dore paradise lost

At the close of ‘Architecture (1910)’, an essay in which Adolf Loos has described formulated his theory of the alienation of the architect, he concludes with a stellar commendation of Karl Friedrich Schinkel:

“But every time the minor architects who use ornament move architecture away from its grand model, a great architect is at hand to guide them back to antiquity. Fischer von Erlach in the south, Schluter in the north, were justifiably the great masters of the eighteenth century. And at the threshold to the nineteenth century stood Schinkel. We have forgotten him. May the light of this towering figure shine upon our forthcoming generation of architects!”

Schinkel is commended as a kind of lighthouse, invoked to shine forward onto the following generation, and simultaneously a guide to a return path, (along with Fischer von Erlach and Andreas Schlüter, to the ‘grand model’ of Classical antiquity. Just a little earlier, prior to this monumental figuring of Schinkel as an illuminating tower, Loos has remarked upon the potency of the Classical, which appears as a autonomous cultural force:

“Our culture is based on the knowledge of the all-surpassing grandeur of classical antiquity. We have adopted the technique of thinking and feeling from the Romans. We have inherited our social conscience and the discipline of our souls form the Romans… Ever since humanity sensed the greatness of classical antiquity, one common thought has unified all great architects. They think: the way I build is the same as the way the Romans would have built.”

The true power of great architects, it is implied, derives from the amorphous potency of Roman classicism, the ‘one common thought’. In this way, Loos disarms Schinkel, too, and places him on a pedestal as a lamp. Schinkel’s greatness, his potency, is in his channeling of the historical force which Loos has just described. It follows that when Loos makes his own claim to be carrying out a purified form of classicism, he is opening himself up more fully even than Schinkel to this classical daemon. Classicism is not merely a style, but an expression of a daemonic force, openness to which is associated with the stripping-off of ornamentation. He observes:

“It is no coincidence that the Romans were incapable of inventing a new column order, or a new ornament. For they had already progressed so far. they had taken all that knowledge from the Greeks and had adapted it to their needs. The Greeks were individualists. Every building had to have its own profile, its own ornamentation. But the Romans considered things socially. The Greeks could hardly administer their cities; the Romans administered the globe. The Greeks squandered their inventiveness on the orders; the Romans wasted theirs on the plan. And he who can solve the great plan does not think of new mouldings.”

The Greeks, not the Romans, were inventors of ornament. The Roman advancement is in the disregard they developed for ornament. Their inability to invent ornament is not a failure, but a mark of their progressiveness. Loos argues that the time has now come to move even closer to the ideal which the Romans represented. Not only should the production of new ornament be ceased by civilised people, but what ornament remains should be actively stripped off. Ornament may continue in the country, or for the non-urbane: the farmer and the shoemaker are less civilised in Loos’ terms, and there would be a sort of parental cruelty involved in taking ornamentation from them. The progressiveness of the Romans is in their urbanity, characterised by their disinterest in ornament. And it is this force of Roman progressiveness that Schinkel is taken to be a herald for.

neues pavilion schloss charlottenburg

The one work of Schinkel’s which could most easily be Loos’ is his New Pavilion in the Schloss Charlottenburg Park, built in 1824-25 for Freidrich Wilhelm III. It is a white, almost cubic mass, like Loos’ houses of the late twenties, especially the Moller and Muller houses. It does not present a distinct facade: in each face at the first floor level there is a dark recessed balcony; there is scant difference in the treatment of the front and side balconies. The facade retreats into the face of the block. It develops no baroque thickness, instead becoming a surface, as thin as a coat of white paint. Loos also repeatedly used the seating-niche arrangement which Schinkel uses in his Charlottenburg Pavilion: in the first floor Garden Room, the niche is opposite the balcony, and so someone seated in the niche looks across the room and out the window. Loos’ arrangement is more complex, but retains the basic pattern: seated in niche of the Moller House, we would be looking back through the interior and out towards the back garden.

loos moller niche

Loosian touches are seen elsewhere in Schinkel’s oeuvre: the tent-room of the Charlottenhoff Palace uses fabric to create a ceiling canopy that drapes the walls and forms a canopy over the bed. In Loos’ bedroom for Lina Loos, the interior is similarly shaped by draping and spilling fabric: the fur which covers the bed spills onto the floor, and meets the wall-hangings.

schinkel tent roomloos bedroom for lina

What Loos would have us believe about the relationship between Schinkel and himself is that they share a common daemon. Schinkel’s significance for Loos is that he has opened himself to the civilising and urbanising force of this daemon; and this opening is marked particularly by Schinkel’s attitude to the removal of ornamentation as a movement of civility. Loos then casts himself in Schinkel’s light, as advancing this daemon‘s purposes even further, by opening himself more fully to it. Harold Bloom, according to his Anxiety of Influence (1973) calls this movement Daemonization, and suggests that it is a defensive move, a way to fend off the overbearing weight of a precursor. In this way, some of the elements of Loos’ mature work which we might take to be his most personal of touches: those signatory marks which we look for in order to recognise Loos in his work, might in fact be seen to be the points at which he is most closely Schinkel’s disciple.



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