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What is Ornamentation?

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Ornamentation is the term that architects use for decorative elements of buildings and structures. Examples include decorative arts such as carvings, paintings and other elements such as furniture and lighting. The term excludes large forms such as monumental sculpture.
Generally speaking, ornamentation was common in architecture before the 1940s and was the defining characteristic of styles such as Art Deco. Beginning in the 1950s, ornamentation fell out of favor. Modern architecture became associated with form follows function and minimalism that removed anything unnecessary from designs. The academic environment became hostile to any type of ornamentation and the slightest hint of decoration was likely to be aggressively criticized.

Ornament and Crime

Ornament and Crime is a well known 1910 essay by Austrian architect Adolf Loos. It takes on a moralist tone attacking any decoration in art as "degenerate" and "immoral." The essay claims "freedom from ornament is a sign of spiritual strength." Ironically, Adolf Loos was later charged and partially convicted of serious crimes.


Much of the architecture produced since WWII has been influenced by a school of modern architecture known as International Style that is characterized by rectangular designs and lack of ornamentation. Mantras such as less is more and form follows function were followed with dogmatic zeal by many academics in the period 1950-2010s.

Less is a Bore

Postmodern architecture generally embraces ornamentation and diversity in architecture including designs inspired by nature and culture. The term less is a bore is a common postmodern criticism of the extreme plainness of many modern designs.
Overview: Ornamentation
Elements of decorative art in architecture such as carvings, painting and lighting.
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