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Ornament and Crime

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Adolf Loos

"Ornament and Crime" is an essay and lecture by modernist architect Adolf Loos that criticizes ornament in useful objects.


Contrary to popular belief that it was composed in 1908, Adolf Loos first gave the lecture in 1910 at the Akademischer Verband für Literatur und Musik in Vienna. The essay was then published in 1913 in Les Cahiers d’aujourd’hui in French as Ornement et Crime. Only in 1929 was the essay published in German in the Frankfurter Zeitung, as Ornament und Verbrechen. It was the architect Henry Kulka, who assisted Loos during a reprint of the essay in 1931 in Trotzdem, that altered the original year to 1908 after he consulted Loos, who either didn't remember well or wanted to assume primacy in the confrontation against the Secessionists.[1]


The essay was written when Art Nouveau—known as Secession in Austria and which Loos had excoriated even at its height in 1900—was showing a new way forward for modern art. The essay was 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.

"The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects," Loos proclaimed, thus linking the optimistic sense of the linear and upward progress of cultures with the contemporary vogue for applying evolution to cultural contexts.[2] Loos's work was prompted by regulations he encountered when he designed a building without ornamentation opposite a palace. He eventually conceded to requirements by adding window flower boxes.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Christopher Long, “Ornament, Crime, Myth, and Meaning”, 85th ACSA Annual Meeting Proceedings, Architecture: Material and Imagined, 1997.
  2. ^ Canales, Jimena; Herscher, Andrew (2005). "Criminal Skins: Tattoos and Modern Architecture in the Work of Adolf Loos" (PDF). Architectural History. 48: 235–256. doi:10.1017/S0066622X00003798. JSTOR 40033840.
  3. ^ Wise, Michael (4 December 2013). "Reassessing an Uproar in Architecture". New York Times. New York. Retrieved 27 July 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Reyner Banham, 1960. Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, Characteristic attitudes and themes of European artists and architects, 1900–1930.
  • Siegfried Giedion. Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition.
  • Adolf Loos, "Ornament und Verbrechen" Adolf Loos: Sämtliche Schriften in zwei Bänden – Erster Band, Vienna, 1962.
  • Joseph Rykwert. "Adolf Loos: the new vision in Studio International, 1973.
  • Janet Stewart, Fashioning Vienna: Adolf Loos's Cultural Criticism, London: Routledge, 2000