Theory and Design in the First Machine Age

By Reyner Banham | Go to book overview

7: Adolf Loos and the problem of ornament

AMONG THE EFFECTIVE contributors to the body of ideas that supported the Modern Movement, one must certainly number Adolf Loos. Yet his contribution was sporadic, personal and not always very serious in tone. As an architect he appears as one of the first to build in a manner that really valued simplicity of form as a virtue in itself, yet usually spoiled that simplicity by usages that wilfully departed from it, or materials that concealed it. As a writer he was prolific and usually well-informed, yet much of his influence depends upon one, or possibly two, of his most opinionated essays. As a person he was turbulent, combative, contradictory and capable of turning personal quarrels into public crusades, yet he was admired and courted, and people are still proud to claim his acquaintance,1 twenty or more years after his death.

His active career divides itself into three main parts. The first, down to his return from the U.S.A. in 1897 does not concern us immediately at this point. The second, of active building, teaching and journalism in Vienna, reaching a peak of productivity around 1910, produced his most influential writings, his most characteristic buildings. The third, which begins with his arrival in Paris in 1923 as an acknowledged celebrity, is the phase of his greatest personal influence, but one that is hardest to deal with historically --one has to accept the testimony of those who knew him then that they were pleased when they pleased him,2 and were flattered to be accepted into his circle of friends and admirers.

But this third phase was the product of the second. His celebrity on arrival depended only in part on his personal reputation, and hardly at all

____________________
1
Many architects came, or claim to have come, under his influence either in Vienna or Paris--most notably André Lurçat, Richard Neutra, Raymond Schindler and Eric Mendelsohn.
2
Lurçat, in conversation with the author, volunteered the information that one of his early designs faisait grand plaisir à Adolf Loos. Somewhere in this connection, by way of Loos's notorious Anglomania, may lie the explanation of what appear to be quotations from the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh that appear in Parisian architecture in the early Twenties--the tall 'oriel' window of Lurçat's Maison Guggenbuhl is a case obviously in point.

-88-

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Theory and Design in the First Machine Age
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Acknowledgements 6
  • Illustrations 7
  • Introduction--The Machine Age 9
  • Section One 13
  • 1: the Academic Tradition and the Concept of Elementary Composition 14
  • 2: Choisy 23
  • 3: the Academic Succession 35
  • 4:England:Lethaby and Scott 44
  • 5: Germany 68
  • 6: the Factory Aesthetic 79
  • 7: Adolf Loos and the Problem of Ornament 88
  • Section Two 98
  • 8: Futurism 99
  • 9: Futurism: Theory and Development 106
  • 10: Sant'Elia and Futurist Architecture 127
  • Section Three 138
  • 11: Holland 139
  • 12: De Stijl: the Dutch Phase 148
  • 13: Expressionism 163
  • 14: De Stijl 185
  • Section Four 201
  • 15: Architecture and the Cubist Tradition 202
  • 16: Progressive Building in Paris 214
  • 17: Vers Une Architecture 220
  • 18: Le Corbusier 247
  • Section Five 264
  • 19: the Berlin School 265
  • 20: the Bauhaus 276
  • 21: Germany: the Encyclopaedics 305
  • 22: Conclusion 320
  • Index to Proper Names and Buildings 331
  • Index, to Topics, Publications, and Organisations 335
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