Architectures of Hiding

Teminioluwa Thomas

Costume Concealed in Modern Architecture

This paper explores the concealed expression of costume in the architecture of the modern era. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “costume” takes its etymology from the French word costume around mid-seventeenth century, meaning “style of the period [...] [represented by] a piece of art or work of literature.” It shares its “specific sense development” with “custom,” and “semantic development” with “habit.” The first (custom) takes its etymology from “Anglo-Norman and Old French ...”costume” meaning “habitual behavior, [...] convention or tradition.” While the second (habit) is from Latin etymology habere meaning “to have [...] to be” and therefore, “the mode or condition in which one is, exists, or exhibits oneself”; one’s external demeanor and appearance, or inward character and disposition.

In his Prolegomena (1886), Heinrich Wölfflin compared the costume of the Gothic period to Gothic Architecture stating that “any architectural style reflects the attitude and movement of people in the period concerned. How people like to move and carry themselves is expressed above all in their costume.” He explained how the mental disposition of sharpness and precision, and an outward appearance of wearing crackows and gable hats are characteristics expressed in Gothic architecture. In a like manner, Adolf Loos debated the costume of the modern era to be without the need for ornament, asserting that “modern man uses his dress as a disguise,” because he had become more “refined [...] [and] subtle.” This is evident in his architecture as the exterior is left bland, disguising the dramatic interior. The original meaning of the word costume becomes a defining factor in identifying the characteristic architectural style of a period. However, an inf|ection occurs as the Gothic era embodies the expression externally, while the modern era conceals it. In their written study of the Villa Müller, Leslie van Duzer and Kent Kleinman reiterated Loos’ preoccupation with the interior so that “what was being preserved behind the mask [exterior] was a vision of conventional domesticity [the family].” Loos focused on the internal adaptation of space to the anticipated movement, behavior and disposition of the Müllers, and adopted an inverted dress as the basis of expression simultaneously camouflaged by the exterior.

Keywords: costume, concealment & modern Architecture

TEMINIOLUWA THOMAS is a Graduate Teaching Assistant and Ph.D. student at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC), Virginia Tech, focused on the Architecture track. She obtained a Master’s in Environmental Design and a Bachelor’s in Architecture at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. Her research area revolves around Gottfried Semper’s theory of costume, surfaces, architectural identity, style, cultural identity, and expression.