by Neometro

Ornament Is Crime

Architecture - by Lisa Cugnetto

The recently released Ornament Is Crime is an architecture book by Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill. Two friends, reputed art, design and architecture writers, and co-founders of London-based specialty estate agency, The Modern House, which sells design-led property across Britain.

The book takes its name from the seminal essay Ornament and Crime, written by Modernist architect Adolf Loos in 1908, which strongly criticised the use of ornament in art and design.

Marcel Breuer: Starkey House, Duluth, Minnesota, USA, 1955. Picture credit: © Ezra Stoller/ Esto (page 93)

Ornament Is Crime is a tribute to the enduring influence of Modernism and aims to frame the architectural movement beyond its traditional confines by bringing together the works of iconic Modernist 20th century masters – the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Arne Jacobsen, and Miles van der Rohe – alongside more contemporary architects, such as Tadao Ando, Sou Fujimoto, and John Pawson.

In beautiful black and white images and peppered with eclectic quotes and lyrics by artists, musicians and design names, this connection is represented in the book through the placement of architectural works (spanning old and new from the 1920s to the modern day from around the world) by aesthetic similarity instead of era. Ornament Is Crime visually communicates Modernism’s presence as one that is still very much relevant and applied today.

Tadao Ando: House in Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico, 2011. Picture credit:
Toshiyuki Yano (page 145)

An extract from Ornament Is Crime:

 In this extract from the introduction of Ornament Is Crime (Phaidon), Matt Gibberd writes of his love of Modernism, how he and business partner Albert Hill came to establish The Modern House, and how they approached creating the book.

‘I was only six years old when my grandpa died, but a love of Modernism has trickled through the generational cracks. My father is also an architect, and it seems to be one of those disciplines that gets its talons into a family and doesn’t let go. That said, my dad only ever gave me one piece of careers advice, and it was as bald as the head on his shoulders: ‘Do anything you like, so long as it’s not architecture’.

He spoke from experience when he outlined the frustrations of cantankerous clients, obstructive planning laws and never getting anything built. Taking him at his word, I have indulged my obsession with buildings without actually designing them: I have written about them for newspapers and magazines; my holidays are predicated upon which exciting Modernist houses I will be able to see; and since co-founding The Modern House estate agency in 2005, I have sold hundreds of them too. The Modern House was the brainchild of my great friend, business partner and co-creator of this book, Albert Hill. It is somewhat of an anomaly in the property industry. We focus not on a particular location but on the design quality of the houses themselves. Many of the projects featured in these pages have passed through the hands of our agency, from High & Over (p.183), which was the first genuinely Modernist house built in the UK, through mid-century marvels like Farnley Hey (p.69), to more recent interpretations of the style by Graham Bizley (p.109) and Carl Turner (p.143).

Albert and I both studied History of Art and Architecture at university. The Bauhaus was our academic entry point to Modernism, along with the exuberant Abstract Expressionism that came to dominate American art in the middle of the twentieth century. Immersing ourselves in the world of Modern architecture has since given us a much broader appreciation of its intricacies. After graduation, I became a senior editor at The World of Interiors, and Albert was the design editor at Wallpaper, and there’s nothing like a magazine training for refining the eye. For us, the term ‘Modernism’ has a multifarious meaning. The purpose of this book is to identify its key aesthetic characteristics and show how this most trailblazing of architectural styles is still thriving in the twenty-first century. If Modernist architecture were a family tree, then contemporary architects such as Smiljan Radic,

Sou Fujimoto Architects: House NA, Tokyo, Japan, 2010. Picture credit: Iwan Baan Studio (page 47, left)

Tadao Ando and John Pawson would all have inherited limbs, ears and noses from the Modernist masters Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. 

The buildings in this book – all of them freestanding houses – have been grouped together according to aesthetic commonality, with a deliberate absence of hierarchy, to illustrate, for example, that a house in Yokohama built in 2012 shares a common Modernist lineage with Le Corbusier’s Maison Guiette in Belgium built almost 90 years before (p.142). By displaying them in black and white rather than colour, we have placed an emphasis on form and elevational disposition rather than surface detailing or geographical context. The result is a visual manifesto that seeks to reposition Modernism as a style that has transcended the generations to emerge remarkably unscathed. Very clear themes emerge: flat roofs, cubic or cylindrical structures, large windows in horizontal bands, a truth to materials, and a tendency towards plain-rendered exterior surfaces. All of these attributes can be seen in abundance in the architecture of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries that followed the period generally acknowledged as that of Modernism.’

‘Ornament Is Crime’ is available now through Phaidon.


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