ON LOOS, ORNAMENT AND CRIME / Columns of Smoke Vol. II / Juan José Lahuerta

In this volume Lahuerta examines in fine detail Loos's written work, with special focus on a radical rereading of "Ornament and Crime".


Graham Thomson

21 x 16 cm
37 halftone images, 58 colour plates
126 pp. 
ISBN: 978-84-939231-5-0          



On Loos, Ornament and Crime is the most controversial of the essays in the series entitled Columns of Smoke, in which Professor Juan José Lahuerta undertakes an acute and thoroughly documented rereading of modernity, linking the ideas of ​​architecture and ornamentation and exploring the ways these have been treated in print.

In the previous volume of this series Lahuerta exploded clichés with his penetrating analysis of Loos's relationship with photography, and here he examines in fine detail the architect's written work, and in particular the texts that engage with architectural and artistic theory and continue the classical tradition of Schinkel, Semper and Riegl — an allegiance readily apparent in Loos's architecture. Lahuerta also discusses other articles in which Loos confronted his fellow architects over issues far removed from their shared profession, and shows us with tellingly insightful examples how 'Ornament and Crime', the founding essay of modernity that established disornamentation as the signal feature of twentieth-century architecture and culture, belongs to this second category. The ornament that Loos criminalizes, in language charged with the vocabulary of criminal anthropology and bioevolutionism of Max Nordau and Cesare Lombroso, has less to do with the decoration of buildings than with the tattoos, beads and feathers of 'primitives' and degenerates — women, Papuans, artists and criminals. Lahuerta traces Loos's adoption of pseudo-scientific beliefs that shaped the culture of the early twentieth century, and in so doing dismantles the historical value accorded to his famous text, which in this reading takes on a deeply disturbing significance.




Juan José Lahuerta is the Chief Curator of the National Museum of Art of Catalonia in Barcelona and professor of History of Art at the Barcelona School of Architecture. He has been a member of the Collegio Docenti della Scuola Dottorati del Istituto Universitario di Architettura of Venice and holder of the King Juan Carlos I Chair of Spanish Culture and Civilization at New York University.

He has published many books and essays for journals and magazines, on history of art and architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

He was founder and joint director of the gallery C. R. C. Galería de Arquitectura (Barcelona, 1985-1987) and has been curator of the exhibitions: Dalí. Architecture (Barcelona, 1996); Modern Art and Spanish Magazines (Madrid, Bilbao, 1996); Margaret Michaelis: Photography, Avant-garde and Politics in Republican Barcelona (Valencia and Barcelona, 1998), Universo Gaudí (Barcelona, Madrid, 2002), and Salvador Dalí, Federico García Lorca and the Student’s Residence (Madrid, 2010). He has worked as an adviser to the Reina Sofia National Art Museum in Madrid (2004-2005) and was senior curator for the Picasso Museum of Barcelona (2010-2011).



“Modernity without stereotypes”

This study makes the case for a thorough rereading of 'Ornament and Crime', one of the most uncritically acclaimed texts of modern architecture.

“Lahuerta is entirely convincing when he concludes that it is both useless and misleading to seek to interpret Loos's work in terms of his theoretical output, and that there is no reason to see his achievements as an architect as consistent with his activity as a polemicist.”

“This book is a gift for those who understand the act of reading as an exercise for intelligence.”

Francesco dal Co, Casabella