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Adolf Loos: a constructed, reflected narrative

Max Rafael Moya Martinez
Research Grantee Academy of Fine Arts Vienna | Dissertation Completion Fellowship 2020|21


This dissertation is about the distribution of images of Adolf Loos’s architecture in the European media between 1899 and 1927. Its aim is to reconstruct how Loos’s designs were perceived outside Austria in the said period. As such, it may be seen as a contribution to architectural communication and reception. The thesis’s conceptual capital is its openness to see a disjunction between the distributions of images of Loos’s architecture on the one hand, and the distribution of his written theory, on the other, and proposes that one cannot be inferred from the other. Thus the dissertation may help to understand the real impact of Loos on his contemporaries and the younger generation of architects, during the crucial years of the formation of modernist design.

A complete study of Loos’s visual representation in the media in the proposed period has not been undertaken. Historians who have investigated his visual representation have done it only partially. The most up-to-date study in the reception of Loosian images in Germany has been carried out by Long, but is unfortunately limited to the representation of Adolf Loos’s Michaelerplatz building, and within a shorter time frame. Studies of the reception of the Loosian image in France are lacking. Walter Moser has carried out the most recent study of the photographic representation of Loos’s work, but it is limited to the post 1931 period, and to one photographer only. Beatriz Colomina’s semiotic readings of the Loosian images are also heavily reliant on post 1931 publications. This dissertation proposes that visual information received after 1927 is virtually irrelevant for the development of modernist language.

Research has been carried out continuously from April 2018 to October 2020, and results have been compiled into a comprehensive Catalogue Raisonée of 119 images (see attached: Catalogue Raisonée, 120 pages). The creation of a database has allowed for data to be sorted according to different criterions: date of publication, place of publication, genre of publication, image type, interior/exterior, and by the project illustrated. The interpretations of this data is presented first statistically (see attached: Results Summary), and later in more sophisticated manner as four essays and a conclusion that seek to place the results vis-à-vis the wider issues of architectural representation.

The investigation has identified steep variances in the publication of images across time, with a veritable international boom after 1923. The period of Loos’s most radically modern architecture (1910-1914) is ironically the most poorly illustrated outside Austria. The thesis has also identified unevenness in the genre of the periodicals through time, and a correlation between the specialization of the periodical and the quality of images. Particularly startling is the fact that more images were published in specialized-journals before 1903 than in the whole 1910-1914 period. Projects illustrated more frequently up to 1927 are not the ones that are associated with Loos now –namely his Viennese works –, but his unbuilt designs for Venice and France. It has also been noticed that the manner in which some projects were photographed did not highlight their modernity, unlike the photographs published after 1931. Several images printed without any accompanying theory have also been identified, leaving the images with little power to speak of the modernity of its architect. The results suggest that the visual representation of Loos was relatively un-modern and reactionary until 1923, and does not accompany the radicalism that he was known for in his writing.