Reading Alexandra Harris’s curious book on Romantic Moderns, I came upon a chapter describing the attitude of high modernist architects to decoration. This is best summed up in a 1908 lecture by Adolf Loos called ‘Ornament and Crime’. As Harris puts it: ‘Decoration, he suggested, encouraged vices by concealing them; ornament was the beguiling accomplice of the century’s many crimes.’
Loos wasn’t the only one to think that way, a similar view was expressed in one form or another by Roger Fry, the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and others. And, of course, it found expression in their work. I remember, in the modernism exhibition at the V&A that I visited a few years ago, seeing early designs for glass-fronted buildings.
And these, of course, were exactly the sorts of apartment buildings you find in Yevgeny Zamiatin’s We, and for the same reason. Everything is exposed, so no crimes can be committed.
Which made me wonder: was We an attack on modernism as much as an attack on Soviet communism? Or, indeed, was Soviet communism a political expression of high modernism?