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Steiner House and Kantner Bar’s Architecture Essay


Adolf Loos: Background and Key Themes

The link between form and function has been the central argument of architecture since it was represented by Sullivan in 1896.[1] While the opinions regarding the degree of connection between the two have been varying for decades, the general concept of architecture works as a delicate balance between form and function had been persistent for a while. A strikingly different perspective on the subject matter, however, was introduced into the realm of architecture once Adolf Loos’s creative genius became globally renowned.

Viewing architecture as an art form, Loos took Sullivan’s principle to its extreme and stated that “the building’s identity resides in the ornament.”[2] Despite the fact that Kantner Bar and Steiner House, which are two of the landmark art pieces created by Loss, were built on the same time slot, they represent by comparison a significant shift in Loss’s artistic paradigm from incorporating certain elements of the Art Nouveau genre to defining the further evolution thereof and using a minimalist approach to promote the importance of function as the essential elements of design.

Therefore, Kantner Bar and Steiner House should be explored from the perspective of the artistic and personal evolution of the architect. Although built roughly within the same time period, the two art pieces are strikingly different from each other in their adherence to the primary principles of design simplicity heralded by Loos as the defining characteristics of the style. As a result, Steiner House has a much more definitive and complete look than Karntner Bar, which resembles a rehearsal before the grand creation.

Kantner Bar: Art Nouveau in All Its Glory

When considering the most memorable examples of Art Nouveau that are clearly representative of the genre, one must mention the Kantner Bar located in Vienna; it incorporates traditional elements and characteristics of the Art Nouveau style. For instance, the fact that it was built using rich yet simple materials deserves to be mentioned as an essential characteristic.[3] The specified choice of materials allows making the look of the building, including both the interior and exterior, rather cosmopolitan.[4] As a result, the building meets the criteria of the Art Nouveau style quite accurately (see Appendix A).

The Kantner Bar, therefore, should be regarded as a step in the right direction on Loos’s way of exploring the formalist approach to architecture. Nevertheless, the building has the seal of Art Nouveau’s predecessors in every element of its design. For instance, the choice of artistic elements such as decorative items points to Loos’s willingness to reduce their impact on the aesthetic characteristics of architecture artworks, yet Loos was clearly not ready to refrain from using ornaments in his work completely.

Indeed, a closer look at some of the decorative elements will reveal that, while being rather smooth and blending with the rest of the environment, decorations are still included in the design. The specified choice can be viewed as a compromise between the influence of the fin de siècle era and the sporadic nature of the Art Nouveau requirements toward stylistic choices and decisions.

Nevertheless, some of the elements of the Kantner Bar are not in line with the Art Nouveau principles, which indicates that the building represents one of the earliest stages of Loos’s development as an artist. For instance, the architect still maintains a rather close focus on the form as opposed to the function-related aspects of the building since Loos used the structure and visual characteristics of ice as the primary model for the elements of the house.

Therefore, Kantner Bar should be viewed as one of the steps that Loos took on his way to reinforcing the concept of functionalism and incorporating it into his work. Although Kantner Bar already possesses the characteristics that set it aside from the rest of architecture works performed by other artists in the identified era, it lacks the unique characteristics that will make Loos’s works the ultimate representation of the Art Nouveau genre and the embodiment of functionalism in architecture. The impact of Kantner Bar’s minimalist features is yet to be enhanced and expanded to the nth degree, as the next artwork of Loos’s shows rather clearly.

Steiner House: When Function Dominates Form

Steiner House, in turn, stresses the significance of function even more, thus, demonstrating Loos’s propensity toward stressing the importance of functional dimensions of a building. The Steiner House is fully devoid of any semblance of ornaments, which represents an even greater shift toward the idea of form following function. Therefore, Steiner’s house can be viewed as the representation of Loos’s artistic beliefs and philosophy being taken to their logical extreme.

The unusual approach that Loos deployed when constructing the roof of the building is where the principles of form following function become especially evident. Being the calling card of the building, the unusual, arch-shaped rooftop can be defined as the ultimate statement of the function is at the helm of architectural choices. Particularly, the opportunities for avoiding ornaments and using the available space as rationally as possible are explored extensively with the help of the choices made by Loos (see Appendix B).

The fact that the curved roof was supposed to allude to the historical buildings of the era and, therefore, serve as a link between the modern culture and the legacy of the previous eras can also be considered an important element of the Steiner House that makes it different from the Kantner Bar. Although the latter also incorporates the elements that allow defining it as the Art Nouveau style.

The presence of smooth and symmetrical lines, as well as the overall simplicity of the form, without any evident complex elements, can also be viewed as a market of the Art Nouveau style and a striking difference to the Karntner Bar. Indeed, although the latter should also be deemed as a very clear representation of an Art Nouveau style building, it also includes the items and characteristics that allow linking it to other stylistic genres.

Furthermore, the Steiner House is also very representative of a rather emotionally reserved style by which Loos’s works are typically characterized. Deprived of any extra elements that would have made it look bulky or overly saturated with details, the house represents the next step toward imbuing form with meaning and using it as the means of enhancing the functionality of the building. Therefore, the principles of Art Nouveau, as well as the idea of function defining form, can be tracked down much easier in the Steiner House than in the Kantner Bar.

The building, therefore, serves as the embodiment of the transgression that Loos had to make in order to make his artistic style more definitive and well-defined. By exploring the opportunities that could be pursued with the refusal from using ornament, as well as any complex elements, in general, the author made a very powerful artistic statement.

Furthermore, it would be erroneous to call the Steiner House a simplistic art piece. While it does feature the choices that can be deemed as the refusal to clutter the house with additional decorative elements, the restrained choice of materials and ornaments did not prevent Loos from imbuing his art piece with additional layers of meaning. Particularly, the beauty of the approach that does not involve any excessive components and, thus, does not allow cluttering the space truly shines through the design used by the architect. The Steiner House represents another step toward perfecting Loos’s architecture style by relieving it of the elements that would have otherwise been considered lackluster in the setting of the Steiner House.[5]

Exploring the Transgression: Loos’s Evolution

As stressed above, the Kantner Bar is quite similar to the Steiner House as far as some of the architectural choices are concerned. The lack of excessive details can be deemed as the primary characteristic of the two. Furthermore, the propensity toward using natural items in constructing both buildings is evident. However, the two art pieces also portray the architect’s transgression and a shift toward using fewer details in his work.

In other words, Loos approaches the foundational principles of Art Nouveau in the Steiner House very closely because of the transfer from a rather basic idea of function defining form to a very clear idea of what functionalism is supposed to embody and how it can be expressed. As a result, both the tone and the atmosphere in which both art pieces exist are strikingly different from each other.

The choice of materials is the first issue that needs to be addressed when considering the way in which the author’s style was shaped on the specified time slot. The austere and emotionally reserved style of the Kantner Bar is admittedly representative of Loos’s architectural style. However, the propensity toward using complex forms and shapes, particularly, the crystal structure of ice, was what made the Kantner Bar a comparatively less simplistic in its nature and structure than the Steiner House.

Thus, the Steiner House can be viewed as not only an artistic statement but also an attempt to shake off the shackles of alien architectural styles that tend to incorporate decorative elements. Instead, the laconic nature of the Art Nouveau style comes out in full blue in the outline and key components of the Steiner House. Therefore, although the two art pieces were created within a comparatively short time period, they represent different stages of Loos’s development as an artist. In the decorative elements and structural characteristics of the Kantner Bar, Loos’s attempt at fighting the restrictions of the genre are very visible.

Although having a unique seal of the author’s signature approach on it, the Karntner Bar still represents the struggle that Loos experienced at the time while his unique artistic style was beginning to crystallize. The Steiner House, in turn, already exists in Loos’s universe of minimalism and refusal to include any decorative elements whatsoever in the design of the building. As a result, the Steiner House has a more definitive look and a more distinct atmosphere of minimalism.

Finally, the use of materials deserves to be addressed as one of the changes that contributed to the further process of Loos’s development of personal artistic philosophy and unique style. The refusal to utilize any complex synthetic materials and the return to the traditional mortar elements along with metal and similar components helped Loos bring his style closer to the concept of functionalism in architecture. Thus, the principles of the Art Nouveau style are followed much closer in the Steiner House than they are in the Kantner Bar design.[6]

At this point, however, one must note that defining either the Kantner Bar or the Steiner House as a superior artwork would be wrong. Each of the art pieces represents a unique stylistic choice and a solution to the dilemma of form and function in architecture. Each of the buildings, therefore, can be viewed as a complete work that does not require any improvements and marks a specific stage of the artist’s development. However, the Steiner House leaves a much more lasting impact than Karntner Bar because it is no longer a combination of influences but a well-defined and crystallized artistic style that can only be attributed to Loos. Therefore, the Kantner Bar and Steiner House should be viewed as stages of the artist’s development.

Conclusion: Loos’s Legacy in the 21st Century

By taking the principle of form following function to the nth degree, Loos altered the architecture of the early 20th Century significantly, slowly moving from placing emphasis on form as the element of paramount importance in architecture to the significance of the ornament as part and parcel of form. Thus, Loos connected the concepts of form and function in his work, making them inseparable. The increasingly large importance of form as it pertains to the function of an art piece in architecture can be traced in Loos’s works such as the Kantner Bar and the Steiner House. While the former only leaves minor hints about the importance of form in the realm of architecture, the latter represents a complete triumph of form in the realm of architecture.

Although the idea of choosing from over function turned out to be quite short-lived in architecture, Loos’s legacy remains an essential element of the contemporary architecture choices. The importance of form and the following attempt to express the uniqueness of an art piece using the available spatial and decorative elements, though having experienced significant alterations, remains an important constituent of modern architecture. Therefore, Loos’s legacy persists in the environment of global architecture, defining the style and its further development in a long-term perspective.

Thus, even though the Steiner House might look like the definitive representation of functionalism and the Art Nouveau genre combined, it also needs to be recognized as another stage in the evolution of Loos as an incredibly talented artist. Although The Steiner House seems to incorporate all elements that would become Steiner’s defining characteristics as an artist, it, nevertheless, represents another step in artistic growth. The legacy of both Steiner House and Kantner Bar lives in the architecture of the 21st Century, thus, paving the way for introducing new and inspiring ideas to the concept of form and function as intertwined entities.

Bibliography

Ashby, Charlotte, Tag Gronberg, and Simon Shaw-Miller. The Viennese Café and Fin-de-Siècle Culture. New York, NY: Berghahn Books, 2014.

Cruickshank, Dan. A History of Architecture in 100 Buildings. London, UK: William Collins, 2014.

Donald, James. Some of These Days: Black Stars, Jazz Aesthetics, and Modernist Culture. Oxford: OUP, 2015.

Grabow, Kent, and Steven Spreckelmeyer. The Architecture of Use: Aesthetics and Function in Architectural Design. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014.

Kärntner Bar – Adolf Loos and the Secession. Digital image. Kargo Collective. Web.

Poerschke, Ute. Architectural Theory of Modernism: Relating Functions and Forms. New York, NY: Routledge, 2016.

. Digital image. Kargo Collective. Web.

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1. IvyPanda. "Steiner House and Kantner Bar's Architecture." October 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/steiner-house-and-kantner-bars-architecture/.


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IvyPanda. "Steiner House and Kantner Bar's Architecture." October 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/steiner-house-and-kantner-bars-architecture/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Steiner House and Kantner Bar's Architecture." October 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/steiner-house-and-kantner-bars-architecture/.

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