Use Adolf Loos 1870-1933, “Ornament and Crime” 1908

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Kant on Sculpture and Architecture, Critique of Judgment, Meredith tr., section 51 “The Division of the Fine Arts”


Adolf Loos 1870-1933, “Ornament and Crime” 1908

Human Development

  • The embryo passes through the stages of the development of animals and the child through the stages of development of mankind, Papuan [a tribal society in New Guinea], Teuton [a Germanic tribe], Socrates, Voltaire [the French enlightenment intellectual], at which point he becomes aware of the color violet which wasn’t known before the 18th century, just as some of today’s colors will not be recognized until the future.

  • Scythian chieftain, whose mummy was found at Pazyryk (5th century BC) Hermitage Museum St. Petersburg.

  • Contemporary tattoo, Travis Barker, accessed 2008

Nicor, self-portrait 2006

  • The Papuan, like the child, is amoral (the former eating his enemies), but not criminal, whereas a modern man who ate his enemies would be. The Papuan tattoos everything in reach, but the modern man who tattoos himself is criminal or degenerate, most prisoners bearing tattoos, and the rest are latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats.

Village of Pari, Papua New Guinea

Fighting shield washkuk
Kwoma people, Upper Sepik River, Papua New Guinea.

Papua carving

Prison Tattoo from accessed 3/22/10

All art is erotic.

  • The urge to ornament one’s face and other things is the origin of fine art.

  • The cross was the first ornament and was erotic. The first artwork was to rid the artist of natural excesses. Horizontal and vertical lines [in a picture, or the cross?] represented male penetration.

  • The creative joy in this was the same as that of Beethoven. [!]


  • But a man who covers walls with erotic symbols today [graffiti] through inner urge is criminal or degenerate. Less cultured countries have more graffiti on lavatory walls. It is natural for children and Papuans to ornament, not modern man.

Bathroom graffiti posted on Gotham City Insider 2007

Reaction to Loos’s earlier writings.

  • “The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from objects of daily use.” This idea should have given rise to a new joy, but it gave rise to sadness at ornaments not being produced.

  • Objects without ornament in the past were carelessly thrown away, and any rubbish with the smallest ornament was collected and displayed.

  • Carolingian art (127) Lorsch Gospels, 778–820.

  • Charlemagne's Court School.

Out-growing ornament

  • Every period had a style, which meant ornament.

  • Our period however does not: it is important because it cannot produce new ornament, has out-grown ornament.

  • The streets will now glow like white walls.

Apple Center “furnishings follow the early U.S. store design guidelines: wooden flooring, white walls with graphics, black shelving and white Corian furniture.” Accessed 2009.

Slavery of Ornament

  • But humanity still groans under the slavery of ornament, although ornament at least no longer produces erotic sensations, and tattooing today is considered to decrease the aesthetic value of a face. [See Kant on tattoos and Leddy on Kant on tattoos.] We are pleased by a plain cigarette case and not having to wear red velvet trousers, etc.

A Silver-Gilt, Cloisonné and En Plein Enamel Cigarette Case

Goethe’s death chamber, Weimar

  • A plain piece of furniture is more beautiful than inlaid museum pieces. The language of Goethe [the 18th century German literary figure] is more beautiful than ornamented language.

  • Shaker cabinet

  • Elaborate Victorian furniture highlighted by marble top Alexander Roux sideboard

  • or hunt board. 19th century

  • Small Spanish Apartment from the Albertina Museum, Vienna, Austria, c. 1900

White crockery Beenleigh Party Hire accessed 3/16/09, right: AUSTRIAN VIENNA LARGE CABINET PLATE -BEE HIVE BACKSTAMP

Austrian State

  • The state, [believing] its duty is to impede cultural development, reintroduced ornament. The Austrian state introduced ornamented pieces into the Viennese Museum of Applied Arts. It also forced young men to wear outdated footwear [in the military] so as to be more easily governed.

Austria-Hungary 1900

Imperial and Royal Austro–Hungarian cavalry, 1898

  • I reject the argument that ornament increases the pleasures of life of a cultivated person, or that it is beautiful. I prefer undecorated gingerbread. Modern people will understand.

Unornamented food

  • Ornament supporters think that this urge for simplicity is self-denial. But un-ornamented food tastes better, and decorations used to make food appear more appetizing are not for me.

  • Nothing can stop the evolution of humanity. Ornament is a crime against the national economy.

“The rate of cultural development is held back by those that cannot cope with the present.”

  • Some people in Austria seem to live in earlier times than now, even as far back as the 12th century.

  • It is bad for a government if the culture is dominated by the past. America is happy not to have this problem.

  • Romanian old postcard. Folk costume of "Calusari". 

Romanian old postcard. Folk costume from Tulghes, Romania.

  • Even people in our cities sometimes are appalled by our painters’ use of violet shadows. They prefer food that takes days to prepare and decorated cigarette covers.

  • And, in the country, clothes and utensils are from previous centuries.


  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919)
    Young Woman Sewing, 1879.

  • “painting with violet shadows: 128

  • To measure everything by the past slows cultural development. [He then compares the man of the 20th century and the man of the 18th century, both living today.] The 20th century man can use less money in food and plates.

  • And whole countries are like this, the English becoming richer and the Austrians poorer.

  • In highly productive nations producers of ornament are no longer justly paid and, although usually ornament increases the price, sometimes it is offered at half the price.

  • Eliminating ornament reduces working hours and increases wages. Compare the Chinese carver and the American laborer.

  • If there was no ornament at all men would only need to work four hours a day.

Worker’s Time Wasted

  • “As ornament is no longer organically related to our culture, it is also no longer the expression of our culture.” It does not relate to us.

  • What happened to Van de Velde and Otto Eckman? What will happen to Olbrich?

Henry van de Velde 1902

Jardinière, ca. 1902
Henry van de Velde (Belgian, 1863–1957)

Henry van de Velde, vase 1903

Henry van de Velde - Chair - 1895

Otto Eckmann, German, 1868 - 1902, with the Scherrebek Weaving School, founded 1896, Five Swans, 1897, and bookplate on the right

Otto Eckmann
bronze mounted vase
Konigliche Porzellan-Manufacktur (KPM)
Germany, 1898

Josef Maria Olbrich, 1867-1908, Austrian, Secession House, 1896

Olbrich details

Ornaments by Olbrich at Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station 1899

  • The modern producer of ornament is left behind. The ornamented products are found intolerable.

  • [But consider these paintings by Gustav Klimt. What would Loos think of them? The first is Adele Bloch-Bauer's Portrait, 1907, the second is Danae,1907-1908, the Kiss, 1907 ]

  • The few today who are [mentally] ill tyrannize the worker forcing him to execute ornament.

  • The worker’s time is wasted.

Loos’s Principle

  • “The form of an object should be bearable for as long as the object lasts physically.”

  • A writing desk should not be changed as frequently as an evening dress just because the style has become unbearable.

  • The Austrian promoters of decoration think that buying furniture every ten years [planned obsolescence] increases employment. And people say that a fire produces work. [He then goes into an ironic riff about burning the entire Austrian Empire.]

  • I would be glad to pay more money for a better quality boots.

Vienna Künstlerhaus 1865 and 1868 August Weber

A pair of brown Oxford full brogues

Kafir Girl: Bumbaret, Pakistan

Goldwork Cuff
Slovakia, Early 20th Century

  • In many regions of Slovakia gold thread is wrapped around pieces of leather and applied to lace. The result is raised gold embroidery that can be found on sleeves, scarves, and caps.
    National Czech & Slovak
    Museum & Library
    Cedar Rapids, Iowa
    accessed 3/16/09

  • Goldwork Cuff
    Slovakia, Early 20th Century
    In many regions of Slovakia gold thread is wrapped around pieces of leather and applied to lace. The result is raised gold embroidery that can be found on sleeves, scarves, and caps.

William Morris, Trellis Wallpaper, 1862

Hippie Bus, “Further” 1967?

Café Museum, Vienna
Adolf Loos 1899

Loos’s apartment 1903

The American Bar 1907

Goldman & Salatsch Building, a mixed-use building overlooking Michaelerplatz, Vienna Das Looshaus, 1910

Adolf Loos, interior decoration of the fashion atelier Goldmann & Salatsch, Looshaus(on Michaelerplatz square in Vienna's first district

Loos, Steiner House, Vienna 1910

Steiner House front

Steiner House

Rufer House
Schliessmanngasse 11
Adolf Loos 1922

15, avenue Junot, 18e. (Montmartre)
Built in 1926 by Adolf Loos for Tristan Tzara, dadaist.

Adolf Loos Villa Müller, Prague, 1930

Loos villa

Loos villa

Adolf Loos Villa Müller, interior Prague, 1930

Knize Men's Outfitters, Vienna
Adolf Loos 1913

The Gamble House, also known as David B. Gamble House, (constructed 1908 - 1909) is a National Historic Landmark and museum in Pasadena, California. It was designed by the architectural firm Greene and Greene, brothers Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene, as a home for of the Proctor and Gamble company.

Kant on ornament #14

English Gardens: pushing the freedom of imagination in “General Remark on the First Section of the Analytic.”

Austrian Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein

  • The house that Wittgenstein built, 1926-8, for his sister, Margarete Stonborough-Wittgenstein: Kundmanngasse, Vienna

Le Corbusier, 1887-1975


  • From Towards a New Architecture by Le Corbusier, translated by Frederick Etchells, 1927

  • Le Corbusier “Towards a New Architecture” 1923 [comes from essays beginning in 1921, perhaps co-authored by Amédée Ozenfant, They were having conversations about the work of Adolf Loos.]

  • Goldblatt and Brown’s second edition used the Etchell’s translation. The third edition uses the John Goodman translation, 2007, and selects some different passages.

  • Architecture has nothing to do with “styles” that are sometimes pretty, but never more. [Think of Loos’s criticism of ornament and Bell’s criticism of descriptive painting.]

  • Architecture is capable of the sublime. [Kant]

  • It impresses the brutal instincts by its objectivity,

  • and the highest faculties by its abstraction. [Plato]

  • Its abstraction is rooted in brute fact, but spiritualizes it. It also materializes possible ideas: the naked fact applies "order" to ideas.

  • Emotions aroused by architecture arise from physical conditions.

  • Architecture manifests itself through volume and surface.

  • These are determined by the plan, which is the generator.

Villa Savoye, by Le Corbusier, at Poissy, France, 1928 to 1929

Plan, Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye, interior

From “Towards a New Architecture”

  • It arouses emotions that spring from inevitable physical conditions.

  • Mass and surface are the elements.

  • It is determined by the plan, with imagination.

Definition of architecture:

  • It is the masterful, correct and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light. [Kant: play]

  • Our eyes are made to see forms in light: the great primary forms, e.g. cubes, cylinders.

  • Since of the image of these is most distinct within us they are the most beautiful forms.

  • This is the condition of the plastic arts in general. [like Bell]

  • Egyptian, Greek, and Roman buildings focus on these forms.

  • The Gothic cathedral does not, except in the nave. There we search for subjective and not formal compensations.

  • The cathedral is a drama: a fight against the force of gravity, which is a sensation related to feeling.

Gothic Cathedral, Epernay, France

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

Tower of Babylon [picture taken 1950 by Raymond Kleboe/Stringer]

Reconstruction of the Tower of Babylon

Registan is the ensemble of three madrasahs in Samarkand

Sher-Dor-Madrassa at the Rgistan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan at sunset

The Parthenon

Coliseum [Colosseum], Roman, 80 A.D.

Pantheon, Rome, 125 A.D.

Pont du Gard, Roman

Hagia Sophia, Roman/Byzantine, 360 AD

Mosque Stamboul [Istanbul]

  • Tower of Pisa, 1173

  • Brunelleschi's dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, 1445

St. Peter’s Basilica Michelangelo 1626

Pont-Royal, Paris, 1689

  • Les Invalides, Paris, built 1679, Mansard

Temple of Luxor, Egypt, 1400 BC

Hadrian’s Villa, Roman, early 2nd century

Bad Parisian Architecture

  • He is also critical of the train station at quai d'Orsay and Grand Palais [Paris].

  • The architects of today are lost in sterile plans, in foliage and pilasters. They do not consider primary masses.

  • Pilasters on a county courthouse in Springfield, Ohio

Grand Palais, Paris

Gare d’Orsey, 1810-1840

  • The engineers of today, guided by the results of calculation (based on what governs our universe) and that of a viable organ, provoke architectural emotions through primary elements.

  • They make humanity resonate with the universal order.

  • American silos are the magnificent first fruits of a new age, and they crush the old architecture.

Find the Accentuators and Generators of Form

  • The architect should both let the volume retain the splendor of its form and use its surface for tasks.

  • To do this is to find the accentuators and generators of form in the division of the surface.

  • The surface is usually a wall of a house, temple, factory, pierced with holes which usually destroys form but can be made to accentuate it.

  • The generators and accentuators of primary forms are based on pure geometry.

  • Architects of today are scared of this and produce the boulevard Raspail instead of the Pitti Palace.

Pitti Palace, 1458, Florence, vs. Boulevard Raspail, Paris

  • Actual needs: cities laid out in a useful manner, whose volumes are beautiful (urban plans).

  • Clean streets, suitability, spirit of mass-production, grandeur, serenity of the whole shall ravish the mind and bring charm.

Le Corbusier: Ville Radieuse 1935

Radiant City

  • Invalides models the surface of volumes that are complex, unlike boulevard Raspail

  • The accentuators are, in practice, the checkerboard or grid.

  • The engineers of today are in accord with the principles of Bramante and Raphael.


The eye moves through a site receiving the impact of the volumes.

If they are distinct and not debased by modification, have a clear rhythm, are coherent, and the relationships are rightly proportioned, it is architecture.

If the eye observes intelligible logic, the structure arising from the base according to a rule in the plan, and there is harmony, it is architecture.


  • Without a plan there is neither grandeur of intention and expression nor rhythm, nor volume, nor coherence.

  • A plan demands both active imagination and severe discipline.

  • It is an austere, dry abstraction, although, like math, one of the highest activities of man.

  • It carries within it a determined primary rhythm.

  • Unity of law is the law of a good plan that is infinitely modulable.

  • Le Corbusier,

  • La Villa Schwob

  • 1916

  • Switzerland

Le Corbusier Chapel Ronchamp 1954

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