Loos at Michaelerplatz

Here is a story that most architects have read during their training years, and surely a substantial herd of tourists visiting Vienna (the kind of story tourism guides usually like to tell). Once upon a time, in the late imperial Vienna, there was an innovative and daring architect, Adolf Loos, set to modernize architecture by going beyond a formalism that he thought was archaic. He found a client (Goldman & Salatsch taylors) which also wanted to display a commitment to modernity and owned a site on Michelerplatz, jus opposite from Hofburg, the Imperial Palace. The architect had to face social opposition and the municipal architects (the later probably as formidable as the first), who by all means tried to reorient the project towards more traditional aesthetics. According to the urban legend, the Kaiser was upset enough to have the windows to the square closed as not to endure seeing such  a hideous building…

michelerplatz

Usually students see this building in history books in which Loos is presented as a hero and his book “Ornament and Crime” is mentioned, but it is much less often that you can see the square defining the context of that quarrel. If anything should be defined as baroque, the Hofburg would be. But the Loos building also plays with materials and composition, in a way that perhaps was not decorative in a classical sense, but is surely quite subjective. There is not here a lack of decorative elements, i.e., of a personal view on the problem of how to finish a space, but rather a whole new ballgame in terms of precision and tools stemming from a higher industrial evolution.

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After some time as a taylor business, the ground floor became a car dealership, to later receive a swastika, and after the war a furniture business. Since 1987 there is a branch of Raiffeisenbank, in which you can see an exhibition of plans and images from the time, as well as some reminders of the controversy.

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