Adolf Loos (1870-1933)

With his book “Ornament and Crime” he paved the way to modernity

Adolf Loos face

The teaching staff at the Stiftsgymnasium Melk refused the re-enrollment of the young Adolf Loos after his first year at the school. The reason: “worst possible” grades in drawing and conduct. It was probably precisely this rebellious, cheeky behaviour, and his similarly revolutionary aesthetic approach, that made him into a world-renowned journalist and architect.

“One should only do something new if one can do something better.” Adolf Loos (1870-1933), Austrian architect and journalist, on one of his principles.

Loos took pleasure in provocation his whole life – and he did it in style

Adolf Loos didn’t have gambling or drinking debts, he had debts with his tailor. “Why a man should be well-dressed: revealing facts about clothing” is the title of one of his essays. However he didn’t only have exact ideas about the appearance of the living, but also that of the dead: he devised the simple design of his own gravestone himself, and it can still be admired at the Zentralfriedhof today. More centrally located and perhaps more exciting (or relaxing) is a visit to another Loos “memorial”: the tiny “American Bar” is a popular destination for visitors from all over the world – and for residents of Vienna.

 Looshaus in Vienna

American bar

 Bar designed by Adolf Loos

The well-known pamphlet “Ornament und Verbrechen” (“Ornament and Crime”) is evidence of Loos’ status as a pioneer of modernism. Just how uncompromising he was in his loathing of “time-wasting” ornamentation is shown, on the one hand, by his rejection of Jugendstil (Art Nouveau), the Wiener Secession and the Wiener Werkstätte, but also by his own “Looshaus” on Michaelerplatz. Devoid of decoration, and of windowsills, it caused a scandal, and became known as “the house with no eyebrows”. Emperor Franz Joseph found the sight of the building unbearable, and angrily had the windows of the Hofburg which looked onto Michaelerplatz boarded up. He probably would have agreed with the assessment of the teachers at the Stiftsgymnasium Melk.

Text: Agnes Hamberger, Fotos: Christine Wurnig, Bild Bar innen: American Bar/Roberto