Essay Writing

Main theories of Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos


This paper in parallel covers the essays, written works and architectural works of Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos, some of the chief initiators and inventors of theories used in architectural design today. These two were known mainly because of the essays they wrote. Though loaded with creativity, these essays were faced with ridicule, contention and opposition. With time, however, their theories sold and became accepted globally when they patiently made known their theories and ideas undeterred. This essay discusses the influence that these theories have architectural design today, and mainly focuses on the application of these theories in two building examples; the Villa Savoye and the Moller House. The critiques of their theories are also discussed.

The theories and written works of Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier, from Switzerland, was raised in Jura near the Jura Mountains, where his ancestors are said to have fled to because of war.  His family as a whole, had a liking for fine art, including music, and they loved the features of the Jura Mountains. As a result of influence by the family, Le Corbusier studied art and was taught by Charles L’Eplattenieer, a teacher whom he referred to as “My Master.” Though the initial dream of Le Corbusier was to become a painter and a matchmaker, L’Eplattenieer encouraged Le Corbusier not only to specialize in art but also in architecture and he even went further to make his admission to the school of architecture and design possible.  [1]

Le Corbusier mainly designed villas, which basically comprised of a structural skeleton made from concrete that was toughened for mechanical strength. [2]He believed that this was affordable and beautiful, yet strong. Such villas were made with horizontal planar slabs that acted as floors, and from them there were no externally visible beams. The pillars used to support the structure were simply plain and straight and placed at the edges of the structure. This design, he argued, did not exert any strain on both the internal walls and the exterior facets.[3]

“Après le cubisme” is the first book that Le Corbusier wrote, and it was based on a drive that he had begun jointly with Ozenfant. [4]This drive, by the name ‘Purism’, campaigned for the restitution of the meaning and significance of the items of mass production made under art. Le Corbusier and Ozenfant were among those who wrote the journal by the name “I’Esprit Nouveau”, in which there was a plan for a new form of architectural design which could both meet the structural requirements set by the government and the monumental value that the designers of ancient buildings sought after.[5]

At some point in time, Le Corbusier’s and Ozenfant’s painting profession was at jeopardy, because people viewed them more as reviewers of art and writers of suppositions. [6]There also grew some form of insecurity between the two, and they started contending over issues about whom credit for the work they had done together was due to. They therefore parted ways, and Le Corbusier joined efforts with his cousin to continue with the work that he had already begun. This time, he was more cautious because of how he and his former partner ended up, and he ensured that his cousin would only do the basic work of compiling the particulars and plans given to him by Le Corbusier.[7]

In 1923, at the age of thirty six, Le Corbusier compiled the second journal which was called “Vers une architecture” which was more or less a combination of some pieces of writing he had done in his first journal, “I’Esprit Nouveau.” In it, he had commended the various designs of machines and items of mass production. He also culminated the article with the encouragement that people must “look upon the house as a machine for living or as a tool”. It made a best seller. [8]Another milestone for Le Corbusier was that he was allowed to sell his ideas to the community at large openly.[9]

One of the things that made his ideas to sell was because they brought about a major transformation to the society.In his argument, he hypothesized that “The machine that we live in is an old coach…. There is no … link between our daily activities at the factory, the office, which are healthy … and our activities in…. the family… handicapped at every turn.” [10]Therefore, he believed that architectural design was supposed to restore the society to the position in which it was before it was distorted, and that it would be achieved without having to undergo a revolution.[11]

His theory was met with the challenge from people who said that there was scarcity of good building materials like steel and concrete that was reinforced with iron. What these people had not understood was that his main idea was to have people adapt the idea of residing in houses that resembled each other- this challenge was to his advantage, and it explained why he had written an article that commended mass production of items. [12]He argued that houses with walls painted in white would bring a sense of oneness, and this was part of his mission to put back to its original position the society.[13]

The theories and written works of Adolf Loos

Adolf Loos, an Austrian pioneer of architecture, was renowned for his works of interior design which, though simple and without much detail, were of much beauty. His emphasis in design was to eliminate what he described as “an excess of decoration in both traditional Viennese design and in the more recent products of the Vienna Secession and the Wiener Werkstatte”.[14] To most people, this theory was found unacceptable and it therefore became unpopular, and it faced much opposition. However, he was determined to make his point understood and absorbed into the system of design then.[15]

Wittingly, he ensured that in his argument, he would not be straightforward and plain when tackling the subject of structural and interior design. He argued that what propelled the need for excessive decoration was the hunger the society had for a makeover, and this hunger was mainly brought about by the evils that existed therein. [16]The excessive use of ornaments, he argued, had made the cultural significance that the ornaments once represented to wither and lack meaning. This argument, which made him known globally, gave him a platform to make his theory known far and wide.[17]

In his pursuit for simplicity of design, Adolf Loos wrote an essay in 1908 with the title ‘Ornament and Crime’. In this essay, he regarded excessive ornamentation as a ‘crime’ because it was not economical because it required a lot of labor and it also consumed a lot of materials. [18]To him, a plain, simple and undecorated architecture was what he termed as ‘a sign of spiritual strength’. Because of being renowned globally, this essay penetrated many nations, most of which accepted and adapted it into their design system.[19]

Adolf Loos also argued that the excessive use of ornaments in the decoration of the exterior robbed off the originality and beauty of the materials that were used in building. He believed that any one who beheld a building from the outside had to appreciate the beauty and functionality of the original materials used in building the structure. [20]He therefore wrote another essay with the title “Principles of Building”, in which the main idea was that the exterior any piece of architecture should be “dumb”. On the contrary, Adolf Loos compensated for the plain exterior with extravagantly finished interiors.[21]

The third main article written by Adolf Loos bears the title “Architecture”. This essay explained the various opposites found in architecture: aesthetics and functionality, memorial value and residential value, and the peripheral and internal look. [22]He argued that any piece of architecture should not only be artistic but also serve a purpose. He found no reason for something to be beautiful yet meaningless. In his argument, Adolf Loos argued that artistic works are meant to give aesthetic pleasure to all beholders, but architectural works do not have to, because they are not only vital but also of great utility. [23]

Architectural works of Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos

Le Corbusier designed great buildings include: Villa Savoye, Villa Jeanneret, the Swiss House, Carpenter Center, Notre-Dame-du-Haut, Curutchet House, United Nations Headquarters, Pavillon Suisse, Convent of La Tourette, Maisons Jaoul, and the Villa Pallet among others. Some of the great buildings designed by Adolf Loos include: Cafe Museum, Karntner Bar Vienna, Looshaus, Steiner House, Scheu House, American Bar, Bojko House, Semler House and Villa Stross among hundreds of others. [24]These two also left tens of thousands of written plans and architectural designs, which have been of great use to contemporary structural design.[25]

The Villa Savoye

The Villa Savoye, which was completed in 1929, is located at Poissy in Paris. [26]The building represented what Le Corbusier stated that his work must have- “The Five Points,” namely: the pilotis, which are the pillars which give support to the structure. They also act as stands suspended above the ground on which the building is suspended. The second point is the roof which resembles a flat porch, whose main purpose was to leave space for uses other than accommodating the structure itself. An example of such uses is planting a kitchen garden.[27]

The third point is the open plan, where the interior partitioning walls were not put uniformly on all floors but according to the purpose and the size needed for each room. The fourth of the ‘Five Points’ is windows that open horizontally as opposed to the conventional longitudinal ones. These were meant to ensure uniform and better aeration and lighting. The final point is that the front part of the building should have slender walls and that it should bear an open design.[28]

His notion that people must “look upon the house as a machine for living or as a tool” is fulfilled in the Villa Savoye. The interior of this building is full of features that help save time and energy, thus making a residential house to be far from what he hypothesized about people’s residential homes, that:

“… that we live in is an old coach…. There’s no… link between our daily activities at the factory, the office… which are healthy… and productive, and our activities in… the family which are handicapped at every turn’’.[29]

This design ensured that there was that ‘link’ between offices and homes by ensuring that the residential house also has features of convenience like most offices do. The reason why he believed that the evils in the society were on the rise was simply because many people preferred staying for longer in their offices than at their houses, because their houses were far from convenient in terms of the facilities and features in them. [30]This was both a direct and an indirect cause for families breaking apart because of instances of office-related extra marital affairs and families drifting apart because of not spending quality time together at home.[31]

The kitchen of the Villa Savoye had a white color that was homely, elegant and inviting. On the contrary, the villa’s bathroom bore brilliant aqua blue terrazzo and china. Generally, the walls of the interior were warped in a way that was so appealing to the eye of the resident of the house that he or she could not help but be glued to the rooms. [32]The window frames were put so strategically with the landscape outside that one would think that it was a wall painting of a landscape. This beautified the walls of every room more, and gave the rooms a homely and peaceful atmosphere. The eyes of the inhabitant of the room were tied to the scenery outside the frame.[33]

Instead of the conventional way of putting stairs to connect one floor to the other, Le Corbusier put inclines with no steps. Such ramps were very convenient for toddlers, the elderly and the sick because one would comfortably use wheel chairs, crutches and other similar facilities. [34]The roof of the Villa Savoye served a dual purpose; beauty and utility-beauty because it did not have the traditional way of roofing, and utility because it could be used as a meeting place, a resting place and a playground.[35]

This design, however, failed because the roof was reported to have leaked; this made Le Corbusier to be sued, but unfortunately World War II came when the court case was midway, and the villa was destroyed before any investigations to the matter could be done. [36]The large windows in the villa were also a cause of complaint especially when the weather was cold. The use of heaters in the house during cold seasons became inefficient and uneconomical, because these windows caused great loss of warmth by radiation.[37]

The Moller House

Completion of the Moller House happened around the same time as that of the Villa Savoye, and it was a perfect representative of what Adolf Loos had said an ideal building should be: “The building should be dumb outside and only reveal wealth inside”.  [38]The exterior of the flat roofed Moller House resembled a simple cube. The brilliant white painting finish brought out the simplicity that Adolf Loos emphasized in his writing. The windows of the building, which lacked much detail, were painted yellow and were non-uniformly placed on the exterior walls. This is all there was on the facade of the Moller house.[39]

The interior, whose style and elegance was far from simple, was a total opposite of what was on the outside. The materials used for the interior finishing were more conventional than contemporary, and this gave the interior a homely and welcoming look. [40]Adolf Loos, in his literature, wrote about an ideal building having what he called a “Raumplan”. He believed that the Moller House gave perfect relevance to his theory:

“My architecture is not conceived by drawings, but by spaces. I do not draw plans… For me…..floors do not exist… There are only interconnected continual spaces… Each space needs a different height… spaces are connected so that ascent and descent are not only unnoticeable, but at the same time functional”.[41]

Marbles and smoothly sanded wooden furniture gave a traditional finish to his “Raumplan” design, and the fabric that was mainly used for draperies in the Moller House was pure silk. [42] There were different floor levels in the building, and Loos gave all the levels different finishes-non resembled the other. The lowest level was finished with colors that were dark for a bold statement, which was neutralized by the next room’s “friendlier” colors. The mini-staircase that led to the next sub level is described as a “modest staircase that takes the visitor round a right-angle bend, emerging dramatically between marble pillars into the double-height, open-plan sitting room”.[43]

The windows of the rooms in higher levels were strategically placed to let in the beautiful scenery outside, in such a way that these windows resembled wall hangings or paintings of nature. The window that enclosed the most beautiful view happened to be the open one on a wall at one edge of the roof patio.[44]However, many argued that this project was not cost effective, and they even doubted the stability of the house because of the way the subsequent walls at different levels of the Moller House had no continuity.[45]


The Le Corbusier’s theory that stated that a residential house must be viewed as a “machine in which we live” was found applicable in his building, the Villa Savoye. The villa carried everything his theory campaigned for, and living in the villa was more enjoyable. Tools and facilities of convenience were made available in the villa, so that one would not see a wide gap between the office and the home. Also, the Moller House, designed and built by Adolf Loos who termed excessive use of ornaments as a “crime”, is a physical manifestation of what he theoretically represented on paper. The building has the plain and “dumb” look on the outside, which he compensates for with a magnificent, luxurious, homely interior. He maintained the simplicity he aims at when he says that “the building’s facade should speak for itself”, as seen in his theory.


Cohen, Jean-Louis (2004). Le Corbusier, 1887-1965: the lyricism of architecture in the machineage. London: Taschen.

Glynn,Simon. Villa Müller, Prague. Retrieved on 26th May, 2010 from,2006

Gronberg, Tag. Designs on modernity: exhibiting the city in 1920s Paris. London: Manchester University Press, 2004

Tournikiotis, Panayotis. Adolf Loos. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002

[1] Jean-Louis Cohen. Le Corbusier, 1887-1965: the lyricism of architecture in the machineage. (London: Taschen, 2004), 38.

[2] Tag Gronberg. Designs on modernity: exhibiting the city in 1920s Paris. (London: Manchester University Press, 2004), 134.

[3] Jean-Louis Cohen, 40.

[4] Tag Gronberg, 136.

[5] Tag Gronberg, 136.

[6] Jean-Louis Cohen, 44.

[7] Tag Gronberg, 139.

[8] Tag Gronberg, 140.

[9] Jean-Louis Cohen, 45.

[10] Tag Gronberg, 144.

[11] Tag Gronberg, 140.

[12] Tag Gronberg, 140.

[13] Jean-Louis Cohen, 46.

[14] Panayotis Tournikiotis. Adolf Loos. (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002), 121.

[15] Panayotis Tournikiotis, 121.

[16] Panayotis Tournikiotis, 122.

[17] Simon Glynn. Villa Müller, Prague. Retrieved on 26th May, 2010 from (,2006), 99.

[18] Simon Glynn, 99.

[19] Panayotis Tournikiotis, 124.

[20] Simon Glynn, 101.

[21] Panayotis Tournikiotis, 124.

[22] Panayotis Tournikiotis, 126.

[23] Simon Glynn, 104.

[24] Tag Gronberg, 144.

[25] Tag Gronberg, 144.

[26] Jean-Louis Cohen, 49.

[27] Jean-Louis Cohen, 50.

[28] Jean-Louis Cohen, 50.

[29] Tag Gronberg, 146.

[30] Jean-Louis Cohen, 51.

[31] Jean-Louis Cohen, 53.

[32] Tag Gronberg, 148.

[33] Jean-Louis Cohen, 56.

[34] Jean-Louis Cohen, 58.

[35] Tag Gronberg, 153.

[36] Jean-Louis Cohen, 58.

[37] Jean-Louis Cohen, 59.

[38] Simon Glynn, 109.

[39] Panayotis Tournikiotis, 130.

[40] Panayotis Tournikiotis, 134.

[41] Simon Glynn, 114.

[42] Simon Glynn, 136.

[43] Simon Glynn, 137.

[44] Simon Glynn, 140.

[45] Tag Gronberg, 160.

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