Someone is buried here: Adolf Loos on architecture and death

Architecture

Adolf Loos
Neue Freie Presse
Vienna, 1910

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May I take you to the shores of a mountain lake? The sky is blue, the water green and everywhere is profound tranquillity. The clouds and mountains are mirrored in the lake, the houses, farms, and chapels as well. They do not look as if they were fashioned by man, it is as if they came straight from God’s workshop, like the mountains and trees, the clouds and the blue sky. And everything exudes an air of beauty and peace…

But what is this? A discordant note in the tranquillity. Like an unnecessary screech. Among the locals’ houses, that were not built by them, but by God, stands a villa. The creation of an architect. Whether a good or bad architect, I don’t know. All I know is that the tranquillity, peace and beauty have vanished.

Before God there are no good or bad architects, in His presence all architects are equal. In the cities, in the presence of Belial, there are subtle nuances, as is the nature of vice. And therefore I ask, why is it that any architect, good or bad, desecrates the lake.

The farmer doesn’t. Nor does the engineer who builds a railway along the shore or scores deep furrows in its clear surface with his ship. They go about things in a different way. The farmer marks out the site for his new house in the green meadow and digs out the trenches for the foundations. Then the mason appears. If there is clay in the area there will be a brickworks delivering bricks. If not, then he can use the stone from the shores of the lake. And while the mason is laying brick upon brick, stone upon stone, the carpenter arrives and sets up his tools. His ax rings out merrily. He is making the roof. What kind of roof? A beautiful or an ugly one? He has no idea. It’s just a roof.

Tzara House, Paris (1925).

tristan-tzara-01 tristan-tzara-0212 tristan-tzara-021 tristan-tzara-04

And then the joiner measures up the doors and windows, and all the other craftsmen come and measure up and go back to their workshops and work. Finally the farmer mixes up a large tub of whitewash and makes the house nice and white. He cleans the brush and puts it away. He’ll need it again next Easter.

His intention was to erect a house for himself and his family, or for his animals, and that is what he has done. Just as his neighbor or his great-great-grandfather did. Just as every animal does when it is guided by instinct. Is the house beautiful? Yes, just as beautiful as a rose or a thistle, as a horse or a cow.

And I repeat my question: why is it that the architect, no matter whether good or bad, desecrates the lake? Like almost all city dwellers, the architect lacks culture. He lacks the sure touch of the farmer, who does possess culture. The city dweller is rootless. Continue reading