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Adolf Loos, the Experience of Change and the Urge to Ornament

Part 2 Dissertation 2006
Fiona Carroll
University College Dublin | Ireland
The intent of this dissertation was to explore the connection between the human body’s need for the stimulus of change, and the extent to which architecture has been successful in creating environments which are pleasing to our bodily senses, or in other words which contribute to us ‘feeling alive’. The compelling urge to ornament is a desire to vary our surroundings and create a stimulus that delights. The writings of Adolf Loos contributed to much of the rhetoric of the modern movement which condemned ornament. However, within his built work, the departure from the senselessly ornamental did not equal the drive towards minimalism and ‘clearing the palette’ that was to prevail in much of the architecture that followed.

The concept evolved from the idea that change, and the effect that change has on our senses, was essential within the experience of architecture. Having observed the effect that ‘change’ in nature has on our behavior and sense of well being, I became interested in the significance of ornamental stimulation within the built environment. Adolf Loos took a stand against the unnecessary ornamentation that had nothing to do with the ‘spirit of the age’, that concerned so many of the protagonists of the movement. The experience of his architecture and particularly his interiors, reveals a desire to create spaces which were far from a modern, minimalist architecture which the new spirit hailed. His emphasis on the importance of bodily experience rather than visual image alone was overlooked to a certain extent by those who followed in the modern movement. Loos' work, however, reflects an underlying understanding that a lack of ‘change’ would lead to a monotony which is actually the more difficult condition for the human senses to endure.

In conclusion the dissertation proposes that within the questions raised by the modern movement, whether to ‘ornament or not to ornament’ was perhaps not the issue, but whether, with or without its presence, the architect achieves an architecture that is, as Loos would have put it, ‘truly felt’, an architecture in which we truly ‘feel alive’.

Fiona Carroll

The dissertation was produced within the History and Theory programme of the fourth year of the Architecture course. Students attend small group seminars to explore a declared theme. Later, they embark upon individual research for the production of a dissertation for which the minimum requirement is 5000 words. Value is placed on rigour and originality.

Fiona Carroll was a member of the seminar group Experience and Design. Her research began with a study of the role of decoration, particularly with respect to the experience of architecture through the senses and bodily movement. This then led on to an original re-reading of some writings and architectural work of Loos.

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