Every year the Marmomac fair takes place in the vast exhibition halls at Verona, this being the annual event for everyone working with stone in the construction sector. The surrounding region is home to many major stone companies, including Pibamarmi, who in previous years has commissioned installations for Marmomac from architects such as Grafton Architects, Alberto Campo Baeza and others of comparable renown. This year (2022) Pibamarmi invited Apollodorus Architecture to submit proposals, and the decision quickly fixed on the concept of revisiting the relationship between classical architecture, modern ornamentation (or the lack of it) and marble, via contradictory clues latent in the writings and projects of Adolf Loos, a figure obsessed by exactly these concerns.
Loos was in fact one of the leading figures who turned away from ornamentation in the early 20th century, and he is particularly known for his polemical essay Ornament and Crime (Ornament und Verbrechen). This and other tracts cast decoration in a negative light, whether because it was associated with (supposedly superseded) historical styles and a misplaced use of resources and labour, or seen as out of tune with the new spirit of functionalism. The phrase ‘mere decoration’ says it all.
All this notwithstanding, Loos created interiors with surfaces made of exotic stones as part of a strategy for obtaining aesthetic delight that he believed was legitimate because the material itself provided the decoration - as opposed to old systems of motifs. To make things more interesting, Loos was no straightforward polemicist, but a complex creative personality whose oeuvre embraces ambiguity, contradiction, irony and paradox. Projects of his include columns and compositional devices based on classical principles, as exemplified by the so-called Looshaus. Another scheme of his in central Vienna, the intimate little American Bar (also known by virtue of Loos’s name, I.e. Loosbar), exploits abstract classical regularity, symmetry and tectonics, as simplified by the crisp modern marble coffering.
The Pibamarmi installation takes the Loosbar on the one hand, and Loos’s fondness for the Doric / Tuscan column on the other as starting points for an exploration of the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in his thinking, while reflecting on the status of marble in both the ancient and modern world while enjoying the aesthetic possibilities it gives rise to. In our version the coffering of the Loos bar, made of strips and assembled together, is transformed into monolithic slabs slimmed down for the sake of magical translucency.
Not without more ironies, we find the implicit message here is that Ornament is not a Crime, it just needs to be judged appropriately to technology and context. Nor is it a crime to borrow from precedent, providing that the debt is acknowledged, and certainly no crime to learn from tradition and move it on.