Art Deco + Art Moderne (Streamline Moderne): 1920 – 1945

If there's one thing that fascinates us about CIRCA, it's the opportunity to explore and appreciate the extraordinary vernacular architecture that makes America truly unique. And one architectural style that stands out is a combination...

If there's one thing that fascinates us about CIRCA, it's the opportunity to explore and appreciate the extraordinary vernacular architecture that makes America truly unique. And one architectural style that stands out is a combination of two distinct periods: Art Deco and Art Moderne (or Streamline Moderne). In this article, we'll delve into the captivating world of Art Deco and Art Moderne, understanding their characteristics, influences, and impact.

The Rise of Art Deco and Art Moderne

Art Deco, the earlier style, was widely prevalent in public and commercial buildings during the 1920s and early 1930s. While it was relatively rare in domestic architecture, Deco interiors adorned many American houses and apartments. It found its true expression in the design of apartment buildings, such as the Miami Beach Art Deco District and New York City's Grand Concourse. As the 1930s progressed, Art Moderne (or Streamline Moderne) took over as the dominant style in commercial, public, and domestic architecture across America.

The term "Art Deco" originated from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris. Coined by British historian Bevis Hillier in 1968, it encompasses the design and architecture of the 1920s and 1930s. Art Deco drew inspiration from various avant-garde painting styles of the early 20th century, such as Cubism, Russian Constructivism, and Italian Futurism. It marked a departure from the flowing lines of Beaux-Arts and Art Nouveau, influenced by cultures ranging from the Middle East and Asia to Ancient Egypt and Pre-Columbian America.

Art Deco Poster Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes poster designed by Robert Bonfils, 1925.

The Paris exposition of 1925 played a crucial role in popularizing Art Deco. Though many couldn't visit Paris, exhibits on French decorative arts traveled to major American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Cinema, society, fashion, and architectural publications further propagated the new style, making motion pictures a powerful medium of mass entertainment.

The Architectural Icons

Nebraska State Capitol Nebraska State Capitol Building, Bertrand Goodhue, 1919.

Bertrand Goodhue's Nebraska State Capitol Building, completed in 1919, is considered the first true Art Deco building in America. Its primitive monumentality, verticality, and abstract ornamentation showcase typical Art Deco characteristics. The design draws inspiration from Mesopotamian architecture and incorporates Native American references.

Eliel Saarinen’s 2nd Place Winner Chicago Tribune,1922 Eliel Saarinen’s 2nd place winner Chicago Tribune,1922.

Eliel Saarinen's second-place entry for the Chicago Tribune's new headquarters in 1922, though never built, became immensely influential. Its simplified, soaring vertical tower with setbacks and minimal ornamentation set the tone for modern architectural design at the time.

Bertrand Goodhue and Carleton Winslow, Los Angeles Public Library,1926 Bertrand Goodhue and Carleton Winslow, Los Angeles Public Library,1926.

Another iconic example is the Los Angeles Public Library, designed by Bertrand Goodhue and Carleton Winslow in 1926. This building showcases influences from Pre-Columbian, ancient European, Persian, and Egyptian themes, with a mosaic-covered, pyramid-topped tower.

Enter Streamline Moderne

Coca-Cola Bottling Plant, Los Angeles, CA, Robert V. Derrah, 1939. Coca-Cola Bottling Plant, Los Angeles, CA, Robert V. Derrah, 1939.

Streamline Moderne represents the final phase of Art Deco. While Art Deco focused on surface ornamentation and abstractions of natural forms, Streamline Moderne embraced a machine aesthetic. Inspired by the Bauhaus in Germany and the "white architecture" of Europe (The International Style), Streamline Moderne emphasized mass production, functional efficiency, and a more abstract aesthetic.

As the world transitioned from the exuberance of the "Roaring Twenties" into the austerity of the 1930s, industrial designers took the spotlight, favoring simpler, aerodynamic lines and forms. The streamline aesthetic permeated everyday objects and activities, from fast food and cheap travel to appliances and automobiles. Roadside diners, motor hotels, cinemas, shopping centers, and transportation terminals all borrowed shapes and profiles from trains, ships, airplanes, and the latest cars.

The Pan Pacific Auditorium, Los Angeles, Wurdeman & Becket, 1935. The Pan Pacific Auditorium, Los Angeles, Wurdeman & Becket, 1935.

Prominent expositions and fairs in the 1930s, such as the Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair, the New York World's Fair, and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition, further disseminated and popularized Streamline Moderne. These events became advocates for the style, spreading its influence and shaping the taste of the era.

The Legacy of Art Deco and Art Moderne

Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Florida, 2008. Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Florida, 2008.

One of the most remarkable clusters of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings can be found in Miami Beach, Florida. Developed between 1930 and 1942, the structures along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue exhibit a restrained Art Deco aesthetic, predominantly white or pastel in color, enhanced by streamlined details and tropical decorative elements.

Grand Concourse Bronx, New York. Grand Concourse Bronx, New York.

The Grand Concourse in the Bronx, New York, boasts a concentration of Art Deco buildings. Though not designed by renowned architects, these buildings showcase imaginative setbacks, recessed entryways, and rounded corners. The facades incorporate a variety of materials, from mosaics and glass to metal and terra cotta, creating an architectural symphony that delights the senses.

Appreciating the Art Deco and Art Moderne Heritage

Without a doubt, Art Deco and Art Moderne styles left an indelible mark on American architecture. However, as the 1950s arrived, the minimalist approach of the International Style took center stage, eclipsing the ornate and streamlined forms of the previous decades. Nonetheless, the legacy of Art Deco and Art Moderne endures, reminding us of a remarkable era of design, innovation, and cultural transformations.

Hänsel Hernández-Navarro, an architectural conservator specializing in preservation and rehabilitation, contributed immensely to the understanding and appreciation of these architectural styles. With a Master's in Historic Preservation from Columbia University, Hernández-Navarro has worked with prestigious institutions such as the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the National Park Service. His passion for preserving our architectural heritage resonates through his work.

Hänsel Hernández-Navarro Hänsel Hernández-Navarro, Architectural Conservator

Art Deco and Art Moderne are not mere architectural styles; they are reflections of an era. They speak to the cultural shifts, aspirations, and unique expressions that define the human experience. As we admire the architectural treasures of the past, let us also celebrate the visionaries who continue to preserve and protect our built heritage.

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