Ornament and¬†crime, Adolf Loos, 1908
Make the¬†walls around the¬†living space, not¬†otherwise. The¬†planning of¬†a¬†house must start with understanding what people will do inside, how they will use each place. Some architects first do the¬†house planning, and¬†only then do they decide how people will live inside the¬†house. After panning the¬†outer walls, they decide where and¬†how the¬†bedroom, bath, living room, and¬†kitchen will be located. An¬†example is when a¬†person wants to¬†have three floors, or¬†600 square meter area, and¬†he thinks afterward how to¬†fill the¬†place.
For¬†me, that was a¬†crucial thought. Did you think an¬†architect should plan walls, windows, stairs only after planning the¬†people‚Äôs behavior inside the¬†house? I guess it is tough to¬†imagine. Most of¬†us buy or¬†rent an¬†apartment, and¬†we initially have the¬†plan of¬†an¬†apartment, and¬†based on¬†this plan, we make the¬†walls between rooms and¬†place the¬†tables, sofas, beds, and¬†other furniture. But¬†when you build your own house, you must think conversely! Remember!
Vienna is a¬†Potemkin village. Potemkin village is the¬†name of¬†fake houses, where only a¬†fa√ßade is made. Potemkin villages were built in¬†Russian Empire when the¬†emperor traveled around different regions. Mayor Potemkin did not¬†want the¬†emperor to¬†see poor villages, and¬†he decided to¬†build fake houses on¬†the¬†main streets so that the¬†emperor would see the¬†flourishing city. The¬†homes had only one wall and¬†were constructed out of¬†wood, were colored, and¬†had ornaments made of¬†gypsum.
Vienna has a¬†similar thing. Houses in¬†Vienna look gorgeous; however, most of¬†the¬†fa√ßade is just a¬†cheap decoration made of¬†gypsum instead of¬†stone, which doesn‚Äôt have any functions.
Without the¬†Fa√ßade, the¬†house of¬†the¬†15th and¬†17th centuries will look the¬†same as¬†that of¬†the¬†19th century. For¬†a¬†long time, the¬†only difference in¬†homes was the¬†Fa√ßade style: baroque, classicism, modern, neo-gothic, etc.
You can‚Äôt fake one material for¬†a¬†more expensive one. The¬†fake will always be seen. In¬†Vienna, architects usually make hardwood out of¬†a¬†soft one or¬†paint the¬†normal wood to¬†the¬†red transparent color to¬†look like the¬†teak wood (red hardwood, very expensive).
There were no¬†prohibitions of¬†fake architecture because no¬†one was faking before. If there are no¬†robbers, you don‚Äôt need any punishment for¬†robbery. Nobody was faking the¬†architecture styles before. Only when the¬†new cheap luxury-imitating materials became popular, the¬†process of¬†faking start to¬†flourish.
Ornament is terrible, and¬†once we will eliminate it. The¬†Ornament is just the¬†time spent for¬†nothing. People of¬†baroque times (when people discovered purple color, just a¬†fact) spent money on¬†needless luxury things, and¬†people became poorer. Still, people in¬†the¬†new era are conscious about our needs, and¬†we understand that some wills are stupid. That is why we became richer.
Let‚Äôs take two persons having the¬†same income and¬†living simultaneously. One is a¬†baroque person, and¬†one is a¬†modern person. The¬†baroque person will eat the¬†peacocks, pheasant, lobsters with silver spoons on¬†a¬†table made of¬†teak wood with the¬†picturesque ornaments. He will probably wear clothes made of¬†silk, covered with gold, purple color. He will have diamond rings and¬†other stuff. The¬†modern person (of¬†the¬†20th century) will not¬†have any ornament in¬†his house, neither on¬†the¬†clothes, boots, or¬†furniture. He will wear a¬†black suit to¬†not¬†stand out from the¬†crowd. His power is in¬†his mind. Without spending money on¬†luxury and¬†Ornament, the¬†modern person will save money and¬†grow his capital not¬†need to¬†work in¬†the¬†future.
The¬†modern person will work less. Workers of¬†the¬†previous era spent most of¬†the¬†time on¬†decorations so that they had to¬†work 20 hours per¬†day to¬†have the¬†same production as¬†a¬†person of¬†the¬†modern age (20th century). Now people in¬†America work 8 hours per¬†day, and¬†soon people will work 4 hours a¬†day if they forget about all unnecessary details.
Some architects kill harmony with nature. A¬†peasant in¬†a¬†small village will build a¬†house without an¬†architect. If there is clay nearby, he will buy bricks; if not¬†‚Äď he will use wood and¬†stones from the¬†lake nearby. The¬†Peasant will ask the¬†carpenter (woodworker) to¬†make a¬†roof, and¬†he does not¬†know if the¬†roof will be beautiful or¬†ugly until it is built. Will the¬†house be beautiful? The¬†house will be as¬†beautiful as¬†a¬†lake, a¬†tree, or¬†a¬†horse. It will be a¬†part of¬†nature.
Architects can come to¬†a¬†place and¬†draw the¬†house as¬†he or¬†the¬†customer imagines. He may use materials or¬†technologies that are not¬†usual for¬†these places. The¬†house may be great but¬†may also kill nature. The¬†house will take all the¬†attention to¬†itself. A¬†peasant (subconsciously) understands that the¬†house is a¬†part of¬†nature, and¬†he will try to¬†live in¬†harmony as¬†his ancestors lived.
–°ity dwellers (urban citizens) don‚Äôt have a¬†history. They have no¬†sense of¬†beauty and¬†are not¬†attached to¬†one style. They live in¬†a¬†mix of¬†everything.
The¬†good architecture does not¬†look nice in¬†pictures. The¬†architecture is not¬†2-dimensional, and¬†a¬†house is not¬†built by¬†pen. The¬†architecture of¬†Adolf Loos looks too simple on¬†paper and¬†photos but¬†is great in¬†real life. And¬†you know why it is better? Look at¬†other buildings built that time, look at¬†the¬†cafes of¬†modern style with ornaments, that, of¬†course, look great on¬†paper, and¬†where are they? Most of¬†them are closed or¬†have a¬†new design because such architecture becomes not¬†pretty even for¬†the¬†creator. In¬†3 years, the¬†architect starts to¬†hate his Ornament.
Someone may say that regular change of¬†style, furniture, etc., is suitable for¬†an¬†economy because factories will produce more and¬†more people will have jobs. Such logic exists. When the¬†house is on¬†fire, people are happy because a¬†new, better building will be constructed in¬†that place. But¬†it is not¬†ok, because it is just a¬†capital loss for¬†nothing.
Architecture is not¬†art, except for¬†monuments and¬†gravestones. Everyone should like a¬†House. But¬†art is how an¬†artist sees the¬†world; you may like it or¬†not. Art does not¬†have a¬†function (except for¬†evoking emotions). However, the¬†house satisfies the¬†specific need. The¬†picture should lead out of¬†the¬†usual comfort. The¬†house should serve this comfort. The¬†art is revolutionary; the¬†house is conservative. Art opens new ways and¬†thinks about the¬†future. The¬†house thinks about presents. A¬†person likes everything that serves comfort and¬†hates everything that leads out of¬†it. So, he likes a¬†house and¬†hates art. And¬†yes, architecture is not¬†art. Unfortunately, today (20th century), most houses are liked by¬†two people: the¬†architect and¬†a¬†developer (a¬†private home customer).
Adolf Loos is Austria‚Äôs most known architect of¬†the¬†early 20th century. His two masterpieces are the¬†Loos Haus and¬†Caf√© ‚ÄúMuseum.‚ÄĚ
Adolf Loos has written two best-seller books: ‚ÄúOrnament and¬†crime‚ÄĚ and¬†‚ÄúWhy A¬†Man Should Be Well-dressed.‚ÄĚ
In¬†this article, I summarized the¬†thoughts of¬†Adolf loos and¬†the¬†thoughts that I experienced reading this book. If you liked this format, I would continue writing such articles. I have great books in¬†my home library that I will be happy to¬†talk about, and¬†I also know tens of¬†great books about architecture and¬†urban planning. Just write a¬†comment or¬†write a¬†private message. I will be very grateful.