Ornament and Crime

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Ornament and Crime was first spoken in a lecture on 21 January 1910 in Vienna and first published in Cahiers d'aujourd'hui 5/1913[1] by the influential and self-consciously "modern" Austrian architect Adolf Loos under the German title Ornament und Verbrechen. It was under this challenging title that in 1913 the essay was translated into French and did not appear in German until 1929:[2] "The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects", Loos proclaimed, linking the optimistic sense of the linear and upward progress of cultures with the contemporary vogue for applying evolution to cultural contexts.[citation needed]

In Loos's essay, "passion for smooth and precious surfaces"[3] he explains his philosophy, describing how ornamentation can have the effect of causing objects to go out of style and thus become obsolete. It struck him that it was a crime to waste the effort needed to add ornamentation, when the ornamentation would cause the object to soon go out of style. Loos introduced a sense of the "immorality" of ornament, describing it as "degenerate", its suppression as necessary for regulating modern society. He took as one of his examples the tattooing of the "Papuan" and the intense surface decorations of the objects about him—Loos says that, in the eyes of western culture, the Papuan has not evolved to the moral and civilized circumstances of modern man, who, should he tattoo himself, would either be considered a criminal or a degenerate.[4][non-primary source needed]

The essay was written when Art Nouveau, which Loos had excoriated even at its height in 1900, was about to show a new way of modern art. The essay is important in articulating some moralizing views, inherited from the Arts and Crafts movement, which would be fundamental to the Bauhaus design studio and would help define the ideology of Modernism in architecture.


  1. ^ Janet Stewart, Fashioning Vienna: Adolf Loos's Cultural Criticism, London: Routledge, 2000
  2. ^ Janet Stewart, Fashioning Vienna: Adolf Loos's Cultural Criticism, London: Routledge, 2000, p. 173
  3. ^ Studio International, 1973, Volume 186, Number 957, "Adolf Loos: the new vision"
  4. ^ Loos, A. (1908). Ornament and Crime. Innsbruck, reprint Vienna, 1930. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Banham, Reyner, 1960. Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, Characteristic attitudes and themes of European artists and architects, 1900–1930.
  • Giedion, Siegfried. Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition.
  • Rykwert, Joseph. "Adolf Loos: the new vision" in Studio International, 1973.

See also[edit]