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Scandal In Vienna

Adolf Loos and the Shocking Goldman and Salatsch Building

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The Adolf Loos House in Vienna, the Goldman and Salatsch Building by Adolf Loos

The Adolf Loos House in Vienna, the Goldman and Salatsch Building by Adolf Loos

Photo by Flickr member Istvan, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
Franz Josef, emperor of Austria, was outraged. Directly across Michaelerplatz from the Imperial Palace, an upstart architect, Adolf Loos, was building a modern monstrosity. The year: 1909.

More than seven centuries went into the creation of the Imperial Palace, also known as the Hofburg. The vast palace complex includes six museums, a national library, government buildings, and the imperial apartments. The entrance, the Michaelertor, is guarded by grandiose statues of Hercules and other heroic figures. And then, steps away from the Michaelertor, is the Goldman and Salatsch building designed by Adolf Loos.

Adolf Loos was a functionalist who believed in simplicity. He had traveled to America and admired the work of Louis Sullivan. He felt that lack of ornamentation was a sign of spiritual strength, and his writings include a study about the relation between ornament and crime.

"... the evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects."

Adolf Loos, from Ornament & Crime (compare prices)

The Loos House was simple all right. "Like a woman with no eyebrows," people said, because the windows lacked decorative details. For awhile, window boxes were installed. But this did not solve the deeper problem.
"The dishes of past centuries, which display all kinds of ornaments to make peacocks, pheasants and lobsters look more tasty, have exactly the opposite effect on me... I am horrified when I go through a cookery exhibition and think that I am meant to eat these stuffed carcasses. I eat roast beef."

Adolf Loos, from Ornament & Crime (compare prices)

The deeper problem was that this building was secretive. Baroque architecture such as Michaelertor is garrulous and revealing. Rooftop statues strike poses to announce what lies inside. But the gray marble pillars and plain windows on the Loos House said nothing. In 1912, when the building was completed, it was tailor shop. But there were no symbols or sculptures to suggest clothing or commerce. Why, the building could just as easily be a bank. Indeed, it did become a bank in later years.

Perhaps there was something foreboding in this -- as though the building suggested that Vienna was moving into a troubled, transient world where occupants would stay for only a few years, and then move on.

The statue of Hercules at the palace gates appeared to scowl across the cobbled road at the offending building. Some say that even the little dogs, pulling their masters along Michaelerplatz, lifted their noses in disgust.

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