What Is Art Deco?
Have you ever visited Rockefeller Center or the Chrysler Building in New York City? Both famous structures are examples of a style called Art Deco.
Art Deco is an art and design style popular in Europe and America from the mid-1920s until before World War II. It traced its beginnings to the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, an international design show held in Paris in 1925. The artists, designers and architects who worked in Art Deco wanted to create a modern style for a modern age. They purposely avoided echoes of past styles. The name ''Art Deco,'' by the way, comes from the title of that international show.
Art Deco celebrated the modern world and industry and developed from what people saw as the promise of the machine age. It was sleek and sophisticated, featuring smooth surfaces and bold colors in high contrasts like black and white. It was influenced by several modern art movements, including Cubism, where shapes were portrayed as fragmented with multiple perspectives viewable at once. There's an angularity to Art Deco. Architecture done in this style is hard-edged and geometric, often with a stepped outline.
History of Art Deco
Art Deco elements became noticeable in Paris in the early 1920s. But for architecture, the first real signal of a new style came in Chicago in 1922. There, a Finnish architect named Eliel Saarinen entered architectural drawings in a contest to design the new headquarters building of the Chicago Tribune. He didn't win the contest, but his design received a lot of publicity and inspired other architects to explore the new, bold style.
In 1924, the architect who'd won the contest, Raymond Hood, designed the American Radiator Building in New York City, the structure is usually regarded as the first Art Deco building in the United States. Soon Art Deco became a popular choice in major American cities, which at the time were experiencing a tremendous building boom. Through the 1930s, Art Deco was used on structures that became landmarks. In New York alone, famous skyscrapers like the Empire State Building (1931), the Chrysler Building (1930), and Rockefeller Center (1935), are all examples of Art Deco architecture.
While such American skyscrapers were the grandest structures of Art Deco, places in Europe also reflected the style. Examples of Art Deco architecture can be found in major urban centers like London, Berlin, and Lisbon, Portugal, as well as more unexpected places like Kaunas, Lithuania.
Characteristics of Art Deco
Art Deco architecture is very striking and looks different from earlier styles. You'll definitely notice it when you see it. Builders used new industrial materials like stucco, concrete, and stainless steel. You can also find structures decorated with aluminum, chrome, opaque plate glass, and glass block.
There's a strong vertical emphasis, too. Everything points up. Art Deco structures feature considerable surface decoration, especially around the tops of skyscrapers. Look also at the areas around windows and doors. Many buildings had surface decorations above doors and windows done in low relief that combined geometric patterns and figures. One good example is a relief panel from the lobby of the Daily Express Building in London. Contrasting tones of gold and silver highlight angular figures. The central figure has strong vertical emphasis.
Popular design elements in Art Deco included geometric shapes like the pyramid; the chevron, an inverted V shape connected to form zigzag lines; and lightning bolts. Art Deco also sometimes used stylized images from nature like waterfalls, sunrises, and palm tree leaves. You can see arched sunrise-like figures on the top of the Chrysler Building.
Other buildings incorporated sculptural renderings of mythological figures, especially those that reflected technology and elements of industry. In Syracuse, New York, a glorious Art Deco structure called the Niagara Mohawk Building has an entrance wall marked by a large sculptured figure, called ''The Spirit of Energy''. It's a perfect mix of celebrating the modern age and technology with modern architectural style.
Although Art Deco fell from popularity by around 1940, it influenced later modernist styles and experienced a revival in the 1960s. So, whenever you visit a city like New York, Chicago, London, or Paris, keep your eyes open. Look up at the buildings and see what they're made of. Can you identify the vertical thrust, smooth surfaces, and decorative geometric flourishes of Art Deco architecture?
Art Deco is an art and design style that developed in the 1920s following a large design show in Paris. It was meant to evoke the modern age and reflected other modern art movements like Cubism, that broke objects into multiple views from different angles. Art Deco was sleek and angular, full of color and bold contrasts. The Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen first brought elements of the style through his design for a building competition in Chicago. The first true Art Deco structure in America was the American Radiator Building, built in 1924.
Later Art Deco structures included the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, both in New York. Art Deco buildings could also be found in London, Berlin, and other European cities. Art Deco is characterized by vertical emphasis and the use of new materials like chrome, stainless steel, and opaque plate glass. Designs are geometric and use shapes like pyramids, chevrons (or zigzags), and lightning bolts. Buildings sometimes include stylized figures of waterfalls, sunrises, and mythological figures.