The Purpose of Ornament: A Response to “Ornament and Crime” by Adolf Loos

Hello World!

This post is based off of a reading response in old class I was in Survey II: Architectural History 1750-Present. This has been my favorite to write, and I wanted to polish it and present it to the public.  The article is “Ornament and Crime”  by Adolf Loos. As I am currently in a class about Adolf Loos and Mies Van der Rohe, and due to some recent commetary, this post needs to be updated.

The Looshaus, Alfred Loos's greatest work, has very little amounts of ornament.
The Looshaus, one of Alfred Loos’s pieces of architecture.

The article “Ornament and Crime” rejects the idea of ornament for architecture for modern times. Adolf Loos, the author and an architect, argues that he prefers the smooth and simple things over the wasteful, ornamented designs for cigarette books and shoes. Therefore, he prefers less ornament in architecture, and that is the future of architecture. There is no way to remove ornament completely, as other elements will decorate a building without directly referencing a past culture. Ornament should be used in a good amounts to portray the necessary symbolism of a building.

Frank Lloyd Wright ornament the Robie House with natural geometry.
Frank Lloyd Wright ornaments the Robie House with natural geometry.

The character of a building comes from the ornament. Certain styles of architecture have certain meanings behind them correlating to time periods. Certain types of ornament come from these styles. The modern use of these ancient forms is like in allusion in a novel to another piece of literature. In a book, referencing the Bible can portray meaning as stories of virtue, and good vs. evil. In the same way, decorating a government building with Roman temple format can evoke power and greatness that the Romans are associated with. The removal of such ornament would remove such symbolism. It is possible to create new types of ornamentation,  such as the ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright and his geometry. However, there is no way to remove ornament from already-built architecture without losing its character. Then, the building’s  meaning must either be dependent on structure and form, or it can appear bland to the eyes.

The Casa Mila has curves to look like the cliffs of Barcelona.
The Casa Mila has curves to look like the cliffs of Barcelona.

Can a building exist without ornamentation? It is impossible to create a building without some elements forming the meaning behind the design, and decorating the building. Material can be one way to decorate a building without the “ornament” of old. The colors and textures behind limestone, brick, steel and other materials add to the character of the building by themselves. Glass evokes crystals, openness, and exuberance. Textured stone represents a weathered and old appearance. The color of these materials can adorn a building with symbolism. For example, white symbolizes  purity and, gray steel is seen as sleek and futuristic. The other way a building can be decorated is by structure and form. The building can be rounded with curves such as Antonio Gaudi’s Casa Mila. The ideals of openness and freedom of expression can be associated with these curves. Another ideal can be a glass and steel grid and be based in openness, such as Mies van der Rohe’s designs. Grids enforce order in style, but glass allows such ideals to break this order. Structure can ornament a building, such as steel supports, or vertical columns. This returns to the original purpose of Greek and Roman columns, but removing the context. The use of vestigial structure can be ornament. Now the focus is on the engineering and emotion behind the building, rather than the décor and symbolism. Mies Van der Rohe’s Glass Skyscraper prototypes have no ornament, but let grids form style.

Mies Van der Rohe's Glass Skyscraper prototypes have no ornament, bit let grids form style.
Mies Van der Rohe’s Glass Skyscraper prototypes have no ornament, but let grids form style.

These ideals do not just apply to the beginning of the 20th century, but today. New ideas in engineering must be created in order to create new building forms and ways to support them. Ornament that existed before the 20th century is not often used in newer buildings. As technology increases, new ideas are being created to which form and structure is becoming more unique, and these ideas ornament a space. So is ornament dead? No, but rather new ideas are creating new ways to decorate a building. Today, older buildings that exist remain relevant because of their symbolism. We still look for meaning in new buildings, but ornament is no longer the main way to present meaning.

Should Churches be Beautiful?

Hello World!

A common misconception about the Catholic church is that our churches are highly decorative and extravagant that seems to have no context in our faith. Some churches are lavish, and could be considered a waste when helping the poor could be a better payoff. Worship could happen at less cost in common places, but the extravagance is meant to set a tone. It is to describe the wonder and awe we have for God, to set a holy atmosphere and educate as a church. I will use examples in Texas, but elements can be found in different churches.

Now, churches do not have to be beautiful. I have gone to church at a school building, Mayde Creek Junior High, below, in Houston Texas. mayde_creek_3It was one of the worst architecturally appealing buildings in my opinion. The building has been recently renovated, so it looks better than before, but this example had the necessary areas for our church until we moved into our current church building, which has a modern style. My church here in Austin is not highly decorated or extremely beautiful. University Catholic Center, left, has the necessary areas for gathering, meetings, and offices.o Otherwise, the main chapel is not made of stained glass, or is extremely attractive. It has smaller details, such as skylights that make the building attractive.  In this ideal, the purpose is to serve as a church with a focus on community and use, rather than beauty. The tone is community oriented rather than just holiness.

Maybe you think churches should be highly ornamented, old-fashioned and decorative. The common style with this ideal is the Gothic. One church that is Gothic Revival is St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Austin, left.  DSCN1295The pointed arches, vaults, and stained glass bring back old ideas. This church can be considered a scaled-down Chartres Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral in Paris on the left. The ideal of Gothic is to portray the glory of God through intricate detail, ribbed vaults, and pointed arches. Other beautiful styles include neo-classical, and Rosco. These styles are met to be luxurious. This makes you want to see what Heaven looks like, how the glory of God shines, and the light and airness of the intangible. It sets the tone for the church to be holy place.

There are many ways you can exemplify both beauty and use. The more modern and newer churches tend to focus on use and community, while the older churches tend to have more beauty and holiness  I prefer as an architect the beautiful because it get the tone of the church being holy ground. I ironically tend to go to less attractive churches based on community on a regular basics because of the people there. What is your opinion of the beauty of the churches? I think they are beneficial to the tone, but not necessary to the use.

Architecture and Creativity

Hello World,

I am greatly sorry for the late post, I went home, and I didn’t plan for this post in advance that much. Here you go.

I love to create things. I like to exercise my creative spirit in many different ways: music, writing, poetry, Youtube videos, and art.  I fell in love with the world of architecture, as I thought it would be a successful way to express my creativity for the future.  Lately, I have been looking at many of my creative exports, and trying to understand why I create, who I am. I have noticed a lot of things, such as music and writing stories, is unfinished, low quality, and feels unsatisfying. I will explain my love of architecture, and why I first felt compelled to do it, but also understand my faults for such a career.

Centre Pompidou, Paris France
Centre Pompidou, Paris France
St. Mary’s Chapel in Downtown Austin

I love architecture. It is the most versatile art form. It is a critical part of how we live, where we live, and what we do. One of the main reasons I like architecture is due to an architecture class at University of Texas, Architecture and Society, taught by Mr. Larry Speck. When I first started architecture, I thought, I can learn how to build houses, help all my friends with their dream houses, and be productive. I was wrong. It was much more than just buildings, but buildings that suit the area it was built, the people that inhabit and utilize the buildings, and the beauty behind such a building. I studied many buildings, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. This colorful building was meant to be open, exposed, and show the complex character in contrast on the older surrounding buildings. Another building I actually saw and wrote about was St. Mary’s Chapel in downtown Austin. I actually decided to go to mass, and it was quite beautiful. The mass felt natural and glorious there compared to some other plainer-looking churches, in which do not have the same atmosphere.

 That class gave me first insight into how architecture affected people, and gave me a better reason to pursue architecture than just a creative way to express myself, for the people. I had other studio classes, where I was learning how to do my job as an architect, how to design, how to make buildings beautiful and useful in the real world. The problem with these studio classes was that I was not very good. It was obvious at first, but became more obvious as the year went on.

This is my Design I final model, fall semester.  The idea is for a public concert space in a building for relaxing acoustic guitar.
This is my Design I final model, fall semester. The idea is for a public concert space in a building for relaxing acoustic guitar.

I had many faults in my studio classes.  I wasn’t crafty. I could make a model, but it was not good quality. There were minor misjudgements that added up and never went away. My ideas were not very good. I could not think outside the box very much, and was not initially open to the idea of “no wrong answers, just better or worse.” Finally I could not communicate my ideas in presentation. I did put in a lot of time and effort, but it just was not making sense. I played around with different ideas without ultimately realizing what they do to the design, and communicating those ideas and their purpose was hard for me.  These faults ultimately lead for me to drop out of my second studio class, leaving me behind a year. They also made me question whether to change my major to Architecture Engineering or stay in Architecture.

I tried to understand what was so difficult about my creativity. I looked at my videos, music and other creative exports over the years, and I realize many of them are unfinished. Some of them, I even know I could never finish now because my ideas and mindset are different. I also noticed that a lot  of it was aided by computers, as that somehow made the process easier, but didn’t allow for the greatest potential final product or learning experience. In some cases, computers can be eliminated as in architecture, others not so much, as in videos. Either way, the way I expressed my creativity was made easier through overuse shortcuts to heighten the quality, but decrease the effort and experience. Otherwise, I was pretty mediocre in all  creative efforts, but I  loved and had potential in all of them.

As I go in in my major, I am now wanting to transfer see if engineering would fit my nature, as it has more rules, formulas, and right answers, compared to creativity in  architecture. Creativity in engineering comes from what you have and know, and is more systematic than architecture. Sure, it may be a bit harder and more boring, but if it fits my way of thinking better,  so be it.