The Austrian architect Adolf Loos (1870-1930) had a very practical attitude toward architecture and a great aversion to the application of falsity through the use of appropriated ornamentation in the buildings of his nativeVienna. One of the major characteristics of his work was a basis in the square and the cube which possibly reflects an influence of the early twentieth century Cubist movement. By exploring the following four examples of Loos’ buildings this case study will attempt to establish the characteristics of his works.
The first example of Loos’ work is theCaféMuseum(1899). Designed at the peak of the Art Nouveau period, it is an austere embodiment of Loos’ theoretical, and quite preposterous, musings on the renunciation of stylish ornamentation in architecture. The building affirms his aesthetic equation of beauty and utility. The walls are painted a cool green, whilst the Loos-designed chairs are of a dark red timber. These contrasting colours are synonymous with many of Loos’ interiors. They are balanced in theCaféMuseumby a vaulted ceiling that is painted plainly in white whilst a pattern is created by brass strips that, in line with their utilitarian function, also served as electrical conduit to chain-suspended lighting.
One of Loos’ best known buildings and, at the time the most controversial, is the House of Michaelplatz (1911) inVienna. One of the city’s first modern office buildings, it was both a retrospective and inventive reflection of the city’s historic past and also modernistic future. Its steel concrete construction provided the flexible use of space with the design being characterized by the bare and undecorated façades of the upper floors. The building, with its green Greek marble entrance, occupies a commanding position oppositeVienna’sImperialPalace. Inside, the business floors are made opulent through the use of rich red wood panelling however they are minimalist in form.
Built for Joseph and Marie Rufer, Rufer House (1922) is considered to be the first built house to include Loos’ concept of Raumplan, which is a floorplan made of split levels to extend variety and order into the space. Rufer House is organised within a tight 10 metre x 10 metre space, in the shape of a cube with the external walls forming the structural shell. Inside, a column articulates the spaces under the Raumplan and also conceals the plumbing.
The principles of Loos’ architecture are even more illustrated in Villa Muller (1930). Again the exterior is austere, a white cube structure interrupted by yellow-framed windows. The interior, however, is in stark contrast to the simplicity of the façade. Once again Loos has used luxurious materials to decorate the interior. Slabs of green Greek marble encase some of the walls; parts of the house are panelled with mahogany and laquered wood, Delfttiles, silk prints, floral wallpaper and travertine. Each floor is a classic example of Loos’ Raumplan with split-levels, short staircases and multiple landings. The use of quadrilateral negative spaces along with grid and square motifs echo Loos’ earlier works. These, together with a definitive use of contrasting colours, especially terracotta and green contribute to the house’s aesthetic appeal.
Therefore it can be asserted that the major characteristics of Loos’ work are the use of rich materials chosen for their appropriateness, exceptional craftsmanship, frequent use of marble in the structure of a building, contrasting colours, wooden parquet flooring, chain suspended lighting, stepped floor levels, geometrical design based upon the grid and the cube with cylindrical and rectangular columns, and expressively austere facades with sumptuous interiors.
Niemra, A. 1998-2203, Rules to Build By: The Path Taken to Understanding Adolf Loos, Anneke.Net
Safran, Yahuda, 1985, The Architecture of Adolf Loos, Arts Council of Great Britain
Van Duzer, L., 1994, Villa Muller: a work of Adolf Loos, Princeton Architectural Press