August 23: Loos

2016/08/23 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1933 Adolf Loos died.

Loos was born in 1870 in Brno, the capital of Moravia that was stripped of this dignity only in 1948. It is now a site of different significance, a pilgrimage point for Miesians who want to see his early work, the Tugendhat Villa (1928). Given this geographic coincidence and their general reputations, it’s easy to make links between the two architects.  However, their assumed modernism is less interesting than their fundamental traditionalism.  Mies admired the Romanesque buildings of his hometown Aachen and the work of superstar architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel; the tectonic gravity and even the sense of Greek proportion (and yes, once in a while, symmetry) show up throughout his mature work.  Indeed the Tugendhat Villa is rather different, a rather willful Neues Bauen exercise; it’s also part of a very short chapter in Mies’ career.  Loos, likewise, had his moments of abstraction.  They are especially visible in the Haus Scheu and certain views of the Haus Steiner.  But they also reveal other ideas and influences, too: classically balanced, symmetrical elevations; a nearly-Arts and Craftsy inglenook.  Indeed, Loos was rather smitten with fine materials, luxe finishes and rich comfort in his interiors, from stores to bars.  He never seemed threatened by the purported chains of history, but comfortably engaged historical traditions as they seemed appropriate: see the materials and scale of his (in-) famous Goldman and Salatch store, and even his sorta-crazy entry to the Chicago Tribune Tower competition.  (The latter is especially interesting in context of his own lengthy travels–three years–through America, including significant time in Chicago in 1893.)  All these buildings must be considered when we read his great essay “Ornament and Crime.” It certainly contributed to Modernist thought, but not nearly as directly or as simply as its title might suggest.  Loos’ argument was not only architectural, but cultural, social and economic as well.  His interest in reforming architecture was in the service of and in response to those other aspects of civilization without a burning desire to reinvent the world.

Image: portrait of Loos by  Oskar Kokoschka


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