Nov 24, 2010

Art Deco: Glamour between the World Wars

Last month, we began our feature on architectural styles with a review of Bauhaus. This month, we shift to Art Deco, a style that existed in parallel and sometimes overlapped with Bauhaus. Art Deco thrived in the interwar period, from the1920s to 1940s. In fact, there is a direct link between the outbreak of World War I and the delay of the launch of Art Deco; see why below. Art Deco experienced a resurgence in the 1970s, notably in Miami, Florida’s South Beach area which had fallen into disrepair. Now the neighborhood is a center of Art Deco with its swooping curves and bright colors. Read on to learn more about Art Deco’s influence worldwide and how it popped up in Central European architecture.

Key features of Art Deco architecture:
  • Flat roofs
  • Smooth walls
  • Glass exteriors and interiors
  • Bold exterior decorations like zigzags, swans, lilies and sunrise motifs
  • Hollywood glamour mixed with modern and strong designs that give the idea of permanence

See more pictures of this Budapest Art Deco house

The look
Art Deco architecture appeared primarily in buildings rather than houses. The style reflected antiquity with modern mixes of the 1920s and 30s. Some of the first art deco designs came from the Bauhaus school in Germany. The style emphasized geometric form and was characterized by sweeping curves shapes.

Common materials are glass, steel, aluminum and chrome. Architects and designers used patterns and icons from the Far East, ancient Greece and Rome, Africa, India, and Mayan and Aztec cultures. The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 led to a fascination with Ancient Egypt that spread to the architectural sphere and influenced Art Deco

Strong straight lines and lots of glass at the Economics University in Warsaw
© copyright Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose/flickr

Art Deco in Prague: Motifs of circles, trapezoids and rectangles along with decorative ornaments frequently appear on façades and over doorways
© copyright Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose/flickr

Economics University in Warsaw

© copyright Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose/flickr

Along with shapes, buildings in the Art Deco style combined natural symbols such as eagles, flowers and sunbeams with those of machinery (airplanes, cars). Other features include strong vertical bands along the front of the building along with zigzag designs and bright colors.

Art Deco buildings reflect orderly form, as seen in the Chrysler Building in New York City. A common Art Deco feature was the ziggurat, a terraced pyramid where each story is smaller than the one below.

Ministry of Education, Warsaw
© copyright Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose/flickr

Chrysler Building, New York City
© copyright by Chris Brown/flickr

Two World Wars Shaped Art Deco
The Art Deco style was a result of the ‘Exposition des arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes', held in Paris in 1925. Leading up to the exposition, advances in design and manufacturing in Austria and Germany prompted French designers to promote and reestablish their dominance in the luxury market. The French government decided to sponsor the international exhibition of decorative arts to promote the skill of French designers in this field. The exhibition, scheduled for 1915, was postponed due to World War I and eventually took place in 1925.

The fair involved modern architecture, art and objects that exhibited Art Deco’s existing influence in the design world. Over 16 million visitors came and twenty countries were invited to participate. Polish Art Deco stood out in the exhibit; especially through its poster art. Polish Art Deco garnered further attention at the New York City World’s Fair in 1938. The grand prize winner of that World’s Fair was none other than the Art Deco Mayakovskaya metro station in Moscow.

Mayakovskaya metro:the Grand Prize winner at the New York City World's Fair of 1938
© copyright Éole/flickr

Poland was heavily damaged during World War II and Art Deco's presence in Warsaw diminished. The communist era that followed continued to curtail the Art Deco trend in the art and architecture world. The style did not reappear until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Hotel Rialto in Warsaw, which opened in 2003, was designed in the Art Deco style as a nod to “Warsaw in the early 1900s”. Other Warsaw buildings in the Art Deco style include the Prudential Insurance building in the Warsaw Uprising Square. In Warsaw and elsewhere in CEE, buildings in the art deco style tend to be cafes, theaters and office buildings.

Where you'll Find It

Art Deco is extremely common in the United States; Miami’s South Beach and New York City skyscrapers like the Chrysler building are prime examples. The South Beach club, Warsaw, was housed in a 1939 Art Deco building designed by Henry Hohauser. Following World War I, American artists, writers and musicians flocked to Paris. Architects followed, studying at the Paris École des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts) and applied their studies to New York City building designs.
Art Deco in Miami, Florida
© copyright Bettina Fabos/flickr

With overlaps into Bauhaus and Cubism, Art Deco architecture is visible throughout Central and Eastern Europe. See a wealth of Art Deco photos throughout Central Europe and the world taken by the Montreal Art Deco society. View the albums, Art Deco Around the World and Art Deco Budapest.

See Art Deco and other properties in Central Europe on our website. Visit or select your city:

Title photo by Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose.

Related Posts:
Art Deco Design in Budapest
Bauhaus Architecture
Pools in Central Europe
How to Live Green in CEE

1 comment:

  1. Miami South beach art deco pic is the best in my opinion