Art Deco Architecture in the Urban American Landscape
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 an 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 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 its own.
Art Deco Style is an eclectic style known for its contradictions
and 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
The frequent use of applied ornamentation on Art Deco
architecture is indicative of American values during this
period. During the 1920's and 1930's 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 onto
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
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 styles 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 presence, and conveyed a sense of atmosphere
relevant to the times. The collaboration produced a 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 1930's, 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 streamline 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.