One way to look at history could be to hearken back to major social, cultural, political, scientific, and technological breakthroughs that transformed the world order and humanity’s way of living. Today we are talking about one such significant architectural development of the early 1900s that changed the approach to building-constructions worldwide.
This is the story of Adolf Loos and his monumental architectural theory, because of which the world we see today is full of box-shaped buildings with plain walls, square windows, and zero ornamentation.
A recent Twitter thread by @culturaltutor explains how the famous Austrian architect, Adolf Loos, despised the Art Nouveau movement comprising of superfluous ornamental buildings (the dominant architectural style of his time) to favour a more modern and rational form of architecture.
Loos felt greatly influenced by the knowledge he acquired in America. He saw a glimpse of the modern and practical future. He also felt greatly inspired by Louis Sullivan’s ‘form follows function’ architectural design principle.
The ‘form follows function’ principle of the 19th and 20th centuries states that the shape of a building/object should corroborate with its intended purpose.
Loos was an ardent minimalist and an inspiration to modernism. He advocated rationality in architecture which meant stripping down frivolous ornamentation from objects of daily use. He believed ornamentation deteriorates with time as human taste keeps evolving. He wanted to break free from the rigid decorative norm of his time and focus on the simplicity and eternity of architecture.
Closely related to Art Nouveau, the Vienna Secession movement emerged as a reaction to the conservative orientation of the Austrian Artistic Institutions. The Secessionists wanted to renew decorative arts and engage with artists outside Austria.
Loos agreed with the idea of exploring arts beyond national boundaries but vehemently opposed the Secessionist inclination towards ornamental work.
For Loos, the elimination of ornamentation was essential for cultural evolution. Besides, ornamental buildings would become obsolete sooner than plain and smooth ones. He preferred utilitarian architecture that minimised the waste of resources and labour.
One bit of trivia you’d be interested to know here is that young Adolf Hitler absolutely abhorred Looshaus. The Nazi führer was also a painter before becoming the German dictator. He lived in Vienna from 1908 to 1913. During those days, he painted houses and postcards for a living. Once, Hiter famously painted out the Looshaus in his water-coloured depiction of Michaelerplatz, where the building is located. He replaced the Looshaus with an imaginary faux baroque edifice of his own design.
Loos’ buildings can almost be perceived as an act of rebellion. The simple and plain exteriors of his buildings were in sharp contrast with the contemporary architecture of his time.
It’s interesting how something so unsurprising for us in the 21st century required a complete break away from artistic traditions and assertion of creative independence to reach the present scenario.
The informative Twitter thread has courted quite an audience, and rightly so. Here’s what people are saying.
Now you may blame Loos for sucking life out of buildings or applaud him for his minimalist value-for-money stance; one thing we can unanimously agree upon is that he caused a stir worldwide.