Saturday, March 28, 2009

Will architectural ornament make me a criminal? Let's ask Adolph Loos...

At top, a building in Munich that could conceivably be part of Adolph Loos' ouvre. I don't know if it is, but it certainly resembles one of his signature buildings in Vienna in both shape and style.
Loos was famous for his statement that "The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects." (Ornament and Crime, 1908.) He was especially keen to excise the kind of ornament found in Art Noveau buildings like the one shown above, built the same year that Loos published Ornament and Crime.
So, will excessive ornament turn us into criminals? I'm not convinced, nor do I find the Art Noveau decorations in the building above particularly oppressive or inhibiting of evolution, whether of an individual or a culture. I'm more inclined to find the sterility that Loos' advocated to be stifling to the imagination, especially given how rarely it has been combined with the purely beautiful kinds of forms that would mitigate that effect.

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