Two Essays and a Note on the Michaelerplatz House
Essay by Adolf Loos
I do not know how I can thank the municipal corporation for the publicity with which they supplied me by the order to stop further work on the façade. A long-concealed secret was thus brought into the light of day. I am building a house.
My first house. Any house at all. Because I would really never have allowed myself to dream that I will still be building a house in my old age. After all my experiences I was aware that no one but no one would be crazy enough to order a house from me, and that it would be impossible to get my plans approved by any building inspectorate.
I had after all some experience behind me already. The honour had been conferred on me and others to construct a porter's lodge on the beautiful shores of the Lake of Geneva in Montreux. Many stones were scattered about the shore, and since the old inhabitants of the Lake shore had built all their houses from these stones, I wanted to do just the same. Because first of all it is cheap, which is after all nonetheless reflected in an architect's fees, they are much lower, and secondly there is less work for the builders in bringing materials to the site. I am fundamentally opposed to overwork, not excluding myself personally.
Otherwise I had no evil intentions. My astonishment was therefore indescribable when I was summoned by the building police and asked how I, a foreigner, could make such an attempt to assassinate the beauty of the Lake of Geneva. They said the house was much too simple. Where were the ornaments? My timid rejoinder that the Lake itself when there was no wind was, after all, smooth and completely without ornamentation, and was nonetheless declared by many people to be quite attractive, had no effect. I was given a certificate saying that the construction of such a building was forbidden because of its simplicity and therefore its ugliness. I went home blissfully happy.
Blissfully happy because what other architect in the whole world had it in black on white from the police that he was an artist? Each of us considers himself to be an artist. We are not always believed however. Some are believed by some, some by others. Most by no one. Everybody would have to believe me, even I myself would have to believe in it. Because I was prohibited, prohibited by the police, like Frank Wedekind or Arnold Schönberg. Or better, as Arnold Schönberg would be forbidden if the police knew how to read the thoughts in his musical notation ...
The Kaiserburg. Its proximity alone is already a touchstone for genuine and false. And now I had the task of building a new house close to the Kaiserburg, a modern commercial building. I had to create a transition from the Imperial residence to the most fashionable business street, the Kohlmarkt, passing through the palace of a feudal lord. The site stipulated at the time has been enlarged. This is certainly not to the advantage of the square. An attempt was made to correct this fault by a large colonnade in Cipollino monoliths; the façade thus being set back by three-and-a-half metres on ground and mezzanine floors. The intention was to build a bourgeois house, the architectonic shape ceases with the main mouldings, and the copper roof, which will soon become black, will then be something of which only Mid-Summer Night's revellers will be aware. And the four storeys are to be coated with lime plaster. What is necessary as decoration should be honestly applied manually, which was the opinion of our old Baroque masters, in those happy times before there was any building law because each individual bore the law in his heart.
On the ground floor, however, and on the mezzanine floor, where the businesses have set themselves up, there modern business requires a modern solution. Rightly so. For modern business operation the old masters were not able to leave us any models. Nor for electric lights. If however they were to rise out of their graves they would no doubt find the solution. Not, not in the sense of the so-called modern. Also not in the sense of the interior decorator trying to obtain an old-fashioned effect by sticking porcelain candles with electric light bulbs on old candle-holders. But new, modern and completely different from the way in which the two opposed camps think.
The attempt was made. The attempt was made to bring the house into harmony with the Imperial residence, the square and the city. If this attempt succeeds, then people will be thankful that a rigid law found a truly liberal interpretation with delicate artistic tact ...
Each word that can be read praising our old city, and written to rescue our disappearing city surroundings, certainly finds a stronger echo in me than in many others. That I, however, that it should be me above all who is accused of an offence against this old city architecture, this reproach hits me harder than many would believe. I had after all designed the house in such a way that it would be integrated as far as possible in the square. The style of church, which forms the pendant to this building, showed me my direction. I chose the window design not in order to keep out light and air, but in order to increase both, which is a justified requirement of our time. The windows do not have two leaves, but three, and reach from the windowsill to the ceiling. I chose genuine marble because I hate any imitation, and I kept the plasterwork as simple as possible because the people of Vienna also built simply. Only the feudal lord had marked architectural features on his palace, but these were not however cast in cement but carved in stone, and now sleep under the plaster. (These stones were resurrected to a new life on the Kinsky Palace and Lobkowitz Palace). It was my intention to make a clear separation between the business building and the residential building. So far, I was suffering under the delusion that I had done this in the spirit of our old Vienna masters. I was further reinforced in this delusion by the statement made by a modern artist whose opinions are opposed to mine, saying "He claims to be a modern architect, and builds a house like the old Viennese houses!".
This essay is taken from New Buildings in Old Settings, Bavaria Satz, 1978