modern maven: Adolf Loos

Part Loos in a multi-part series!

Who: Adolf Loos 
What: Anti-ornamentation theorist and protomodernist architect
When: b. 1870 d. 1933; active 1903-1933
Where: Czechoslovakia, Austria, France
Why: Wrote "Ornament and Crime" in 1910; invented the raumplan
Way: Taught R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra

If you appreciate minimalism and sunken living rooms, then you owe Adolf Loos a nod of gratitude. Born in Brno in modern-day Czechoslovakia to a stonemason, Loos attended a couple technical schools before spending a few years doing odd jobs in the United States in the mid-1890s. While stateside, he was impressed with the efficiency of industrial buildings with respect to their volumes (containing what needed to be contained and nothing more) and lack of decoration. A subsequent trip to the Greek island of Skyros where he saw its simple white and cubist dwellings solidified his thoughts on architecture.

His primary contribution to architecture came in 1910 when he wrote and presented an essay titled "Ornament and Crime". In the essay he equated ornamentation with depravity:

A person of our times who gives way to the urge to daub the walls with erotic symbols is a criminal or a degenerate. What is natural in the Papuan or the child is a sign of degeneracy in a modern adult. I made the following discovery, which I passed on to the world: the evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornamentation from objects of everyday use.

The other major architectural contribution Loos made was the raumplan, the use of multiple levels inside a structure for different rooms to indicate their function and importance. "My architecture is not conceived in plans, but in spaces. I do not design floor plans, facades, sections. I design spaces. For me, there is no ground floor, first floor, etc... For me, there are only contiguous, continual spaces, rooms, anterooms, terraces, etc. Stories merge and spaces relate to each other."

Loos started an architectural school in Vienna in the 1910s to share his thoughts and theories with the impressionable young architectural students attending the area's more formal universities. R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra were notable students of Loos' school as well as lifelong admirers.

Loos built a dozen or so structures that succeed more as transitioning experiments in Modernism than good architecture, such as the nakedness of Villa Karma (1903-1906); the minimal rear facade of the Steiner House (1910); and the outward simplicity of Villa Scheu (1912-1913), Villa Moller (1926), and Villa Muller (1930). Loos' post-1920 work was clearly eclipsed by the youthful architects he had inspired, but his impact on Modernism is unquestioned, echoes of his theories still resonating today.

Villa Karma (1903-1906)

Villa Steiner (1910)

Villa Scheu (1912-1913)

Villa Moller (1926)

Villa Muller (1930)

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