The Architecture Of Adolf Loos
Yehuda Safran


Yehuda Safran, 1987

©Monica Pidgeon

Adolf Loos was the son of a stonemason and he was born in Brno, in Moravia, Czechoslovakia in 1870. He died in 1933 in a sanatorium outside Vienna. He studied intermediately in Dresden from 1889 to 1893, travelled in America from 1893 onwards and settled finally in Vienna in 1896. In 1897 Loos began to design interiors and to write the numerous controversial essays which established him as the foremost cultural critic. His essays considered a wide range of problems which expressed his struggle over many years for the transformation of 'everyday life', encompassing customs, art and the cultivation of manners. His 128 projects spread over thirty-five years of architectural activity and over a wide geographical area, even though few of his projects were built, and fewer still survive intact. The integrity with which his projects were conceived and executed, together with the force of his critical stance, established Loos as a seminal figure of Vitruvian dimension, drawing upon tradition and yet facing up squarely to the demands of the modern world.


Adolf Loos. Portrait By Oskar Kokoschka, Vienna, 1909

©Berlin National Gallery

From his vantage point in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Loos' view of the English remained idealised, and his praise unqualified. Loos' dedicated Anglophilia was not for the 'vernacular' of the Arts and Crafts movement but for a deep love of nature, emancipated craftsmen, furniture, fashion, habits of eating and dwelling. Equally, for Loos America was a myth of democracy attained, a Europe emancipated and a pragmatic culture free of hypocrisy. This was a view which many of his generation shared. He visited the Colombian World Exhibition in Chicago in 1893: he became familiar with the early skyscrapers of New York and of the Chicago School and with the writing of Louis Sullivan. Loos disagreed profoundly on theoretical grounds with the Secessionists, with the Wiener Werkstätte, and with the Deutscher Werkbund. In the aftermath of the First World War and transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic, the Social Democratic leaders of the City of Vienna tried to overcome the chronic shortage of housing. Loos was appointed as the chief architect of the communal housing. Failing to ward off the inflated iconography of the Hof (which was over-sized and unsuitable for living in), as his own alternative proposals were rejected, Loos became disillusioned. In 1922 he moved to Paris. with his close friend Schoenberg and with the Parisian 'avant-garder' - in particular Marcel Duchamp, the group engaged in editing 'L'Esprit Nouveau', and the architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier). Loos found a congenial personal environment, although not the ability to realise his larger projects.

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