Monumentalism, Integrity and Authenticity: aesthetic and moral aspects in the writings of Otto Wagner, by Bela Kerekgyarto

The birth of modern urbanized society and culture has demanded from the architects a new orientation and continous redefinition of the professional field and activity. As representants of the very rich and complex cultural field of the ’fin de siecle’ Vienna Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos played an important and innovative role in the development of modern architectural thinking. Although in different way they combined cultural and professional writing and architectural practice and delt with the aesthetic and moral aspects of architecture.

In the wake of the 19. century’s historicism and Beaux‐Arts tradition Wagner emphasized more the aesthetic aspect of modern architecture and urbanism. Faced with the disappearance of traditional planning authorities he widened the competence and responsibility of architects beyond buildings to the fields of urban and environmental design. In a somewhat contradictory way he combined aestheticism with material and functional requirements. According to him the architect had to study the modern urban life as the most complex form of human association and use the modern achievements of technology in order to be able to satisfy the needs of people and to express his own time. His monumentalist approach refered first of all to the public appearance and meaning of modern architecture. In contrast to Wagner Adolf Loos paid more attention to the individuals, the civic and private aspects of life. He divided the practical and artistic spheres of architecture from each other quite rigorously.

According to his wellknown formulation, only “the tomb and the monument” belong in the realm of art. He emphasized the integrity of dwelling, the inherence of outer and inner factors of life. He wanted to educate the new city dwellers to integrity and autonomy, heavily criticizing the authoritarian aestheticism of the Secessionists. His famous and notorious critique of ornament and ornamentalism was directed not only against unnecessary architectural elements and gestures but was a more general critique of his time which tried to hide the lack of any ”true” or authentic culture behind false facades. His radical views were in tune with the cultural criticism of his close friend, Karl Kraus and influenced considerably the young Ludwig Wittgenstein. The lecture compares the conceptions of Wagner and Loos and point to their impact on the subsequent development.

Bela Kerekgyarto, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, HU

Harvard Citation Guide: Kerekgyarto, B. (2012) Monumentalism, Integrity and Authenticity: aesthetic and moral aspects in the writings of Otto Wagner, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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