Architecture Planning and Preservation Adolf Loos
by
Christopher Long
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0038

Introduction

Adolf Loos (b. 1870–d. 1933) was one of the key figures in the early history of modern architecture and design. He was a seminal thinker and practitioner who, through his executed projects and writings, shaped the forms of, and the discussions about, modernism in his time and long afterward. Loos practiced principally in Vienna, where he lived for much of his life, and in Paris, where he resided from 1924 to 1928. But most of his completed works—buildings and interiors—were executed in Czechoslovakia, especially in Prague, Pilsen, and his native Brno. Loos is now known for the extraordinary buildings, most of them single-family houses, he designed in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. These houses explored new possibilities of spatial manipulation in the form of what his assistant Heinrich Kulka first described as the Raumplan: the idea of employing interlocking spaces of differing heights and on different levels. Loos insisted that his Raumplan concept was fundamentally about ways to foster spatial economy, redeeming space from less important rooms and transferring it to more important public areas, This, however, was not always the case. At times, indeed, Loos’s purported spatial calculus provided no spatial dividend at all. Loos’s Haus am Michaelerplatz (Looshaus), for the tailor firm Goldman and Salatsch (1909–1911), the house for Dadaist Tristan Tzara in Paris (1924–1925), the Villa Moller in Vienna (1926–1928), and the Villa Müller in Prague (1928–1930) are the most important realized examples of his Raumplan idea. Loos is perhaps even more significant for his theoretical writings, many of them controversial in his day and that still elicit impassioned responses. He is most celebrated (or reviled) for his 1910 essay “Ornament and Crime.” The piece is frequently read as a full assault on ornament and a call for its wholesale rejection. Yet Loos’s plea was more nuanced, and the piece is a sophisticated argument about modern culture and its meanings. What set Loos apart from most of his fellow modernists was his unwillingness to engage in a complete rejection of past forms and traditions. Loos viewed architecture—and the broader cultural developments from which it issued—as an evolutionary process. Objects and ideas from history, he believed, retained their validity as long as they still had meaning and use in the present.

General Overviews

The most important study of Loos and his oeuvre is Rukschcio and Schachel 1982, which also contains the best and most complete catalogue of his works and projects. Although it has been superseded in some small details, it remains the definitive work on Loos. Bock 2007; Bösel and Zanchettin 2007; Gravagnuolo 1988; Safran and Wang 1985; Schezen, et al. 1996; and Tournikiotis 1994 all offer good synthetic overviews of Loos’s career, designs, and import. Kulka 1979 and Münz and Künstler 1966 are essentially primary source documents by figures that knew and had collaborated with Loos. They remain important for their firsthand insights into Loos’s thoughts and his world.

  • Bock, Ralf. Adolf Loos: Works and Projects. Milan: Skira, 2007.

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    Well-illustrated and useful overview of Loos and his most important works.

  • Bösel, Richard, and Vitale Zanchettin, eds. Adolf Loos, 1870–1933: Architettura utilitá e decoro. Milan: Electa, 2007.

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    Good, comprehensive account of Loos’s work and ideas, with an excellent but abbreviated catalogue raisonné.

  • Gravagnuolo, Benedetto. Adolf Loos. New York: Rizzoli, 1988.

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    Readable and insightful account of Loos’s architecture and its meanings.

  • Kulka, Heinrich. Adolf Loos. Vienna: Löcker, 1979.

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    The most important primary source document about Loos’s ideas and works, written by one of his assistants. One of the seminal sources for Loos’s ideas about space and the Raumplan. Originally published in 1931.

  • Münz, Ludwig and Gustav Künstler. Adolf Loos: Pioneer of Modern Architecture. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966.

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    Signal work written by two leading authorities on Loos and Viennese modernism. Led to the revival of Loos in the 1960s.

  • Rukschcio, Burkhardt, and Roland L. Schachel. Adolf Loos: Leben und Werk. Salzburg: Residenz, 1982.

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    Still the definitive work on Loos, his life, and his work, written by two of the leading Loos experts. Recent Loos scholarship has added new details and questioned some of Rukschcio and Schachel’s conclusions, but this remains the standard source for any Loos study.

  • Safran, Yehuda, and Wilfried Wang. The Architecture of Adolf Loos. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1985.

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    Incisive examination of Loos’s work and its meanings in the context of the wider modern movement.

  • Schezen, Roberto, Kenneth Frampton, and Joseph Rosa. Adolf Loos: Architecture 1903–1932. New York: Monacelli, 1996.

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    Attractive and well-illustrated work, with thoughtful texts, although not as rich in scholarly detail as some of the other works cited here.

  • Tournikiotis, Panayotis. Translated by Maguerite McGoldrick. Adolf Loos. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994.

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    Probing but readable overview. Excellent for its brief but thorough account.

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