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Building, not Architecture: Three pieces by Adolf Loos

Part 2 Dissertation 2006
Paul Snell
University of East London London UK
This dissertation proposes the idea that Adolf Loos's notion of architecture was that it was not a proper field for the expression of individual artistic will, but rather the work of a craftsman developing a body of knowledge.

As such, it has at its core the creation of spaces enclosed by materials for the purpose of making an appropriate habitable enclosure, rather than for the purpose of expressing the ideas of the architect for their own value as a commentary on society or culture.

Architecture, or as I prefer to name it, building, can be regarded as a craft, with simple, clear objectives for each piece, using ideas of typology and fitness for purpose.
If we accept this premise we can then write about the body of work, not primarily in terms of its conceptual approach (simply stating the underlying idea, in a few words, Koolhaas-style), but by discussion of its qualities- material, light, movement, sensation, feeling.

I have chosen three pieces to explore with this descriptive writing method, each illuminating different aspects of the development of Loos's own established method- the development of his personal typology.

The sketch of the room shows the creation of an interior landscape that can be explored through a journey of changing spaces, the centrality of the cosy hearth and the establishment of a rich material palette.

The facade of a house explores the relationship of inside to outside, the expression of a building as a facade of defence and privacy. The facade as a wall, mediating access to the outside.

A journey from outside to inside shows the development of that transition into a complex journey of architectural events, thresholds and spaces, conceived in materials, light and movement.

Paul Snell


This is an ambitious and very well considered re-thinking of the role and purpose of Loos’s work. Instead of his concern with architecture’s cultural role or strictures against figurative expression, and rather than the expression of the ‘raumplan’, Loos’s work is seen here as the making of materialised space: not abstract space but realised, and thus defined by experience. As student work it began with the direct experience of Loos’s architecture; particularly well-written, it is also centrally concerned with his architecture as a model of practice, ‘building’ rather than ‘architecture’ as generally understood.

2006
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