Adolf Loos: Ornament and Crime

Adolf Loos (1870-1933) was an architect who became well known with his architectural theory, ideas and writings beside his buildings.

Ornament and Crime written in 1908 by Adolf Loos, this essay describe an argument in terms of social, economic and rational use of society resources. We can recognize him with the statement “Ornamentation is crime.” which is very intense.

Adolf Loss is not stating, Ornament is not loos-56465476-cropgood or not premodern by using that provocative “Ornamentation is crime.” title.

“Ornament is a crime because in a modern world of function, ornament and decoration is something useless, time wasting and is belonged to past.”

The wasted labour, power, energy, health, money and ruined materials are used in order to create an ornament but they all could have used for more useful purposes, Loos thinks.

“He considers the use of ornament as a crime against national economy, which results in human labor, money and material and time.”

“He mentioned a big difference in working hours for ornament producers, and believed that ornament is waste of man power and material.”

He is against ornamentation as an extra labour, extra effort but he does not have any issue with the materials which has organic qualities, ornamentations on themselves.

Even, when we analyze his buildings, we can realize that he gives the pattern, the ornament with the quality of materials.

“Man of the 20th century becomes richer as he get money to save, but the man of 18th century becomes poorer as he pay for ornament.”

Loos specify that we could and can achieve much more we had by giving up on ornamentation.

Loos shares an interesting example, which is hard to relate with the subject of ornamentation first time, The Papuan and their tattoos. Why is he trying to use that Papuan example? There must be something which support his case with those Papuans.

“The papuan kills his enemies and eats them. He is not a criminal.”

“But, when modern man kills someone and eats him he is either a criminal or a degenerate.”

Killing people is not acceptable in modern culture but at primitive culture it was.

“The papuan tattoos his skin, his boat, hhis paddles, in short everything he can lay hands on. He is not a criminal.”

“The modern man who tattoos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate.”

It is not about tattoos, it is about ornamentation. It is about development of cultures. The ornament is delaying our cultural evolution, Loos thinks.

 “No ornament can any longer be made today by anyone who lives on our cultural level.”

Adolf Loos says, despite people’s labour on ornaments, those all decorations, ornaments can be thrown away. Because, the culture is not the same anymore.

Ornamentation is about styles and those styles come and go so, you do something with ornamentation and it sometimes becomes outdated. But the material’s esthetic qualities are timeless. As so on Loos’ buildings.



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