Scandal In Vienna - The Looshaus

Adolf Loos and the Shocking Goldman and Salatsch Building

Vienna's Looshaus, also known as the Goldman and Salatsch Building by Adolf Loos
Vienna's Looshaus, also known as the Goldman and Salatsch Building by Adolf Loos. Photo by Fritz Simak/Imagno/Hulton Archive Collection/Getty Images

Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria, was outraged. Directly across Michaelerplatz from the Imperial Palace, an upstart architect, Adolf Loos, was building a modern monstrosity. The year was 1909.

More than seven centuries went into the creation of the Imperial Palace, also known as the Hofburg. The grandiose Baroque style palace was a vast complex of highly ornamented architecture, including six museums, a national library, government buildings, and the imperial apartments.

The entrance, the Michaelertor, is guarded by grandiose statues of Hercules and other heroic figures.

And then, steps away from the ornate Michaelertor, is the Goldman and Salatsch building. What became known as the Looshaus, this modern building of steel and concrete was a total rejection of the neighborhood palace across the city square.

Adolf Loos (1870-1933) was a functionalist who believed in simplicity. He had traveled to America and admired the work of Louis Sullivan. When Loos returned to Vienna, he brought with him a new modernity in both style and construction. Along with the architecture of Otto Wagner (1841-1918), Loos ushered in what became known as Vienna Moderne (Viennese Modern or Wiener Moderne). The palace people were not happy.

Loos felt that lack of ornamentation was a sign of spiritual strength, and his writings include a study about the relation between ornament and crime.

" ... the evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects."

Adolf Loos, from Ornament & Crime

The Loos House was simple all right. "Like a woman with no eyebrows," people said, because the windows lacked decorative details. For awhile, window boxes were installed. But this did not solve the deeper problem.

" The dishes of past centuries, which display all kinds of ornaments to make peacocks, pheasants and lobsters look more tasty, have exactly the opposite effect on me... I am horrified when I go through a cookery exhibition and think that I am meant to eat these stuffed carcasses. I eat roast beef."

Adolf Loos, from Ornament & Crime

The deeper problem was that this building was secretive. Baroque architecture such as the neo-Baroque Michaelertor entrance is effusive and revealing. Rooftop statues strike poses to announce what lies inside. In contrast, the gray marble pillars and plain windows on the Loos House said nothing. In 1912, when the building was completed, it was a tailor shop. But there were no symbols or sculptures to suggest clothing or commerce. To observers on the street, the building could just as easily have been a bank. Indeed, it did become a bank in later years.

Perhaps there was something foreboding in this—as though the building suggested that Vienna was moving into a troubled, transient world where occupants would stay for only a few years, and then move on.

The statue of Hercules at the palace gates appeared to scowl across the cobbled road at the offending building.

Some say that even the little dogs, pulling their masters along Michaelerplatz, lifted their noses in disgust.

Learn More:

  • Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays by Adolf Loos
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  • The Looshaus by Christopher Long, Yale University Press, 2012
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