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Ornament and crime (1908) - Adolf Loos

Related: Adolf Loos - ornament - 1908 - Vienna - modernism - architecture - modern architecture - crime - design

"the contemporary man who scribbles on walls as a way of obeying an interior need is either a criminal or a degenerate."

“for people affected by such a degeneration, this need most violently occurs in lavatories"

“one can measure the cultural degree of a country by the amount of scribble in its lavatories."

"The man of our day who, in response to an inner urge, smears the wall with erotic symbols is a criminal or a degenerate. A country's culture can be assessed by the extent to which its lavatory walls are smeared. The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects....We have outgrown ornament; we fought our way through to freedom from ornament. Soon the streets of the city will glisten like white walls. The modern man who holds ornament sacred as a sign of the artistic super-abundance of past ages will immediately recognize the tortured, strained, and morbid quality of modern ornaments." via http://www.simeon-nelson.com/MappaMundi/MappaMundi.html [Oct 2005]


Ornament and Crime is an essay written by the influential and self-consciously "modern" Austrian architect Adolf Loos in 1908, that was translated into English in 1913, under its challenging title. "The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects" Loos proclaimed, linking the optimistic sense of the linear and upward progress of cultures with the contemporary vogue for applying evolution to cultural contexts. In the essay Loos' "passion for smooth and precious surfaces" informs his expressed philosophy that ornamentation can have the effect of causing objects to go out of style and thus become obsolete. It struck him that it was a crime to waste the effort needed to add ornamentation when the ornamentation would cause the object to soon go out of style. Loos introduced a sense of the "immorality" of ornament, describing it as "degenerate", its suppression as necessary for regulating modern society. He took as one of his examples the tatooing of the "Papuan" and the intense surface decorations of the objects about him; Loos considers the Papuan not to have evolved to the moral and civilized circumstances of modern man, who, should he tatoo himself, would either be considered a criminal or a degenerate.

The essay was written just at the moment when the Art Nouveau Loos had execrated even at its height in 1900, was securely passé; it important in articulating some moralizing views,, inherited from the Arts and Crafts movement, which would be fundamental to the Bauhaus design studio, and helped define the ideology of Modernism in architecture. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ornament_and_Crime [Oct 2005]

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