Loos, Adolf

views updated May 17 2018

Loos, Adolf (1870–1933). Influential Austro-Hungarian architect and polemicist. Born in Brno, Moravia, he studied in Dresden, where Semper's ideas made a great impression on him, and in 1893 visited the USA, where he absorbed the lessons of the Chicago School, and was influenced especially by an essay of Sullivan (1892) in which the latter advocated refraining from all ornament for a period, so that architects could concentrate on the design of buildings ‘well-formed and comely in the nude’. He was also influenced by the work of F. L. Wright (whom he also met), by the English Arts-and-Crafts movement, and by the designs of Otto Wagner. Loos settled in Vienna, and in a series of articles denounced the ornamenting tendencies of Jugendstil, notably in the works of Hoffmann and Olbrich, so he was opposed to aspects of the Sezession. He likened extravagance and dishonesty in architecture to the fake fronts of streets in towns erected for show by Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin (1739–91) in Russia, publishing his views in the important journal Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring) in 1898.

In 1908 came the publication of Ornament und Verbrechen (Ornament and Crime), in which he claimed that lack of ornament was a sign of spiritual strength: this has led to his beatification as a ‘pioneer’ of the Modern Movement, but he was nothing of the sort, for his designs of the period are almost entirely Neo-Classical in spirit, reflecting his admiration for Greek architecture and for Schinkel. A prime example of this stripped Classicizing tendency is the Goldman & Salatsch block on the Michaelerplatz, Vienna (1909–11), with its simplified Tuscan columns and unornamented façades using the finest materials, but nearly two years before, in 1907–8, his Kärntner Bar, Vienna, had demonstrated a type of stripped Classicism, but using fine materials. The Steiner House, St-Veit-Gasse, Vienna (1910) is usually shown in a view from the garden, but the street-front, an almost single-storey symmetrical composition with a great curved roof, is hardly ever illustrated because it shows how Loos was deeply rooted in tradition, as it is an interpretation of a small Baroque building stripped of ornament and with its curved roof simplified.

In both the Steiner and Scheu (Larochegasse 3, Hietzing—1912–13) Houses, Loos suggested exposed timber beams (they were not always structural), and drew heavily on the Arts-and-Crafts tradition of England (a country he greatly admired), with inglenooks, brick fireplaces, and wooden panelling. His reverence for Greek architecture was expressed in his competition entry (1923) for the Chicago Tribune Building: his design was a skyscraper shaped like a gigantic Greek Doric column. For a brief period (1920–2) he was the Chief Architect for the City of Vienna's Housing Department, and produced several schemes, including proposals for a model estate at Heuberg. He designed a ‘row-house with one wall’ which he patented.

He spent the next five years in Paris, where he made contact with the leading figures of the avant-garde and built the celebrated house for Tristan Tzara (1896–1963) (Avenue Junot 15, Paris XVIII—1925–6), which, like the Michaelerplatz building, had an innovative plan with the volumes divided up to form rooms of differing heights, but the architectural language was more stark, and followed Modernist tendencies. After he returned to Vienna in 1928 Loos designed a few houses, including the Moller House, Starkfriedgasse 19, Pötzleinsdorf, Vienna (1927–8), and the Müller House, Střešovická 33, Prague (1929–30), both of which had complex interiors with ingenious spatial planning, and had smooth rendered walls that were very much de rigueur as International Modernism acquired its essential language. In 1931, he designed houses for the Werkbund at Woinovichgasse 13–15–17–19, Vienna, also with stark geometries and white rendered walls. These late works appear to have influenced the younger generation of architects. Both Neutra and Schindler were among those who were profoundly affected by Loos's ideas before the 1914–18 war. His early writings on architecture and design (1897–1900) were collected as Ins Leere Gesprochen (Spoken into the Void—1921) and his later works (1900–30) as Trotzdem (In Spite Of—1931).


Arts Council of Great Britain (1985);
R. Banham (1960);
Duzer & and Kleinman (1994);
Gravagnuolo (1982);
Hitchcock (1977);
Kristan (ed.) (2001, 2001a);
Kulka (ed.) (1931);
Les'nikowski (ed.) (1986);
Loos (1962);
Lustenberger (1994);
Münz & and Künstler (1966);
Opel (eds.) (2003);
Safran & Wang (eds.) (1985);
Schezen et al. (1996);
Schweighofer (2000);
J. Stewart (2000);
Tournikiotis (1994);
Trevisiol (1995);
Jane Turner (1996)

Adolf Loos

views updated Jun 11 2018

Adolf Loos

The Viennese architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933) was one of the pioneers of modern architecture at the turn of the century.

Adolf Loos was born in Brünn (Brno), now in the Czech Republic but then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on December 10, 1870, the son of a stone mason and sculptor. Loos was deaf until the age of 12 and was hearing-impaired until the end of his life; this physical disability influenced his character, and he remained a loner as an individual and as an artist. In 1890-1893 Loos studied at the Technical University of Dresden. Between 1893 and 1896 he lived in the United States, mostly in Philadelphia with some relatives, but also visited New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. In 1896 Loos returned to Vienna and devoted himself to architecture. In 1898 he was associated briefly with the Vienna Secession. 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 resigned, disillusioned, in 1922 and emigrated to France. Between 1922 and 1927 Loos lived mostly in Paris and the French Riviera; he returned to Austria in 1928 and lived there intermittently until his death on August 23, 1933.

Although he began practicing in the late 1890s when Art Nouveau was at its peak, Loos was not affected by it at all. The fact that he had lived in the United States and thus had become aware of the advances in the commercial and domestic architecture of that country may account for this. Loos' earliest commissions were interior remodellings of stores and cafes. His first shop interior was done in 1898 for the Goldman and Salatsch haberdashery shop in Vienna. This interior, entirely straightlined and without any ornament, already showed his design principles and especially his mastery in the creation of articulate space effects.

His Museum Café of the next year, dubbed "Café Nihillsmus" for its plainness, was simple and unadorned, although effective architecturally. His Kärtner Bar in Vienna (1907) was a masterpiece in the exploitation of a tiny space and in the use of sumptuous materials.

Loos did many remodellings of flats, in which he used fine materials with polished surfaces uninterrupted by moldings; these would prove a potent inspiration to the architects of the next generation. In his free-standing houses Loos introduced the compact, block-like mass, although he did not subject it to the geometric rigor characteristic of the work of the Internationalists. But it was in the design of interiors that Loos revealed himself as a first-class architect; the dignity and coziness of his interiors and their deliberate suitability to modern living conditions have rarely been surpassed. In this Loos was inspired by English domestic architecture, which he frequently singled out for praise. Distinctly his, however, was the emphasis on precious materials and the creation of flowing spaces—very similar to those of Frank Lloyd Wright—and also the notion of Raumplan—that is, architectural composition with volumes of space as opposed to two-dimensional planning.

Loos' Karma Villa near Montreux in Switzerland from 1904 to 1906 may have influenced Le Corbusier. The Steiner House of 1910 and the Scheu House of 1912, both in Vienna, belong to his finest works. The simplicity of their facades, their flat roofs, white walls, and horizontal windows without any moldings, together with the openness of their planning, provided a great impetus toward the emergence of the International Style. Loos' larger urban work, the Goldman and Salatsch Building on the Michaelerplatz in Vienna of 1910-1911, aroused a storm of protest because it presented a plain unadorned facade opposite the Hofburg (Imperial Palace). Yet the ground story had marble-clad columns externally and contained internally Loos' articulate spaces increased to a monumental scale.

As chief architect of the city of Vienna in 1920-1922 Loos designed an experimental district in Heuberg which was only partly built and which included many types of buildings which were never realized but constituted the most advanced experiments in low-cost housing at the time anywhere in Europe.

At least as effective as his buildings were his writings, in which he advocated a functional simplicity of form. Loos was the author of numerous articles; those from 1897-1900 were collected in 1921 and published under the title Ins Leere Gesprochen (Spoken into the Void). Those from 1900-1930 were collected in 1931 under the title Trotzdem (Nevertheless). Loos published the article "Ornament und Verbrechen" ("Ornament and Crime"); in it he claimed that architecture and the applied arts could do without any ornament, which in itself should be regarded as a survival of barbaric custom. Indeed, Loos saw the progress of his era precisely in the abolition of ornament for economic and aesthetic reasons. Therefore he was a sworn enemy not only of the ponderous historicism of Vienna, but also of the style of the Vienna Secession, which he felt was nothing more than a search for a new ornamental vocabulary.

Loos instead proposed a strict functionalism, which in turn derived from the theories of the great German architect Gottfred Semper and from the rationalism of Otto Wagner, whom Loos regarded most highly. At the same time Loos maintained the deepest respect for ancient architecture; this found expression in the frequent use of classical architectural elements in his architectural designs. He even went so far as to propose a tower in the form of a Doric column in his competition entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower of 1922. It is important to note, however, that Loos' respect for antiquity was of a functionalistic nature: he always considered the question, what would the ancients have accomplished under the present conditions? In any event Loos' writings and architectural works provided great inspiration to the architects of the following generation who brought about the International Style of 1925-1950.

Further Reading

A beautifully illustrated monograph on Loos is Benedetto Gravagnuolo's Adolf Loos: Theory and Works (1982). See also Ludwig Münz and Gustav Künstler, Adolf Loos: Pioneer of Modern Architecture (English edition, 1966) and Mihály Kubinsky, Adolf Loos (1970). A brief critical discussion of Loos' importance for modern architecture can be found in Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (4th edition, 1977); Leonardo Benevolo, History of Modern Architecture, 2 volumes (1977); and Nikolaus Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Design: from William Morris to Walter Gropius (2nd edition, 1975). An English translation of Loos' early writings is in Adolf Loos, Spoken into the Void: Collected Essays 1897-1900, translated by Jane O. Newman and John H. Smith (1982). Loos' collected works are in Sámtliche Schriften, 2 volumes (1962).

Additional Sources

Altmann-Loos, Elsie, Mein Leben mit Adolf Loos, Wien: Amalthea, 1984. □

Loos, Adolf

views updated May 29 2018


LOOS, ADOLF (1870–1933), Austrian architect and cultural critic.

Adolf Loos was an influential figure in European avant-garde circles in the early twentieth century and has continued to fascinate architects, architectural historians, and philosophers of architecture ever since.

In 1889–1890 Loos attended the Technical University in Dresden, where he became a member of the Architects' Association. He then spent two years in military service before returning to Dresden to continue his studies. In 1893 he embarked upon a three-year trip to the United States. On his return to Vienna, Loos went to work with the architect Karl Mayreder, and also began publishing in leading newspapers such as the Neue Freie Presse. In 1898 he published a series of critical articles on the Kaiser Franz Josef Jubilee Exhibition, which were subsequently collected and published under the title Spoken into the Void (1921). In these articles, Loos drew on his American experiences to provide a critique of everyday culture in Austria in the early twentieth century.

Loos's first architectural commission—the renovation of the interior of the Café Museum in Vienna—dates to 1899. His design, later nicknamed "Café Nihilism," brought him to the attention of prominent art critics, who noted that although Loos's style was entirely modern, his modernism was very different from that of the Viennese Secession. From this point onward, Loos defined his architectural work in opposition to the Viennese Arts and Crafts movement and its central representatives, Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956) and Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867–1908).

In a number of articles published in leading German avant-garde journals such as Der Sturm and, from 1909 onward, in public lectures delivered throughout Europe, Loos developed his critique of the Viennese Arts and Crafts movement and everyday Austrian culture in general, in order to ground a prescriptive view of modern Western culture. In influential and controversial texts such as "Ornament and Crime," which was delivered as a lecture as early as 1909 but was not published in German until 1929, Loos also provided insight into the paradoxical culture of Vienna in the early twentieth century. In characteristically polemical style, Loos's "Ornament and Crime" invokes the fashionable doctrine of social evolutionism to suggest that anyone resorting to ornamentation in the modern world was either a degenerate or an aristocrat. At the same time, he provided an insightful treatise on the social relations of architectural production.

Texts such as "Ornament and Crime" also served to educate a wider public to receive his architecture—which was no less controversial than his cultural criticism. In 1910 Loos was commissioned to build a business premises for Goldman and Salatsch, a firm of Viennese tailors, on a prominent site opposite the Imperial Palace on the Michaelerplatz in Vienna. The façade of his rationalist design differentiated sharply between the lower floors, clad in green and white marble and dominated by four Doric columns, and the unornamented whitewashed form of the upper floors. The controversy that surrounded the "House without Eyebrows" in 1910–1911 was sparked off by the sharp contrast between the plain upper facade of Loos's design and the ornamented facade of the wing of the Imperial Palace designed by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656–1723) facing it, but soon developed into a full-blown argument about the modernity of Loos's design. More recent analyses of the building continue to debate its modernity.

In the immediate aftermath of World War I, Loos played a role in the development of "Red Vienna," being appointed chief architect to the municipal settlement office in 1921. Two years later, however, frustrated by problems faced by the settlement office, Loos left Vienna for Paris, where he lectured at the Sorbonne and continued designing private villas, as he had done in prewar Vienna, including that of Josephine Baker (1906–1975). He also continued to work in Austria and the Czech Republic, designing mainly settlement houses and private villas in which he could showcase his influential spatial theory, the Raumplan.

Loos is an architect arguably better known for his writings than for his architecture, although until the late twentieth century his teachings had not been adequately analyzed. From the 1980s, however, architectural historians began to recognize the role that articles and lectures played in disseminating Loos's architectural ideas, whereas philosophers, philologists, and sociologists set out to examine his texts in their own right. Loos is no longer understood as the predecessor of 1920s rationalist modern architecture but as a more complex figure whose concern to communicate an ideal form of everyday culture, articulated in his architecture and his texts, provides us with insight into aspects of modernity.

See alsoFurniture; Housing; Vienna.


Primary Sources

Loos, Adolf. Trotzdem. Innsbruck, 1931.

——. Spoken into the Void: Collected Essays 1897–1900. Translated by Jane O. Newman and John H. Smith. Cambridge, Mass., 1982.

——. Ornament and Crime. Selected Essays. Edited by Adolf Opel and translated by Michael Mitchell. Riverside, Calif., 1998. Accurate translation of key essays from Ins Leere gesprochen and Trotzdem but omits bibliographical details.

Secondary Sources

Cacciari, Massimo. Architecture and Nihilism: On the Philosophy of Modern Architecture. Translated by Stephen Sartarelli. New Haven, Conn., 1993.

Colomina, Beatriz. Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media. Cambridge, Mass., 1994.

Rukschcio, Burckhardt, and Roland Schachel. Adolf Loos: Leben und Werk. Salzburg, 1982. The most comprehensive life and work study on Loos, cataloging the Adolf Loos Archive in the Albertina in Vienna.

Schezen, Roberto. Adolf Loos: Architecture 1903–1932. New York, 1996. Collection of photographs of Loos's main architectural works.

Stewart, Janet. Fashioning Vienna: Adolf Loos's Cultural Criticism. London, 2000.

Tournikiotis, Panayotis. Adolf Loos. Translated by Marguerite McGoldrick. New York, 1994.

Janet Stewart

Loos, Adolf

views updated May 23 2018

Loos, Adolf (1870–1933) Czech architect who pioneered modern building design. He hated art nouveau, the prevailing style of the time, publishing his views in Ornament and crime (1908). His most important projects were houses built between 1904 and 1910; Steiner House, Vienna (1910) was one of the first to use concrete. See also modernism