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UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE & PLANNING

KASHMERE GATE, NEW DELHI

G.G.S.I.P.U

DISSERTATION

THE WILL TO ORNAMENT

Under the guidance of

PROF. RUPINDER SINGH

Submitted by

HIMANSHU SALUJA
0041731605 / B.ARCH
Acknowledgement

The journey has been long and there have been numerous co-pilots. I’d like to

thank all of them. First of all I would like to express my indebtedness towards my

computer and the world wide web, which stood by me at each and every second of my

academic semester and after him, my parents and friends who have been instrumental in

shaping me as I am.

I’d like to thank Prof. Rupinder Singh, my guide, who was persistent, patient and

considerate towards my idea and for planting all the seeds in my mind, directly or

indirectly.

I would also like to thank our coordinator Prof. ASHOK LAL for his consistent

guidance and update of the study, and for his immense support and consistent guidance

that was never short of encouragement whenever it was needed the most.

I’d like to thank my friends who have been constantly the source of new ideas and

who gave me invaluable inputs. And it would not have been possible without USAP and

its walls and its memories.

And a special thanks to Google.


UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE AND PLANNING

KASHMERE GATE

Delhi

THE WILL TO ORNAMENT

Certificate of Approval

The following study is hereby approved as a creditable work, carried out and presented in

a manner sufficiently satisfactory to warrant its acceptance.

It is to be understood that by this approval, the undersigned do not necessarily endorse or

approve any statement made, opinion expressed or conclusions drawn therein, but

approve the study only for the purpose for which it is submitted and satisfies itself as to

the requirements laid down by the dissertation committee.

Name of Student Name of the Guide

Himanshu Saluja Rupinder Singh


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Contents:

Preface: The will to ornament ……..……..……..……..…….. i

Hypothesis ……..……..……..……..…….. iv

Scope and Limitations ……..……..……..……..…….. iv

Methodology ……..……..……..……..…….. iv

Structure: Frame of analysis ……..……..……..……..…….. v

Chapter 1:
The case of the anti-ornamentalists ……..……..……..……..…….. 2

Adolf Loos ……..……..……..……..…….. 3

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe ……..……..……..……..…….. 7

Chapter 2:
The case of the anti anti-ornamentalists ……..……..……..…… 14

Frank Lloyd Wright ……..……..……..……..…….. 15

Robert Venturi ……..……..……..……..…….. 18

Conclusion ……..……..……..……..…….. 23

Bibliography ……..……..……..……..…….. 27

The Will to Ornament Contents


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THE WILL TO ORNAMENT

The ambitions and concerns of a lay-person are different from an architect or

designer. What owners perceive of a space contrasts drastically to the architect’s point of

view and vice versa. These points of difference stem primarily from the difference in the

type of knowledge and experience and the vested interest in the project. An architect

believes himself to be a professional, well versed in the trade of building. He has learnt

and experienced a lot of aesthetic styles, tastes and patterns through a lot of projects. He

develops a natural prejudice towards or against some or the other vocabulary. Further,

most of the architects he looks up to have developed their very own architectural

vocabulary.

The client on the other hand does not have a thorough knowledge of international

styles or even regional ones. She also lacks background knowledge about context and

thus each piece becomes stand-alone. But their interest in the project is exponentially

greater than that of the architect.

These differences become apparent when only one of the two parties is

overpowered or ignored. Testament to that is the government sector where the interest of

the architect is purely superficial and does not consider the consequences the occupant

may face afterwards. Similar township projects by developers also boast of a get-rich-

quick scheme in which the end-user is neglected. Other architects like Corbusier show

immense interest in the project creating a Chandigarh as an extension to his own ambition

with still no consideration to the occupant. What this results in is massive encroachments!

On the other hand, when the client is cut loose, he makes a travesty by using the

newfound authority to further visions he hasn’t fully understood himself. Thus, we see

The Will to Ornament Preface


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villas and chateaux resting peacefully (allegedly) on the by-lanes of “unauthorized Delhi

colonies”, glass boxes with a free solar heating subscription included, farmhouses the size

of palaces and a plethora of Greek gods in unison on the architrave of a Vasant Vihar

residence.

The client does not trust his architect for the architect confuses him with

“adaptable functionality” and “spatial composition” and “spatial context” and other

technical jargon to swindle money. The architect on the other hand strongly believes in

the ignorance of the client. After all, what does he know? He who is not trained in the arts

should have no say in what is built and what isn’t.

But the client knows his problems, if not the solutions to them. He knows that his

house should be his symbol of power, where his own place is judged by the statement the

house makes, whether socially or in financial terms, for which he painstakingly gathers

ornaments and puts them on the walls for all to see, maybe even worsening the situation.

And he is willing to take that risk to ornament. Something the architect has ignored

(sarkaari building) or decided against.

My essay here investigates some of the master architects’ conflicted relationship

with ornament. It does not propose or reject the idea of ornamentation. Neither is it a

proposition for ornate city architecture nor does the discussion result in a handbook of

decoration styles. Furthermore, it does not seek to resolve the conflict between the client

and the architect. All it does is to bring to fore the architect’s subterranean desire for

ornamentation couched in such words as ‘architectural vocabulary,’ ‘building rationale’

etc.

Thus the endeavor to investigate the “Will to Ornament”.

The Will to Ornament Preface


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Hypothesis:

The notion that ornamentation has no utilization in modern life will be challenged

and various facets investigated.

Scope and Limitations

The aim of this dissertation is to examine the purpose of decoration when used to

embellish buildings. It does not set out to advance the cause of ornate city architecture

nor does it provide a manual of good decorative design. Furthermore, it does not seek to

resolve the conflict between the client and the architect. All it does is to bring to fore the

architect’s subterranean desire for ornamentation couched in such words as ‘architectural

vocabulary,’ ‘building rationale’ etc. It is simply one starting point for a discussion about

the nature of, or the need for, ornament and decoration in architectural design.

Methodology:

This dissertation aims to investigate the aforementioned topic by:

Textual analysis of

• Writings of Adolf Loos

• Texts by Frank Lloyd Wright

• Writings of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

• Texts by Robert Venturi

among others

The Will to Ornament Hypothesis, Scope and Limitations, Methodology


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Structure:

• The case of the anti-ornamentalists.

Analyzing the works of Adolf Loos, Mies van der Rohe among others

• The case of anti-anti-ornamentalists. (sympathizers to ornamentation)

Analyzing the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Venturi among others

• Conclusion

The Will to Ornament Structure


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Chapter 1

The case of the anti-ornamentalists

The Will to Ornament Chapter 1: The case of the anti-ornamentalists


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Modern architecture is characterized by simplification of form and dismissal of

ornament from the structure and theme of the building. The first variants were conceived

early in the 20th century. Modern architecture was adopted by many influential architects

and architectural educators, however very few "Modern buildings" were built in the first

half of the century. It gained popularity after the Second World War and became the

dominant architectural style for institutional and corporate buildings for three decades.

The Modern movement in architecture was a time when decoration in architecture

was felt to be over the top in many cases. Many architects in Europe and the Americas

felt these overtly complex facades to be ugly and unacceptable. These architects wanted

to revolt against the prevailing style but instead some even rebelled against the very

nature or ornamentation (allegedly). They denied any associations with the ornament and

declared their own breed of architecture to be true to its nature, honest to its materials,

pure in its form as well as rational in its implementation. This “evolved” sensibility gave

rise to the international style.

Primary in their arguments was the total denial of ornament and decoration and

became a key feature in the International Style. I have, in this chapter, tried to analyze

texts of Adolf Loos and Mies van der Rohe. My attempt is to determine the degree of

truth to their declarations and observe the extent to which they have accomplished their

vision of an ornament free, unified, pure and universal architecture.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 1: The case of the anti-ornamentalists


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Adolf Loos

What sets the Austrian architect and critic Adolf Loos apart from the other

modernists is his writings and mastery on rhetoric—only Le Corbusier comes close to

writing so eloquently and in surpassing Loos in influencing the architectural thought

through the written word. If Loos is known for his writing, none is more famous than his

lecture and subsequent essay, “Ornament and Crime” (Ornament und Verbrechen)1. Even

a simple survey course will mouth the received opinion that Loos was militantly against

ornamentation, and note the precociousness of this short, barbed denunciation of

decoration. It has often been noted that Loos’s masterpiece had a subterranean influence

on the giants of high modernist architecture. Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius credited

Loos with being the first to advocate the radical elimination of all ornamentation in

buildings. Loos’s writing as a whole is thus often read as one point on the timeline of

architectural modernism’s development.

This received opinion is problematic. On January 21, 1910, Loos did lecture on

this subject for nearly a half-hour at the Akademiscehr Verband fur Literatur und Musik

of Vienna [the Fremden Blatt of January 22 reports on the lecture].” He repeated the

lecture in 1913 in Vienna and in Copenhagen. These lectures were followed by a French

translation of the notes as an essay under the same title in Les Cahiers d’aujourd’ hui of

June 1913, and were also released in the second volume of L’Esprit nouveau (November

15, 1920). The text did not appear in German until 1929 (Frankfurter Zeitung, October

24), after which it was published many times. This brief historical account rectifies the

widespread theory that the suppression of ornament in modern architecture was in part a

consequence of an article published in Vienna in 1908, under the title of “Ornament and
1
Loos, Adolf. Lecture. 21 Jan 1910.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 1: The case of the anti-ornamentalists


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Crime.” One would search in vain for this article which, in reality, does not exist. It

should be dated from 1920, the year of its publication in L’esprit nouveau.

Overall the essay is distillation of the ideas Loos began developing in newspaper

articles during the 1890s. In the lecture and the essay Loos does argue against ornaments

done without consideration. But his argument is for the suppression of ornament in

functional objects. At the same time, he makes a distinction between superfluous and

integral ornament, which he considered the “grammar” of classical ornament and he

protests against only the former. In fact, the latter is used generously in his works,

particularly in interiors.

His lecture when translated and published in Paris as “Ornament is Crime” was

read as a purist manifesto for purging ornamentation from architecture. A shocked Loos

reacted to this with a text titled “Ornament and Education” in which the misinterpretation

was labeled absurd and exaggerated. He argued that cultures will, through nature of

evolution, evolve beyond ornamentation and the systematic abolishment of

ornamentation is totally unnecessary. Loos then places a complex dialectic between

culture’s advancement or individual people’s taste and the inclination for ornamentation.

Understandably his nuanced argument was also misread and deployed for the service of a

anti-ornamentation modernist manifesto.

Loos’s distinction between either unnecessary or acceptable practice of ornament

is further explained with the example of tattoos2. He presents a startling contrast between

tattooing of Papuans to the tattooing of modern man (which at the time was frowned

upon). The contrast lay within the function of each. Where the former were a sign of

conformity and were expressive of their nature, the other merely took it upon itself to
2
Tournikiotis, Panayotis. Adolf Loos. New York, N.Y.: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994. Print. Page 24

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disguise and mask the mediocrity of their holder’s identity (or so it seemed). He labeled

the latter to be degenerate, falsified and unethical but gave consent to the former. Thus he

approved the rules put in place (grammar) to render architecture more palatable, while

conveying the identity of a structure simply and directly.

This argument is further elucidated with how we wear clothes. Loos believes

clothes should be neutral and transparent of the person within. It should reflect discretion

and simplicity. Here ornament should only be used to be compliant to common culture of

society. Similarly, architecture should be universal and durable, able to withstand tastes

and times by being like these clothes.

Loos doesn’t appreciate constant renewal of ornaments as it would then lean

heavily on fashion, and its existence is then justified not by its solidity but the prevailing

taste. However, functional objects with a small shelf life (like carpets and such) can be

adequately adorned and ornamented, remaining submissive to fashion.

Loos says that a woman adorns and ornaments herself to become a mystery to

man. Eroticism is linked to the need to ornament considering it to be elementary artistic

expressions. But to rise above a primitive art, consciously produced, ornamentation needs

to be suppressed. To merely reduce art to ornament is considered ‘immorality of the age’3,

similar to architecture.

To support a rationalist, cultural tradition, Loos criticized the superfluous

character of ornament. Forms that resisted the passage of time were inherent in most

typologies and were truly modern and durable. Classical architecture, hence, incorporated

Greek, Roman, or Renaissance styles because its traits were simple and universal.

3
Tournikiotis, Panayotis. Adolf Loos. New York, N.Y.: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994. Print. Page 26

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Figure 1: Looshaus

Thus the arguments he supported here represent honesty and clarity of intended

function. Also, ornament of a particular style was looked down because it seemed

unnecessary and inefficient due to the ever changing tastes of society. But universally

accepted and time tested vocabulary was more than welcome and Loos also used it

generously in his projects.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 1: The case of the anti-ornamentalists


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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is widely regarded as one of the most influential

figures of 20th century Modern architecture. Mies pursued an ambitious lifelong mission

to create not an architectural style, but a new architectural vocabulary representing the

new era of technology and standardization. He advocated a disciplined design process,

simple and rational, to achieve his goals. His notorious motto “Less is more” helped him

reach an aesthetic tactic of arranging the various necessary components of a building to

create an image of extreme simplicity, by enlisting their aid to serve visual, structural and

other functional purposes.

Mies admired the broad proportions, rhythm of congruent elements and

compositions using simple cubic volumes while dismissing the ornament as irrelevant.

His thirty years as an American architect reflected a structural, pure approach towards the

vocabulary he talks about so endearingly. He focused on the elusive concept of

‘universal’ spaces with clearly visible structural framework which he tried to achieve

mostly by featuring pre-manufactured steel shapes in-filled with large sheets of glass.

Crown Hall is hailed far and wide as Mies’s greatest work and one of the most

identifiable and influential buildings of the twentieth century modern movement.

Completed in 1956, the building houses the architecture school of the Illinois Institute of

Technology right in the centre of the university campus.

The building is conceived in two levels of a rectangle 220’ long by 120’ wide

which houses a column free interior space on the upper level supported by exposed steel

columns and exterior grade steel girders visible above the roof. At intervals, these

columns extend upward to form planes of steel partitioning the roof expanse as if in an

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attempt to raise itself from the rest of the campus as does the floating impression of the

floor (very similar to the Farnsworth house). Varying degrees of transparency is offered

by the glass façade wrapping the structure tightly in which the open free flowing interiors

reside.

Figure 2: S.R. Crown Hall

Mies faced the challenge that the earlier buildings for the campus would be

considered outdated in comparison to his later work, to which he responded by saying:

I was not afraid of that [such a comparison]. The concept would not become

outmoded for two reasons. It is radical and conservative at once. It is radical in

accepting the scientific and technological driving and sustaining forces of our

time. It has a scientific character, but it is not scientific. It uses technological

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means, but it is not only concerned with a purpose but also with a meaning, as it

is not only concerned with a function but also with an expression. It is

conservative as it is based on the eternal laws of architecture: Order, Space,

Proportion.4

Here Mies emphasizes on expression and justifies it with the intention of

providing a purpose. He further goes on to support it with calling it a subset of the eternal

laws of architecture. Commentators have admired this process, providing us with a

textual framework to view Crown Hall. For example, Kevin Harrington writes:

During the day, Crown Hall seems a precisely defined, translucent, and

transparent volume in perfect repose. At night it becomes a reliquary of light, as

its interior illumination appears to make the building seem almost to float on a
5
cushion of light.

Mies talks about expressing through honesty of materials and calls himself a

medium through which these materials express themselves. He talks about discarding

personal baggage and embracing values that remain universal but still fit every situation.

The structure or materials speak about the building itself without invoking the need to

add any unnecessary ‘ornament’ to supplement the expression of the built and the space

enclosed within. This created a radical aesthetic. These visual and spatial expressions

were what critics admired most in his works.

4
Van der Rohe, Ludwig Mies. Zukowsky, John. Mies Reconsidered: His Career, Legacy, and Disciples.
Chicago, IL: Art Institute of Chicago; New York, N.Y.: Rizzoli International Publications. 1986. Print.
Page 23
5
Kevin Harrington, “S.R. Crown Hall”. AIA guide to Chicago. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1993:
388-89. Print

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But before we proceed further it

would be worth focusing on another

masterpiece by Mies, the Seagram building.

Mies built the Seagram Building in 1958 as

the headquarters for the Canadian distillers

Joseph E. Seagram's & Sons in

collaboration with the American architect

Philip Johnson. It is 516 feet tall with 38

stories and is one of the finest examples of

functional aesthetic and provided the

blueprints for a large number of skyscrapers


Figure 3: Seagram Building
to be built along the same lines.

Much of the building's success comes from its elegant proportions and its relation

to the overall site: the building is set back from the street by ninety feet, and in from the

side by thirty. The forecourt so created uses reflecting pools and a low boundary wall in

green marble to set off the building, borrowing heavily from Mies' earlier Pavilion in

Barcelona (1929).

The building's external faces are given their character by the quality of the

materials used - the tinted glass and the bronze 'I-beams' applied all the way up

the building. The Seagram Building is the first bronze-colored skyscraper.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 1: The case of the anti-ornamentalists


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Mies had first used similar applied I-beams (but in steel) at his 1951 apartment

towers at Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, welded to the outside of the structural

columns.6

As noted by Carter Wiseman:

His purported aim was the stiffening of the frame of each bay, but more important

was the creation of a surface texture that relieved the potential monotony of a

smooth facade, while emphasizing the verticality of the overall form. The

architect later explained that he had used the device primarily because, without it,

the building simply ‘did not look right’.7

The confession of the architect here speaks volumes of the inner workings of the

logic he defends so tenaciously. On one hand he wants the materials to express

themselves honestly and his own role in the process to be just that of a medium through

which the entire expression of the building attains a tangible form. On the other hand he

affirms that the decision to use the bronze I-beams was primarily affected by aesthetic

resolve. Similarly, was it necessitated by material to raise the floor slab to create an

illusion of it floating on light? Or the exterior steel columns to extend above the roof line

and make them so visible? Visualizing the structure without these would in essence take

away a nice chunk out of the identity of the building. Thus there is a high reverence to

aesthetic values at the cost of rational construction by not just the architect but the critics

as well. Otherwise the illusion of floating floors and the extension of steel columns to

6
Rogers, Christy. “S.R. Crown Hall.” Galinsky- people enjoying buildings worldwide. Galinsky. 1998.
Web. 15 Dec 2009
7
Wiseman, Carter. Shaping a Nation: twentieth-century American architecture and its makers. New York:
Norton. 1998. Print

The Will to Ornament Chapter 1: The case of the anti-ornamentalists


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form distinct vertical planes on the roof of S.R. Crown Hall or the Farnsworth House

couldn’t even have been contemplated, let alone admired.

If the honesty of materials is so endearingly important to the architect here, then

why is it so easily overruled in favor of aesthetic values, intangible and illogical and most

of all, highly personal? Or is it that his expression of how the building should ‘look right’

trumps over the expression of materials? If all that the architect wants to create is his own

expression then it is not wrong to argue that he has not ventured far from the practice of

‘ornamentation’ in the least.

All that Mies has managed to achieve here is another style, not too different in

approach to the rest but highly radical in terms of aesthetic appeal. He might have

managed to lead a ‘modernist revolution’ among other things but ultimately, he too falls

prey to the instinct of providing a self driven aesthetic which he swears against. It seems

that his style, so rigorously fought for in a battle cry against ornamentation, was just a

style to get other people to accept his version of ornamentation. Using ornament in the

name of expression does not change the fact that Mies poured in a lot of effort to cater to

his own aesthetic appetite.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 1: The case of the anti-ornamentalists


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Chapter 2

The case of the anti anti-ornamentalists

The Will to Ornament Chapter 2: The case of the anti anti-ornamentalists


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Postmodern architecture was a style brought forth by architects growing weary of the

dominance of the Modern movement. Although its first examples can be cited from the 1950s

but it gained prominence in the 70s and continues to influence present day architecture.

Postmodernity in architecture is generally thought to be heralded by the return of "wit, ornament

and reference" to architecture in response to the formalism of the International Style of

modernism. This movement became known for its own brand of international style where the

functional and formalized shapes and spaces of the modernist movement are replaced by

unapologetically diverse aesthetics: styles collide, form is adopted for its own sake, and new

ways of viewing familiar styles and space abound.

Modernist architects regard post-modern buildings as vulgar and cluttered. Postmodern

architects often regard modern spaces as soulless and bland. The divergence in opinions comes

down to a difference in goals: modernism is rooted in minimal and true use of material as well as

absence of ornament, while postmodernism is a rejection of strict rules set by the early

modernists and seeks exuberance in the use of building techniques, angles, and stylistic

references. Postmodernism is also heralded as the continuation of the past traditions as it

embraces and explores history unlike modernism which, to this day, continues to dismiss it as

being inapt and unjustified.

The analysis of the following texts is an attempt at understanding the essence of

postmodernism and the value and significance to ornament within the movement. The first essay

discusses Frank Lloyd Wright as the pioneer of postmodernism before it happened to be

obsessed with rejection of modernism, being the visionary who could spell the tenets of

postmodernism as a natural continuance of styles around the world. The second essay analyses

the texts of Robert Venturi to understand his views opposing anti-ornamentalist modernists.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 2: The case of the anti anti-ornamentalists


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Frank Lloyd Wright

Leading the front for anti-anti-ornamentation was Frank Lloyd Wright, a renowned

American architect, interior design, writer and educator. Wright advocated organic architecture8

and developed concepts using the same for Prairie School movement of architecture9 and the

Usonian House.10 He also provided for

many innovative examples of offices,

churches, skyscrapers, schools, hotels,

museums etc.

Recognized by the American

Institute of Architects in 1991 as "the

greatest American architect of all

time" 11 he authored twenty books and

many articles. He talked in great detail

about organic influence of which he

conceived an architecture that evolves

naturally out of its context. He laid

prime importance to the relation of the

site and the building and the

requirements of the client.

Figure 4: Falling Waters

8
Best demonstrated by Falling Waters also shown in figure 4
9
Exemplified by the Robie House and the Westcott House
10
E.g.: Rosenbaum House
11
Brewster, Mike (2004-07-28). "Frank Lloyd Wright: America's Architect". Business Week (The McGraw-Hill
Companies). 22 Jan 2008. Print.

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Wright considered “The Art and Craft of the Machine,” his first public address on

architecture (1901), one of his seminal statements. He outlined here the theory of architecture

which would sustain him for the rest of his career.

To Wright art was in crisis; its only hope was in the machine, “the modern sphinx whose

riddle the artist must solve if he would that art should live.” Wright it seems saw himself

as a new Oedipus saving Thebes and expected no supervening misfortune. 12

Wright saw the effects of the industrial revolution and described it not as a huge

advancement but as a double edged sword. According to him, this had created the modern city,

one of the most monstrous living things ever to exist, but one of the most magnificent as well.

However, he differentiates between being ‘industrial’ and being ‘mechanical’ and favored the

machine.

A machine could be beautiful: the solar system was but a machine. Hence he accepted

the machine as a tool of the craftsman, but would not condone making a human being
13
subservient to it.

Wright realized the tremendous potential the machine had for the future of humanity but

feared that it would dominate the course of human civilization. Taming the machine, the monster

city, would be the first step to giving it a soul and forge a harmony between man and the

machine.
12
Zabel, Craig Robert. Munshower, Susan Scott. American public Architecture: European roots and native
expressions. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University, 1989. Print. Pg 139
13
Zabel, Craig Robert. Munshower, Susan Scott. American public Architecture: European roots and native
expressions. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University, 1989. Print. Pg 140

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He emphasized that a ‘soul’ be given to the machine to make it more humanlike

suggesting art to take up that role. Thus an artist would be born sympathetic to the role of the

machine to humanity but still subservient to it and his work would be akin to nature’s creative

forces.

To this effect, two relationships would be birthed. The first would be the reaction

between craftsmanship and man; the second between nature and its tremendous adaptive

capability allowing it to always strike the most appropriate form for the given function. A

machine could then be a subset within craftsmanship issuing tools to better the art and strike as

beautiful. Wright also speculated that the second relationship would then give direction to the

artist if he would assume that had nature been the artist and machine been its tool, what methods

he would have chosen.

This guideline was Wright’s mantra to achieving what he called a ‘natural’ way to build.

It could spark off a debate where Wright could arguably have done away with non-functional

ornament, but there can be no doubt to the fact that he endorsed integral ornamentation as second

nature to humankind.

"... But here now ornament is in its place. Ornament meaning not only surface qualified

by human imagination but imagination giving natural pattern to structure. Perhaps this

phrase says it all without further explanation. This resource - integral ornament - is new

in the architecture of the world, at least insofar not only as imagination qualifying a

surface - a valuable resource - but as a greater means than that; imagination giving
14
natural pattern to structure itself.

14
Wright, Frank Lloyd. “The Natural House”. House + home. Vol. 7, no. 1 (Jan. 1955)

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Robert Venturi

Regarded by many as the most influential architect of the twentieth century, Robert

Venturi is an architect, planner and a prolific writer on architectural theories. Born Robert

Charles Venturi Jr. on 25th June 1925 in Philadelphia, he became an architect of great fame when

he took Mies van der Rohe head on by coining the phrase, “less is a bore”. His words brought

staunch opposition to modernism and were the first transcripts of the post-modernist era.

Venturi has offered much more than just theories. His works include not just the

landmark Vanna Venturi house, but also spread across various projects from museums to urban

plans and from hotels to entire university campuses.

… [Venturi] galvanized the growing rejection of the International style of Modernist

architecture with his 1966 book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. It has

been called the most important work on architecture since Le Corbusier’s Vers une

Architecture. Venturi famously responds to Mies van der Rohe’s slogan that “Less is

more”- that ornament and diversity of style are to be eliminated- with the playful, “Less is

a bore.” Venturi’s architecture is marked by eclectisism and the refusal to reject popular

commercial architecture as inherently vulgar. His aim is not to replace unity of style with

pluralism, but to argue for a less simple, more complex forms of unity, which constitute

what he calls “the difficult whole,” buildings that thrive on inner tension rather than trying

to overcome it. It is this approach that later came to be called “postmodernism.”15

Venturi claimed that modernism made architecture too reductive. The modernists’ way of

limiting the problems it would (could) solve produced pure but boring solutions, resulting in

15
Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. New York: Museum of Modern Art; Boston:
distributed by New York Graphic Society, 1977. Print. Page 16. Quoted from: Cahoone, Lawrence E. From
modernism to postmodernism: an anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1996. Print. Page 40.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 2: The case of the anti anti-ornamentalists


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architecture being redundant in comparison to modern science, art or poetry, all of which

recognize and embrace complexity and contradiction. Thus the argument he presents is that

inclusiveness creates richness of multiple interpretations by producing positive artistic tension.

His controversial call to explore history, “the messy vitality” of the built environment radically

changed attitudes towards (or against) Modern architecture.

Architecture can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of

orthodox Modern architecture. I like elements which are hybrid rather than “pure,”

compromising rather than “clean,” distorted rather than “straightforward,” ambiguous

rather than “articulated,” perverse as well as impersonal, boring as well as “interesting,”

conventional rather than “designed,” accommodating rather than excluding, redundant

rather than simple, vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal rather than

direct and clear. I am all for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non sequitur
16
and proclaim the duality.

The excludability clause in Modernism, claims Venturi, proves to be not just dull,

mundane and plain boring but also inadequate and redundant. Modernism meant to be idealistic

saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Venturi asks them to do the same thing by not

dismissing ornament for it seems compromising, distorted, perverse or even redundant at times.

For him, ornament and inclusive nature of architecture seems much more important (and

instinctive) than all that the modernists mention its problems to be. In fact Robert Venturi argues

strongly that:

16
Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. New York: Museum of Modern Art; Boston:
distributed by New York Graphic Society, 1977. Print. Page 16.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 2: The case of the anti anti-ornamentalists


Saluja│20

…the artist is not someone who designs in order to prove his or her theory and certainly

not to suit an ideology....Any building that tries merely to express a theory or any building

that starts with a theory and works very deductively is very dry, so we say that we work

inductively.17

For him the theories surrounding architectural design are not that important as the actual

design process. Circumstances and opinions may deviate us from the architectural theory but

buildings trying to suit a theory limit their creative energies and the total number of possible

solutions. As a true proponent of inclusivity, Venturi does not accept this limitation. Venturi also

emphasizes on the need for a predetermined convention to even rebel against. Venturi says:

You have to have something basic that you either build on or evolve from or revolt

against. You have to have something there in the first place and the only way to get it is
18
to copy, in a good sense of the word.

17
Lawson, Bryan. Design in Mind. Oxford [England]; Boston: Butterworth Architecture, 1994. Print.
18
Lawson, Bryan. Design in Mind. Oxford [England]; Boston: Butterworth Architecture, 1994. Print.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 2: The case of the anti anti-ornamentalists


Saluja│21

Figure 5: Freedom Plaza located in Washington, D.C.

Thus, he says that ignoring or overlooking traditional styles assuming they did not exist

robs an entire generation of good examples of architecture, whether good or bad. Venturi claims,

"It is better to be good than to be original" 19 thereby letting go of the mental block that

modernists had put up against learning from history. It led to a boom of exploration of

architectural history in America and abroad, in search of formal principles to guide and enrich

contemporary architectural design. Ironically, the same institution that had promoted European

modern architecture in the US under the banner of the International Style became the leader in

rejecting it.

19
Lawson, Bryan. Design in Mind. Oxford [England]; Boston: Butterworth Architecture, 1994. Print.

The Will to Ornament Chapter 2: The case of the anti anti-ornamentalists


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Conclusion

The Will to Ornament Conclusion


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Nicholas Pevsner admitted the importance of beauty in a very straightforward fashion.

“A bicycle shed is a building, Lincoln cathedral is architecture”20

At the same time, Modern Architecture has divorced this aesthetic aspiration from

ornamentation. Under such shibboleths as honesty of material, rational of construction,

economics of building and the expression of pure volumes or machine aesthetics, ornamentation

became decadent, primitive, undesired and superfluous. Ergo, the client who wants

ornamentation has no taste.

But the fact is that ornamentation persists. As this dissertation has shown, it persists

precisely in the endeavors of the architect, even when they are taken to be the most radical

exemplars of eschewing ornamentation. Loos did not fight it, and Mies too failed to resist the

temptation to do so.

But perhaps more important is the client’s willingness to sideline such issues as cost for

the sake of ornamentation. A house for its inhabitants does not merely serve the purpose of

shelter. To most owners, a house is the statement one makes to the community. It represents the

individual’s wealth, affluence, place in society and an overall snapshot of the owner’s value.

Quoting architect Gautam Bhatia:

“The building did not merely serve the purpose of providing physical accommodation or

allowing life to be lived with a kind of natural ease and grace. That was but a minor

20
Pevsner, Sir Nikolaus. An outline of European Architecture. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1960. Print. Page 15.
Quoted from Bhatia, Gautam. Punjabi Baroque and other memories of architecture. New Delhi; New York, N.Y.:
Penguin Books, 1994. Print.

The Will to Ornament Conclusion


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requirement of architecture. It was more important for clients to use architecture as a

convenient medium to convey some culturally indistinct but personal message.”

“In the rush towards purism, the house had lost something of its former imaginative

ways. He (the owner) wanted the eyes to linger once again, to focus, to examine and to

appreciate. Space – of prime importance in the concrete box - was too diffuse; it could

not be lovingly admired, like a Corinthian column or a Classical pediment; something as

intangible as space could not produce even the smallest hint of jealousy in the passerby.

So naturally, the envelope that contained the space slowly began to gain importance”21

Bhatia points out further that architecture is not just such a medium for clients but also

for architects as well. That they too express their concerns and priorities and “who they are”

through the design and overall “look”. He notes:

“For an architect, architecture is kind of a memoir. A piece of work, a building, is as

personal an autobiography an architect can write. It carries notions of professed aims

and ideas, uttered in the final making, albeit influenced by eternal logic of places, and of

the people who built it, and those who live in it. To my mind all art – and so architecture

– becomes a vast canvas of confession. And the artist reveals everything of himself,

either through draftsmanship or through the facility of words. Buildings too are given to

self description. As works of architecture they express the architect’s own perceptions of

place, the way he would make it for himself, the way he would occupy it. Though the

exploratory and personal nature of any artistic endeavor makes the selection of the

subject critical to the work this is often not possible in architecture. Where it may be easy

21
Bhatia, Gautam. Punjabi Baroque and other memories of architecture. New Delhi; New York, N.Y.: Penguin
Books, 1994. Print. Page 3,4,50,51

The Will to Ornament Conclusion


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for a painter to be selective about the subject of his study, it is not possible for an

architect to choose his field of design enquiry; to draw apples and other fruits or

imaginary landscapes may be very well for an artist working in the confinement of a

studio but ideas that may be fermenting in the architect’s mind over the nature of

institutional design can hardly be put to test if the client wishes to construct only a family

house; the nagging quest for innovative skyscraper concepts cannot be quashed in

buildings which the byelaws restrict to only two storey. Personal ideas must necessarily

mesh with the restrictions imposed by the users of the building, and the authorities

approving its emergence as a physical entity in the city.”22

My dissertation has pointed to the works of architects who do work with ornamentation.

Robert Venturi ‘s Vanna Venturi house or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian house stands

testament to works of ornamentation even within the domain of most clients, i.e. residences, but

even then they miss out this aspect of interaction with clients. Wright’s icicles are ornamentation

based on his own childhood memory—but on somebody else’s house. Venturi repeatedly notes

that “I am all for messy vitality,” inclusivity, ornamentations among other things. But never was

noted saying that “I am interested in the client.” The will of the architect persists here.

Admittedly my textual argument here is focused on the architect—the client, just as the

proverbial “subaltern” does not speak or write lengthy tomes on architectural ornamentation. But

it is his concern which has continuously shadowed my readings. As I read the texts—sometimes

finding in the works precisely ornamentation where it was supposed to be missing—I

22
Bhatia, Gautam. Punjabi Baroque and other memories of architecture. New Delhi; New York, N.Y.: Penguin
Books, 1994. Print. Page 1

The Will to Ornament Conclusion


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continuously asked, where is the client, where are his aspirations? Dr. Farnsworth sued Mies

after he finished her house, the house which was but a shelter to his ego.

I may be a romanticist, or just not aware of my own limitations as an architect to be. But I

believe that beauty belongs to the structure when it brings happiness to the inhabitants and

represent them. This beauty is the same not in just art, architecture, literature but in every sphere

of life. Be it fancy crockery, stylistic shoes, designer clothes or a trendy kitchen appliance,

beauty and aesthetics govern our interaction and sensibilities with the world. Therefore the will

to ornament is in the center of the architect’s and client’s concerns….

The Will to Ornament Conclusion


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Bibliography

Lectures:
• Loos, Adolf. Lecture. 21 Jan 1910.

Books:
• Tournikiotis, Panayotis. Adolf Loos. New York, N.Y.: Princeton Architectural Press,

1994. Print.

• Van der Rohe, Ludwig Mies. Ed: Zukowsky, John. Mies Reconsidered: His Career,

Legacy, and Disciples. Chicago, IL: Art Institute of Chicago; New York, N.Y.: Rizzoli

International Publications. 1986. Print.

• Wiseman, Carter. Shaping a Nation: Twentieth-century American architecture and its

makers. New York: Norton. 1998. Print

• Brewster, Mike (2004-07-28). "Frank Lloyd Wright: America's Architect". Business

Week (The McGraw-Hill Companies). 22 Jan 2008. Print.

• Zabel, Craig Robert. Munshower, Susan Scott. American public Architecture: European

roots and native expressions. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University, 1989.

Print.

• Cahoone, Lawrence E. From modernism to postmodernism: an anthology. Cambridge,

Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1996. Print.

• Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. New York: Museum of

Modern Art; Boston: distributed by New York Graphic Society, 1977. Print.

The Will to Ornament Bibliography


Saluja│28

• Lawson, Bryan. Design in Mind. Oxford [England]; Boston: Butterworth Architecture,

1994. Print.

• Pevsner, Sir Nikolaus. An outline of European Architecture. Baltimore: Penguin Books,

1960. Print. Page 15.

• Bhatia, Gautam. Punjabi Baroque and other memories of architecture. New Delhi; New

York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1994. Print.

Articles:
• Kevin Harrington, “S.R. Crown Hall”. AIA guide to Chicago. San Diego: Harcourt Brace

& Co., 1993: 388-89. Print

• Wright, Frank Lloyd. “The Natural House”. House + home. Vol. 7, no. 1 (Jan. 1955)

Web references:
• Rogers, Christy. “S.R. Crown Hall.” Galinsky- people enjoying buildings worldwide.

Galinsky. 1998. Web. 15 Dec 2009.

The Will to Ornament Bibliography


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List of figures:

• Figure 1:
Description: The Looshaus
Dated: September 2004
Source: Wikipedia
Author: Alexander Mayrhofer

• Figure 2:
Description: S.R. Crown Hall
Dated: 14 May 2006
Source: Wikipedia
Author: Jeremy Atherton

• Figure 3:
Description: Seagram Building
Dated: 2007-06-25
Source: Wikipedia
Author: Mikerussell

• Figure 4:
Description: Falling Waters
Dated: 18-10-2007
Source: Wikipedia
Author: Sxenco

• Figure 5:
Description: Freedom Plaza,Washington DC
Dated: 23-10-2008
Source: Wikipedia
Author: APK is not a Womanizer

The Will to Ornament Bibliography