Architecture

Adolf Loos (1870–1933)

Architect, critic and theorist – Adolf Loos was a vital and contrary force in the evolution of architecture in Vienna in the early twentieth century. His belief in functionality and objectivity proved critical to modern architecture.

Adolf Loos was born in Brünn in Moravia (now the Czech Republic) in 1870. After completing the State Crafts School in Brünn and further studies in Dresden, Loos visited America where he was influenced by Louis Sullivan's architecture in Chicago.

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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol

Ornament and crime

On his return to Vienna, Loos became one of the chief proponents of functionalist architecture, whose first legacy was the Bauhaus, and documented his views on architecture, design and modernity among others in his now famous essay and manifesto 'Ornament and crime' (1908).

As the manifesto's title suggests, Loos was highly critical of a decorative approach to architecture and design and publicly derided the work of those who favoured such an approach, among them architect designer Josef Hoffmann and artist Gustav Klimt.

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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol

Loos was also opposed to the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) as well as the 'dictatorial' attitude of architect designers who determined every detail of the domestic dwelling as well as its furnishings and decoration (which he believed, with some justification, was exemplified by Hoffmann). The designers' differing approaches are clearly evident in the contrast between Hoffmann's Gallia apartment and Loos's Langer apartment.

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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol

Alternative modernist design

Loos expounded an alternative approach to modernist design, placing the individual and their need to live 'in a modern way' at the centre of architecture. For Loos, 'the house did not belong to art because the house must please everyone, unlike a work of art, which does not need to please anyone.'

Yet his own buildings were not to everyone's liking. The severity of his apartment building at Michaelerplatz provoked such resentment from the Viennese bourgeoisie (it was said to look like a face without eyebrows!) that he was made to install flower boxes to soften its façade.

Architecture highlights

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Gallia Apartment, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015443 Gallia Apartment, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015445 Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015446 Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015449 Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015450 Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015451 Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015452 Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015453 Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015454 Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015488 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015457 Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015458 Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015484 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015461 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015462 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015463 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015482 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015464 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015481 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015466 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015467 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015468 Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015479 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015469 Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015470 Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015478 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015471 Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015477 Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015475 Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol

Radical friends

Loos had his supporters, however, and preferred the company of the more radical Viennese set. He was friends with composer Arnold Schoenberg, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and writers and critics Peter Altenberg and Karl Krauss, and championed young Expressionist artists, especially Oskar Kokoschka.

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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol

Influential buildings

While Loos was critical of decorative architecture and design, he embraced the decorative value of luxurious materials – marble, quartz, brass and finely fashioned woods such as mahogany – in his designs for both domestic and commercial building, though always with utmost simplicity. The tiny Kärtner Bar (1908), for example, is a triumph of illusionistic space using mirrors and sumptuous materials.

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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol

His influential buildings in Vienna are the Café Museum from 1899, the Kärtner Bar (now the American Bar), the Steiner House and the Goldman & Salatsch Building (known as the Looshaus), both from 1910, and the Knize Gentleman's Outfitters from 1913. He also worked extensively in what is now the Czech Republic and in France.

© 2011 National Gallery of Victoria

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