Art Deco’s most enduring legacy is undoubtedly in the American architecture erected when the Art Deco movement was in its prime, spanning 1922-1939. Architecture, as an art form, brings aesthetic value to the public; since the majorities of erected buildings were public ones, such as skyscrapers, courthouse, schools, theatres and the like, Art Deco architecture served its purpose well. Even today, Art Deco architecture is a prominently visible form throughout the American landscape, with many original structures still in existence and registered as historical landmarks. These buildings are the fingerprint of the Art Deco movement.
Art Deco architecture is visually appealing in its physicality; and when fully appreciated as art within the context of American history, Art Deco architecture is considerably interesting and stimulating to the mind. Use of applied ornamentation and extensive symbolic motifs and icons were meant to inspire reverence for the past and the future. To contemplate Art Deco architecture’s eclectic array of forms and symbolic applications today is highly suggestive of the cultural values, aspirations, and inspirations of the period when America made Art Deco it’s own.
Art Deco Style is an eclectic style known for its contradictions and a wide variety of influences. Thus, Art Deco architecture’s contrasting forms, applied ornamentation, and varied construction materials contributed to a manifesto of conquest over the designs of the past and the future. Art Deco is known to be a style that connotes opulence and glamour, and with the abundance of surface ornament on the exterior of buildings constructed in the Art Deco style, this standard was held high. The interiors of these buildings echoed the commanding appearance of their exteriors, creating a cohesive and riveting setting.
The frequent use of applied ornamentation on Art Deco architecture is indicative of American values during this period. During the 1920s and 1930s American popular culture fell in love with the concept of speed and transport. These concepts were represented clearly in the Art Deco architecture’s streamlined forms, as well as in the sleek, sensual look of the automobiles, trains, planes, and ships themselves. Often, icons of these vehicles of transport and design were incorporated into Art Deco architecture; their likenesses were rendered as carvings of stone and metal, ornamenting doors, gates, floors, elevators, and even ceilings.
Carvings and sculptures, and murals, their painted counterparts found inside many styles of Art Deco architecture tell historic tales and celebrate the ideals to which Art Deco movement strove to capture and emulate. The personification of abstract concepts and values such as in the sculptures birthed from the imaginations of artists drew inspiration from Greek and Roman mythological figures. Thus, the gods and goddess of sports, patience, adventure, and progress were given bodies and faces and graced the entrances and interiors of many examples of Art Deco architecture.
The film industry, a deeply important medium to the popular culture of the period, elevated Art Deco style and was without question a vehicle that helped to spread the style’s popularity. It is interesting to note that many of the architects responsible for the Art Deco architecture of the period worked in conjunction with Hollywood set designers to formulate structures that had a presence, and conveyed a sense of atmosphere relevant to the times. The collaboration produced strict attention to form, a play on shadows, and use of interesting images, due to the dramatic effects a form must have in order to register on the black and white medium. In addition, the use of dramatic, theatrical illumination of the Art Deco architecture produced by these partnerships, gave the structures a larger than life stage presence.
Residential Art Deco Architecture
Art Deco style is a style of contradictions and extremes. It is unsurprising then, to note that Art Deco architectural styles zigzag, classical and streamlined moderne were typically represented on buildings considered being within the public sphere. However, Art Deco architecture was hardly represented in the constructions on the exteriors of private residences; most art deco applications in private homes were in the interiors. Most private homes looked very traditional; colonial-style house and the Tudor style homes were very popular. Particularly popular was the type of Tudor known as the “Stockbroker Tudor.” This type was aptly named because it adhered to the Art Deco manifesto of opulent luxury. The interiors of the so-called Stockbroker Tudor featured the dark paneled walls, marble floors, and ornamental flourishes throughout.
In the late 1930s, the streamlined moderne style was a favorite choice among public buildings since it gave the subject a futuristic look. However, in applications of private homes, most homeowners tended to shy away from streamlining moderne. To the average person, streamlined moderne looked too uncomfortable and unapproachable. Only the ultra-hip, wealthy clients of privately commissioned designers, or architects themselves favored streamline moderne for their private residences.
However, the interiors of homes were at the mercy of the Art Deco enamored people who lived in them. Art Deco furniture, art, and household goods were indications that the influences of the public sphere invaded the private one. The American public’s fascination with ancient civilizations and all things exotic led to decors that were as eclectic as they were generous in the displaying of popular motifs. All things Egyptian, Chinese, and Moroccan fascinated popular culture and these influences found their ways into the sanctity of the American home.