On Loos, Ornament and Crime
On Loos, Ornament and Crime is the most controversial of the essays in the series entitled Columns of Smoke, in which Professor Juan José Lahuerta undertakes an acute and thoroughly documented rereading of modernity, linking the ideas of ??architecture and ornamentation and exploring the ways these have been treated in print.
In the previous volume of this series Lahuerta exploded clichés with his penetrating analysis of Loos’s relationship with photography, and here he examines in fine detail the architect’s written work, and in particular the texts that engage with architectural and artistic theory and continue the classical tradition of Schinkel, Semper and Riegl an allegiance readily apparent in Loos’s architecture. Lahuerta also discusses other articles in which Loos confronted his fellow architects over issues far removed from their shared profession, and shows us with tellingly insightful examples how ‘Ornament and Crime’, the founding essay of modernity that established disornamentation as the signal feature of twentieth-century architecture and culture, belongs to this second category. The ornament that Loos criminalizes, in language charged with the vocabulary of criminal anthropology and bioevolutionism of Max Nordau and Cesare Lombroso, has less to do with the decoration of buildings than with the tattoos, beads and feathers of ‘primitives’ and degenerates women, Papuans, artists and criminals. Lahuerta traces Loos’s adoption of pseudo-scientific beliefs that shaped the culture of the early twentieth century, and in so doing dismantles the historical value accorded to his famous text, which in this reading takes on a deeply disturbing significance.
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