Adolf Loos

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…


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.

Architectural plug-ins or makeshift aditions

In western world cities buildings are usually designed according to bylaws that set, among others, aesthetical guidelines. We are (at least out of the historical precints) far from permit denials due to a bad integration in the area or outright uglyness (Adolf Loos would no more be “declared artist” by an administrative act…), but it is common to se that ocupying balconies, installing air conditioning fixtures on façades and other acts are forbiden.
But all norms are as strong as the enforcement measures that are associated, and it is clear that often there is no such enforcement. This produces a somehow caothic image of the cities in which we live. And we could use a little more pedagogy on why bylaws establish such rules, so that, incidentally, we could also get to think again on what is asked for…