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Adolf Loos Influential Austrian Architect English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3383 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Adolf Loos(1870-1933), an influential Austrian architect, designer and campaigner for simplicity and functionality in design. He ranks as one of the most important pioneers of the modern movement in architecture. Ironically, his influence was based largely on the body of his controversial essay and modern architecture. His building was examples of austere beauty,ranging from conventional country cottages to planar compositions for storefronts and residences. His built composition were little known outside his native Austria during his early years of practice.

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The Looshaus is one of his famous building in Vienna, and though it is hard to recognize it now, in its time, his most controversial. Much of the hue and cry revolving around the building’s blank upper facades, but the work also offered a new and challenging idea of spatial ordering design. The first modern office buildings built in Vienna with steel concrete construction provides wide structural spans for a more flexible space use. The building located opposing the imperial Palace of Hofburg, and provides four stories of apartments above the business floors on the ground floor. The business floors were once a gentlemen’s outfitter, but now serves as a bank for a public uses. The Looshaus, or ‘The House Without Eyebrows’, is a building that has a great historical background, and also a very interesting subject to be learnt; a house that hides thousands of scars behind its thick white facades.



Recognized as one of the pioneers of modern architecture at the turn of the century, the Viennese architect, Adolf Loos was born on December 10,1870. He is the son of a stonemason and sculptor, which means that he was introduced to the craft of the building at his early age. Even that so, Loos suffer deaf until the age of 12 and was hearing-impaired until the end of his life; which highly influenced his character as an individual and as an artist.

At the age of 17, Loos attended the Royal and Imperial State College at Reichenberg in Bohemia and then further his study in architecture at the Technical University of Dresden on 1890 to 1893. As a student, he was particularly interested in the works of the classicist Schinkel and the works of Vitruvius. In 1896 Loos returned to Vienna and devoted himself to architecture.

In 1917 he participated in World War I. Between 1920 and 1922 Loos worked as chief architect of the Department of Housing of Vienna in the newly established Austrian Republic. He then soon grew disillusioned with his work as chief architect as a result of his opposition, and then resigned from his post the same year he was appointed then emigrated to France in 1922. Between 1922 and 1927 Loos lived mostly in Paris and the French Riviera then returned back to Austria in 1928 and lived there intermittently until his death on August 23, 1933.

He began practicing architecture in the late 1890s when Art Nouveau was at its peak, a period where the facades of the buildings were heavily ornamented. Even having a strong influential environment, Adolf Loos was not affected by ornament at all. He was greatly influenced by the works of Luis Sullivan, where Sullivan once quoted:

‘It would be greatly for our aesthetic good, if we should refrain entirely from the use of ornaments for a period of years, in order that our thought might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well formed and comely in the nude.”

(L. Sullivan, Kindergarten Chats and other writings, revised edition (New York: Wittenborn Schultz, 1947)

Adolf Loos revealed himself as a first-class architect, where the dignity and the pleasantness of his interiors and their quality of being suitable for a modern living conditions which have rarely been surpassed. In this case, Adolf Loos was inspired by an English domestic architecture, which he frequently singled out proudly for praise. Clearly, he, however, emphasized on precious materials and the creation of flowing spaces and also the notion of the Raumplan concept, that is related to architectural composition with volumes of space as opposed to two-dimensional planning.

As effective as his buildings were his writings, in which he wrote a lot of articles advocated a functional simplicity of form. His numerous articles; those from 1897-1900 were collected in 1921 and published under the title ‘Spoken into the Void’, and those from 1900-1930 were collected in 1931 under the title of ‘Nevertheless’. Loos then published the article ‘Ornament and Crime’-also his most controversial writings-which in it he claimed that architecture and the applied arts could do without any ornament. He also claimed that the lack of ornament was a sign of spiritual strength, which by this has led him to be beatification as a ‘pioneer’ of the modern movement. Loos once said:

“Photographs dematerialize reality, but precisely what I want is for people in my rooms to feel the material around them. I want it to have its effect on them I want them to be aware of the enclosing room, to feel the material, the wood, to see it, touch it, to perceive it sensually, to sit comfortably and feel the contact between the chair and a large area of their peripheral sense of touch, and say: this is sitting as it should be. How can I demonstrate on a photograph how good my chairs are to sit on? How can I make a person who sees the photograph feel it, however well the chair is photographed?”

Adolf Loos, “On Thrift” (1924)

The above quotes clearly picture his perception towards the ornament, where he actually thinks that eventhough how good the ornament is, or how realistic it looks like; it still cannot demonstrate the feeling that it supposed to; except only as a well-carved useless decoration.

Loos, clearly insults Vienna’s hypocritical facades, in contrast full of praise for America and England. Having spent three years in New York during his youth time, he perceived that American and English society to be much more ideal than Vienna’s comparatively corrupted culture, since they had no desire to taint perfectly functional objects with pointless modification. According to Loos, It was useless to modify the forms of objects already adapted to their function. He altogether admired the Americans and the English for their simplicity and for their discretion. He admired the fusion of beauty and utility found in the American and English architecture, full of the vitality so obviously lacking from Vienna’s tainted society.

In 1930, on his 60th birthday, Adolf Loos was officially recognized as a master of architecture. He was bestowed with an annual honorific income by the president of the Czechoslovakian Republic. His collected essays were published by the following year.He died on August 23, 1933 and was buried beneath a simple tombstone of his own design. His most significant contribution to architecture remains in his literary discourse.



The overarching theory of Adolf Loos about architecture was the rejection of ornament and the adaption of contemporary style. He believed that the using of ornament was a banality and overly “sentimental.” He greatly believed in restraining the passions and emotions in architecture by the expression of forms. The antonym for Loos’ architectural philosophy would be Italian Baroque. He was surrounded in France and Austria at the time by the height of the Art Nouveau movement, which was very flowery, heavily ornamented, and expressive. He felt that architecture and space should be clear and rational, in order for a human to be able to think and meditate. There is an eastern quality in his philosophy, in that one must be free from sensory distraction in order to think rationally and to perform at the peak of human capacity.

Adolf Loos also created an almost exclusive division between the art and architecture. The field of art is comprised of nonfunctional creations created to distract the emotions of the viewer, as to cause a reflex emotional response. Architecture, in contrast, is an enclosure of space that attempt to accommodate a structural needs in the most efficiently functional manner, as far as possible. Therefore, art must be excluded from architecture for a multitude of reasons, that art is responsible to no one, and fulfills neither requirement nor function. Art drawing people away from their comfort, and it is often hated by rational man and aimed towards something futuristic. Loos, as to define his perception towards the arts, said:

“The house has to please everyone, the work of art does not. The work is a private matter for the artist. The house is not.The work of art is brought into the world without there being a need for it. The house is a requirement. The work of art is responsible to none; the house is responsible to everyone. The work of art wants to draw people out of their state of comfort. The house has to serve comfort. The work of art is revolutionary; the house is conservative. The work of art shows people new directions and thinks of the future. The house thinks of the present. Man loves everything that satisfies his comfort. He hates everything that wants to draw him out of his acquired and secured position and that disturbs him. Thus he loves the house and hates art. Does it follow that the house has nothing in common with art and is architecture not to be included in the arts? That is so. Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument. Everything else that fulfils a function is to be excluded from the domain of art.”

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Adolf Loos is often announced as the father of the Modem Movement, as on his attempts to modernize Vienna through the introduction of American and British culture. Adolf Loos is often called the father of Modern architecture because many of his architectural designs contain clean, straight lines and unornamented white facades.From house to tombstone, Loos stands for architecture that suit its own time, a design which capable of meeting the constantly evolving needs of the modern civilization. Loos’s essays provide powerful understanding into his conception of the modern Austrian. Loos’s essays touched on all aspects concerning modem life in Vienna. Adolf Loos is best known for his essay “Ornament and Crime”, in which he sarcastically compares the usage of architectural ornaments to the “tattoos of savages.” This essay grabbed a great deal of attentions during Loos’s own life. As to express the frustration with the political, cultural, and limitations of Austria, Loos often mocked Viennese culture through his written works. He felt that the excessive amount of ornament applied to the newly constructed buildings were absolutely unnecessary and expressing a sort of pathetically regressive ideology. For Loos, ornament was a crime not because of abstract moralism in it, but rather because it presented itself as a form of useless repetition ,foolishness, and degeneration.


Between 1909 and 1911, Adolf Loos designed one of his best known works, yet his most controversial building; The Looshaus. It was built in the plaza of michaelerplatz, located in the heart of old vienna. This complex design articulates theorems on the relationship between the memory of the historic past of a great city and the invention of the new city based on the modern work of architecture. It symbolized the meeting of the medieval town(middle aged town) and the modern city, andalso the meeting of creation and memory. Loos intended to create a building well integrated with the urban fabric as he explained in a letter of December 6, 1910, well-published in the Neue Freie Presse under the title “The House that faces the Hofburg”.

At the time the looshaus was conceived, the Michaelerplatz plaza consisted of the Michaelertrakt, Michaelertor, Michaelerkirche, middle ages residents with a classical façade, The Herberstein mansion, and three bourgeois houses, which one of them would be replaced by the Looshaus.

Michaelerplatz plaza is dominated by the impressive neo-Baroque Michaelertor, the entrance gate to the Imperial Palace Hofburg. It is located at the center of the wing of the Michaelertrakt, The domed building, also one of the most exuberant wings of the imperial palace. It was originally designed in the 1720s by Josef Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, which is greatly abundant with ornaments. Along the sides of the entrances are colossal statues of Hercules.

The Michaelerkirche is the oldest building at Michaelerplatz plaza , also well known as the Saint Michael’s Church.It is the former parish church of the Austrian monarchy, which was originally built in 1221 but regularly expanded and modified to an extent that it now. It consists of an amalgam of architectural styles with a gothic tower dates from the 14th century. Above the Baroque porch, there are a group of sculptures depicting the Fall of Angels.

Herberstein mansion, which is located opposite Herrengasse(Street of the Lords) from the Looshaus is a more conventional Viennese building, also named as Palais Herberstein, which was built in 1896-1897. It replaced the older structure, Palais Dietrichstein, which was famous for its Café Griensteidl, where a group of young poets and writers known as Jung-Wien gathered on a regular basis.

Adolf Loos sought to create merely a modest and functional builing characterized by a mute façade which are absent from all ornamental decorations. when it was built in 1911, the Looshaus caused a controversy due to its modern void of decorations façade, very unusual in Vienna Baroque. The design of the Looshaus was heavily influenced by the nascent skyscraper architecture that he had seen on a trip to the United States, a business-like style with straight lines and little or no decoration. The ground floor of the Looshaus is for the Goldman and Salatsch gentlemen’s outfitters, which belong to the public realm were decorated where the upper floors are apartment floors stripped of ornament used for private connotation. This modern design caused such an great outcry that the construction was even temporarily halted. Certain city officials together with leading figures in the construction industry, academics and journalists launched a campaign against the building. Critical publications appeared in contemporary journals and newspapers and public lectures were held. Loos was compelled to submit alternative,more decorative, designs for the façade. Loos was only allowed to continue building the Looshaus after he promised to decorate the façade with balconies of flower boxes. Despising the modern façade opposite his palace, Emperor Franz-Joseph I, ordered that the curtains in the wing opposite the Looshaus were always closed so he wouldn’t have to look at it even once.

The building marks the rejection of historicism, as well as the ornaments used by the Wiener Secession. The building was finished in 1910. Upon opening, its appearance shocked Vienna’s citizens, since their overall taste was still very much historically oriented. Because of the lack of ornaments on the façade, people called it the ‘house without eyebrows’. Although the forms and spaces of the Looshaus are simple, he used a lot of wood grains and marbles. The forms of objects in his works are geometrical and austere, yet very sensuous in the use of the natural quality of woods and marbles. He believed that the natural look of the materials used in architecture can serve as the ornament for decorations.

The plan of the Looshaus was adapted to fit the circulation around the plaza, which is consequently reconfigured by time.it was built with reinforced concrete, but its structure was not apparent on the façade .It is only visible on the interior court. For Loos, the honesty in architecture did not necessarily mean exposing the structural skeleton, but it was more reliant on cultural integrity. Also, the tuscan column at the facades were purely symbolic, which they are non-load-bearing column. They appear in the early sketches of the design but were never intended to be part of the structural system, which is a self-supporting and integrated with reinforced concrete frame. The columns were placed into this frame and effectively hung, decoratively figures of civic symbolism. All the heavy loads that they seemed to bear were actually displaced onto side columns by a large beam that spanned the entire façade. The smaller columns in the windows of the mezzanine were also structurally unnecessary or superfluous. These columns of precious marble served only as fragmented quotations of traditional discourses.

Since Loos rejected the usage of ornaments in architecture of the 19th century which was so prevalent in Vienna that time, he was again facing a design dilemma on how he was going to dress the bottom of the building in a way that worked with his consumers’ function. Having spent time in Chicago before, was very aware of the ornamentation that Sullivan had used as an attention getting device in the Carson Piere Scott building. He then realized that something similar would be required to decorate the Looshaus anfd then chose a marble that on one hand was as graphic as Sullivan’s ornament, and at the same time connected the building directly to Rome and Roman Culture. He used Skyros marble in the interiors in the same way that he used it on the exterior pillars of the Karntner Bar-one of his previous works-as a graphic device on its structure.

Loos contribution to architectural theory was the idea of the Raumplan, where that the interior of a building should be integrated into one space. All the separate rooms and spaces in a house should be designed in a way that they flow into one another and functions as one interior. his interiors are complex, with multiple rooms, staircases, and layers, yet, he achieves a unity in his design so that his interiors come together. Describing his concept, Adolf Loos quoted that:

“My architecture is not just conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes). 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 and others. Storeys must merge and spaces need to relate to each other. Every space requires a different height: the dining room is surely higher than the pantry, thus the ceilings must be set to a different levels. To join these spaces in such a way that the rise and fall are not only unobservable but also practical, in this I see what is for others the great secret, although it is for me a great matter of course”.

Additionally, the exteriors of his buildings do not give away the picture of its inner structures. It actually seems as if he designed the interior first and the envelopedit with a “shell” of wall around it to form the exterior. Loos emphasized unity and rationality in his work, and had an obvious love for both simple geometric forms and raw-but-refined natural materials.


From what I’ve done in my study, I conclude that Adolf Loos is a great man and a great architect, which he tries to brings modernity to his country, despite being opposed, he stands still with his own philosophy. He attacked the imitative styling of the 19th century of ornamental decorations which he thinks that it is excessively done . He is a model and a seer for architects all over the world. His contribution in designing and writing still serves as references for all humans who seeks modernity and truth in their life.

His building, the Looshaus, will be the evidence about the existence of a great architect who seeks changes in the world that are full of primitives.


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