Wright meets Loos

History of Arch. II
December 2013

Instructed by: Todd Gannon

1. “Ornament and Crime Excerpt” Adolf Loos. Ornament and Crime. 1908

2. “Wright on the Web: Prairie Style.” Wright on the Web: Prairie Style. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 1998. Web. 08 Nov. 2013.

3. “The Villa Müller.” RAUMPLAN. The Villa Muller, n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2013.

4. Class Readings: Week 07: 1908 Adolf Loos. Ornament and Crime. Frank Lloyd Wright. Organic Architecture.
The young apprentice and the Austrian acquaintance of Louis Sullivan’s never crossed paths. Adolf Loos and Frank Lloyd Wright became very different architects, but there is a certain affinity in Loos’ Muller house and Wright’s Darwin D. Martin house. Adolf Loos believes modern buildings should be free of ornaments, and that its soul should be contained within. Frank Lloyd Wright argues that a house should enhance its surrounding landscape and together they should combine into one unified composition. Although Loos opposes excessive ornamentation, his elaborately detailed interior of the Muller house vaguely resembles the interior of Wright’s Martin house. Both Loos and Wright recognize the importance of a well-articulated interior and a hierarchical system behind it. They also jointly admitted and succumbed to the then growing influence of women, making them the center to both of their houses.

“Ornament is no longer a natural product of our culture” (Loos 22) Loos believes the absence of ornament is the style of his age. He thinks ornaments are types of excessive decoration and they are characteristics of older societies. As ornaments are relatively costly to make and maintain, Loos argues that without ornaments, one is able to accumulate savings while the opposite creates debt. If there was no ornament at all, “men would only have to work four hours instead of eight, because half of the work done today is devoted to ornament. Ornament is wasted labor power and hence wasted health. It has always been so.” Ornamentation, according to Loos, is a luxury that is slowing down the human evolution because men are wrongly focused on things they do not need. Loos also mentions “the modern man uses his clothes as a mask.” (Loos 24) Combining his theory on excessive ornamentation and how he portrays the modern man should dress, Loos creates the exterior of the Muller house as a simple white box that presents itself as merely a mask – refusing to communicate or even show itself to the outer world.

Wright, on the contrary, is not only interested in designing very open houses but often also the surrounding environment. Wright believes that “the good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before.” (Wright 2) Wright’s Martin house complex considers the houses and cottages within the lot as one unified composition. The Martin house carries Wright’s prairies style’s distinctive features: Low, horizontal lines that aims to level with the flat landscape around it, expansive roofs that often overhang beyond its walls and large, free spaces that are constructed around a central chimney. Wright designs the Martin house as “one unified composition that reflects the landscape” by purposefully redirecting the traffic flow between both inside and outside. The Martin house complex, at first glance, is a several buildings scattered across the site; but slowly one would discover that the complex is made up of buildings that are carefully linked by outdoor paths between them. This is what Wright calls “one great thing instead of a quarrelling collection of so many little things.” (Wright 25) One interacts with the Martin house very differently than one would interact with the Muller house.

In contrary to the Martin house, the Muller house appears extremely unified on the outside; it in fact resembles a large enclosed box. The site of the Muller house allows spaces for a more open and interactive building, but Loos intentionally separated the house from the site - opposing Wright’s theory of a unified environment. The Muller house is broken up into an interior that is separated into so many levels that one would think it wants to be counter-unified. It is completely self-contained and aimed to redirect the guests within the building and shoot them onto various levels. The Martin house celebrates natural interaction with its surroundings, while the Muller house encourages movement through its exquisite artificial interior.

The interior of Wright’s Martin house promotes openness and horizontality. Wright believes the interior of a house should be expressive, well-articulated and in essence, be viewed as art. Loos believes that “the work of art shows people new direction and thinks of the future. The house thinks of the present.” (Loos 24) And what was present to him was the era without ornamentation; therefore the house should not be articulated on the outside. Loos’ architecture, including the Muller house, “is not conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes). [He] does not design floor plans, facades, sections. I design spaces. For [him], there is no ground floor, first floor etc...“ (Loos 3) Loos considers interior spaces openly, similar to Wright, but executes it differently with a focus on the shifting elevations. There is a clear hierarchy in Loos’ buildings. Although he claimed ornament is crime on the outside, the interior of the Muller house is strangely elaborate. This likely stemmed from Loos’ argument that “the inner life of the soul should be contained.” While Wright writes “the reality of a building is not the container but the space within.”

Loos, on the other hand, believes the house is a container and designs it so. However, what is contained in the Muller house almost gets spilled out because it is so rich and vibrant. Loos envisioned the rooms in the Muller house to be distinguished in a variety of colors and materiality according to its use. As he puts it: “every space requires a different height: the dining room is surely higher than the pantry – thus the ceilings are set at different levels.” (Loos 3) Loos firmly believes that rooms with different purposes should be differentiated in height and arrangement. But despite the distinction of spaces, Loos made every effort to make sure his building floors “are only contiguous, continual spaces. Stories merge and spaces relate to each other.” Loos aimed to ”join these spaces in such a way that the rise and fall are not only unobservable but also practical”. This adds a layer of sophistication to the Muller house. The invisible separation in the detailed interior presents a subtle connection to the masking quality used on the Muller house‘s emotionless exterior.

Very similar to Loos, Wright recognizes the importance of having the interior rooms cater to the different needs of the usage of each room. Wright and Loos therefore share somewhat similarly elaborately garnished interiors that reflect each other’s style within the buildings. Wright says “to thus make of a human dwelling-place a complete work of art, in itself expressive and beautiful, intimately related to modern life and fit to live in, lending itself more freely and suitably to the individual needs of the dwellers as itself an harmonious entity, fitting in color, pattern and nature the utilities and be really an expression of them in character. (Wright 25)”

Although Loos and Wright both took considerably different approaches in design, there is one thing that prevails in the two projects: their appeal to women. The Muller house is designed in a way that is fully operated by Muller’s Wife Milada Müllerová. She sits in an area that is designed to view without being viewed. That specific area possesses the power of the Panopticon, where the watchman (Mrs. Muller) is able to observe the inmates (guests) without them being able to tell that they are being watched. Loos gives power to Mrs. Muller and allows her to take full control of the house. Unlike Loos, Wright approached women quite differently. Wright skipped the husbands and targeted directly at housewives. He published in 1901 “A Home in a Prairie Town”, a catalogue of prairie houses he designed for the Ladies’ Home Journal. He recognized the growing influence of women, and designed these large open houses that appealed to this newly formed yet extremely influential group of consumers.

To conclude, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin house and Adolf Loos’ Muller house share a somewhat similar definition on the interior, but distinguish themselves quite clearly on the exterior. The two architects, however, did put an emphasis on addressing and targeting female consumers. Both Wright and Loos developed distinctive archetypes that will radically change the world’s understanding of architecture.