Marble, a passion shared by three architects


September 5, 2016
by juan
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Marble, a passion shared by three architects

Marble is one of the most used materials in modern architecture. Available in a wide range of colors as well as polychrome inlaid with other minerals, it is appreciated because of its strength, durability and luxurious aesthetics.

Three of the most emblematic architects of the 20th Century –Adolf Loos, Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson– share not only their stylistic tastes and minimalist aesthetic, but also their passion for marble.

Marble: a passion shared by Adolf Loos, Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.


Adolf Loos, one of the pioneers of modernism and precursor in the use of marble.

Adolf Loos (1870-1933), Austrian then turned Czech, is one of the pioneers of modernism. By breaking up with the dominant architectural styles of his time, he aimed at creating a “new art”. Notwithstanding this, his essay “Ornament and Crime” also places him -together with Van der Rohe- as one of the founders of the minimalist architectural trend.

Loos is one of the first architects in struggling for the use of surfaces free of ornaments. This represents a clear breakdown with the architecture of the end of the 19th Century –even with the aesthetic trend of what has been called the Vienna Secession-.

His essay is based upon the idea that progress in culture can be associated with the deletion of ornament from everyday objects.  For this reason he considers to be a crime forcing artisans or constructors to waste time making ornaments that as time goes by, will necessarily become obsolete.

For Loos, the question is not between “complicated” and “simple”.  The real question is between “organic” ornamentation and “superfluous” ornamentation.  Loos is also the author of many other essays where he exposes against “masking the true nature and beauty of materials by useless ornament”. He supported the magazine “Das Andere” (“the Other”), where he published some of his strongest ideas about architecture.  In fact, the lack of ornaments in the exteriors of his buildings was very controversial.  On the other hand, the interiors of his buildings have currently been finished with rich and expensive materials, specially stone, marble and wood.

Among his most emblematic buildings we can mention  Goldman & Salatsch Tailor House also known as Loos House (Vienna, 1910).  The building broke new ground for the Modernism and is a good example of desornamentation. An unornamented render façade shows just outcuted square holes for the windows.  The first three floors are cladded with marble, while the others are nude. The insides of the building are enriched with marble finishings. Its various levels and the shapes are determined by the space –functionalism-.

In order to seize up the impact that this building produced at its time, we can mention the fact that Loos himself had to give a Conference to explain it. The Conference was titled “Mein Haus am Michaelerplatz” (“my house in Michaelerplatz”), and was attended by some two thousand participants.

Another of his emblematic works -Villa Karma in Montreux (Switzerland, 1903-1906)-is an exceptional example of his ideas about interior furnishings.  He employs marble for covering floors and walls, wood for ceilings and some walls, as well as sheets of copper for the roof of the dining room.


As mentioned in our blog: Minimalism: a timeless architectural trend”  Loos and van der Rohe are two of the few architects of  this generation that used marble surfaces with absolute naturalness.  This is due in part to the fact that both learned to appreciate marble in the workshops of their respective parents.



NAME: Tailor Shop Goldman & Salatsch (Loos House)

ARCHITECT: Adolf  Loos

OWNER: Goldman & Salatsch

USE: tailor shop

LOCATION: Vienna, Austria.

YEAR: 2010


Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, master in the use of marble in modern architecture

For Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) the material is always the beginning.  Both his students in the United States and Germany used to be forced to learn basics of construction before even considering design issues.  Van der Rohe used to taught them how to build, first with wood, then with stone and brick and finally with concrete and steel.

His sensitivity to the beauty of the marble has been brilliantly expressed in the Pavilion of Barcelona (1929). This design is considered an archetypal of simplicity and construction rigor. In fact, it is the most famous materialization of his best known maximum: “less is more”.

The construction explores the by then novel concept of open plan. The entire pavilion rests on a travertine marble podium of 56,62 x 18.48 mt., making a total surface of about 1000 sq. mt.

The interior space of the pavilion is divided into 4 zones. Both, the main ceremonial space and the administrative office are covered, while main terrace and the south backyard are uncovered.  Even so, the pavilion is famous for the way the different spaces are integrated: there is a continuity among then, everything seems to flow naturally.

Access to the Hall is not direct, but it occurs tangentially, with a ladder of access that remains hidden to the visitors view.



NAME: German Pavilion in the International Fair of Barcelona, 1929.

ARCHITECT: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

USE: fair installation. Once the event was completed, the Pavilion was disarmed and later, in 1986, re-assembled in the original location.

SURFACE: about 1000 sq. mt.

LOCATION:  Barcelona, Spain.

YEAR: 1929


Philip Johnson:  between minimalism and Pop art

Mies van der Rohe along with who was his disciple Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was involved in 1958 in the design of an emblematic New York building: the “Seagram Building “. According to those who knew them both, Van der Rohe and Johnson, maintained an intense love-hate relationship during all their lives.The Seagram Building is a skyscraper located at 375 Park Avenue, in the Midtown Manhattan, in New York.

Philip Johnson dealt masterfully with interiors, combining green marble with exotic woods. Van der Rohe, took care of the outside of the Seagram, which also includes the red granite square in front of the building.

Neither van der Rohe nor Loos, had academic training in architecture; Philip Johnson got his architecture degree by the age of 35. Before this, Johnson consecrated himself to cultural and artistic activities but always flirting with architecture. He even wrote a book about the work of the architects he admired. It was called “The International Style” (1932) and become a classic all of a sudden.

He performed also as Director of the Department of Architecture of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) and organized one of the most influential architectural displays at the time. His architectural work represents a balance between two dominant post-war art trends: Minimalism and Pop Art. In fact, his best works have aspects of both movements. It can be said that the prestigious Pritzker Prize – considered nowadays the Nobel Prize of architecture- was created for him. Of course, he was the first architect to receive it.



NAME: Seagram Building

ARCHITECTS: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe & Philip Johnson


OWNER: Seagram Liquor Company

USE: office building, restaurant.

LOCATION: 375 Park Avenue, New York, United States.

HEIGHT: 157 meters.

SURFACE: 150.918.0 sq. ft.

YEAR: 1958




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