Tattoos, Criminals, and Modern Architecture

A page from Lombroso's L'homme criminel

Modernist architect Adolf Loos championed unadorned, abstract structures and regarded ornamentation as a sign of cultural backwardness. "The evolution of culture," he declared, "is synonymous with the removal of ornamentation from objects of everyday use."

In their article, Criminal Skins: Tattoos and Modern Architecture in the Work of Adolf Loos, Jimena Canales and Andrew Herscher examine how Loos's theories drew upon and perpetuated ideas from nineteenth-century criminal anthropology. Canales, Associate Professor of the History of Science, explains how Loos connected the ornamentation of everyday objects and structures with the practice of tattooing. Drawing on the work of Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso, Loos argued that the desire to ornament architectural forms, like the urge to inscribe the body, was evidence of evolutionary backsliding, a fall into savagery and degenerate criminality.

You can find a complete listing of Prof. Canales's works in DASH here.