to Vienna, during which, much to my later chagrin, I forgot to go see the Looshaus.


About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Architecture History, Blast from past, Other countries and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.