27 March 2011

Adolf Loos exhibition at RIBA

The Adolf Loos exhibition at RIBA hits a lot of my sweet spots.

I like architecture exhibitions. I always go the one at the V&A when I am there and I look out for other ones to go to. The exhibition in Brno Castle is a recent fond memory.

Adolf Loos was Czech so this also fits neatly in with my Czech/Slovak interests.

The exhibition is being staged at RIBA which is both convenient to get to and an interesting building in its own right. I was last there a few years ago for a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe and had broken several promises to go back.

There is a large public space on the first floor which is mostly a cafe and a restaurant but there is also a gallery which housed part of the Loos exhibition. The rest of it was spread thinly across small spaces on the next two floors and in the stairwell.

The exhibition takes us chronologically through some of Loos' major works going in to each one in some details with the story of the commission and particulars of the design approach and materials used.

These works date from the early 20th century and reflect the move towards modern styles with clean uncluttered lines.

There are lots of photographs to show you the interiors and some of the colour schemes are certainly quite brave! I'm not convinced that I would want a room with a green floor and bright orange pillars.

The colours come from wood and marble veneers, to which Loos paid a lot of personal attention to ensure that he got the final look that he was after.

Part of the exhibition shows how some of these buildings are being restored to their original glory, working from original documents, drawings and photographs. Through this painstaking work we can see how these rooms and buildings looked when Loos was working on them and so can appreciate them that much more.

Most of the exhibits are pictures and texts, original and contemporary, but there are a few objects too.

The picture above shows some of the tables and chairs designed by Loos but my favourite object is this model.

It is of the Villa Müller in Prague from 1928 to 1930 and is simply magnificent.

I like the common design of all the older buildings in Prague such that you cannot tell if a building is a block of flats, a school an office or a hospital. Only the people going in and out of it give you a clue.

This villa is a single property but could just as easily be a block of flats for several families. Because of this many of the mansions in Prague do not stand out against their lesser neighbours.

What does make the Villa Müller stand out is not its size but its modern design with clean lines and no decoration. A sharp contrast the the flowering Baroque excesses that fill most of old Prague.

Prague was the last stop on Loos' career, as featured in the main part of the exhibition, that started in Pilsen before moving on and up to Brno and then to Prague. The Villa Müller was completed just a couple of years before he died.

Moving up to the fourth floor we can see some of his work in Vienna for which he is more famous.

Principle among these is the Goldman & Salatsch Building overlooking Michaelerplatz in the heart of Vienna. This is acquired the name "Looshaus" such is the impact he and the building have.

From the same period and place we have an unexpected American Dinner which clearly drew of Loos' three years in the USA but which is equally clearly his work.

The exhibition runs until 3 May and I might well go again before it closes.

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