Ornament and Its Discontents

Disguise, makeup. Expression of the subjectivity of a group, language, or sign. Historical document, emblem of fleeting fashions. A crime. Ornaments have been interpreted in different ways and are considered one of the most degenerate sins of architecture. Resisting the temptation of decoration has become a virtue, a legitimate sign of authenticity and a possible future.

In the renowned “Ornament and Crime,” Adolf Loos questions the use of ornaments based on a notion of progressive history, in which the past is subordinated to the future. He understands that in order to live in the metropolis, the suppression of exterior identity was necessary, and thus, the purity of form began to be seen as a possibility. In this context, ornaments were relegated to backwardness (of the people), whims (of women), immaturity (of the self), deviation (of the misfits), disorder (from eclecticism to racial mixing), and decadence (of the old regime). As a result, the principles of rationality, the natural essentialism of the “truth of materials,” and functionalism were privileged, representing the dominant moral values of the bourgeois and patriarchal order, whose mass industrial production of the 20th century was chosen as the primary model.

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