Architecture / Style / Art Deco


1915-1945 (Whiffen)
1925-1940 (Blumenson)
1925-1940 (Roth)


Art Deco was an architectural movement that gained popularity in the early 20th century. This style took advantage of technological advances in building materials. What resulted was a linear, hard edged or angular composition with vertical emphasis and highlighted by stylized decoration.

Art Deco took its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs and Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925 as a showcase for works of “new inspiration and real originality.” It was a style that consciously strove for modernity and an artistic expression to complement the machine age. Promotional literature for the “Expo Deco” stated that “reproductions, imitations, and conterfeits of ancient styles will be strictly prohibited.” The emphasis was on the future rather than the past – as one of the defining characteristics of the movement. (Poppeliers, 88)

Facades of buildings were arranged in set backs or steps emphasizing geometric forms reminiscent of a ziggurat, such as in the Chrysler Building in New York City. Windows were straight-headed (either metal sash or casement). Circular windows were frequently used. Strips of windows with decorated spandrels to enhance the vertical feeling of the overall composition. Ornament included hard-edged low relief decoration around door and window openings, string courses, and along the roof edges or parapet. Typically there were vertical projections above the roof line. Zig-zags, chevrons, lozenges, and volutes were common. The stylized sunrise and floriated pattern was used, as was the frozen fountain.

In Europe the Art Deco forms were inspired by Cubism, in America by North and South American Indian art. This ornament could be rich, varied and handcrafted, or reduced to the merest suggestion for efficient machine construction. (Poppeliers, 88) Meso-American architecture had a considerable influence on aspects of Art Deco.

High Bridge, New Jersey.

This detailing was often in the same material as the building, and might include various metals, colored glazed bricks (often of contrasting colors) or mosaic tiles, glass blocks, reinforced plate glass, pigmented structural glass, and stucco walls. A defining feature of Art Deco was treatment of corners which may either be rounded or angular with windows set in the corner. Basement walls were often made of concrete.

Art Deco was a method of decoration that was also applied to jewelry, clothing, furniture and handicrafts as well as buildings. Industrial designs created Art Deco motifs to adorn their streamlined cars, trains and kitchen appliances. (Poppeliers, 88)

When Art Deco experienced a revival in the 1960s and thereafter, it was sometimes referred to as the “Deco Echo”. When a leading collection of Art Deco buildings in Miami Beach was threatened, the Miami Design Preservation League was formed in 1976 to protect these iconic buildings.


Leading Examples

Rockefeller Center (1940, Reinhard and Hofmeister, Corbett, Harrison and MacMurray, Hood, Godley and Foulihoux), New York City, New York. (Poppeliers, 88-89)

Michigan Avenue house, Miami Beach, Florida. Displays Art Deco elements inlcuding glass brick, hroizontal bands of decoration and projecting lintel courses that afforded some respite from the bright Florida sun. (Poppeliers, 88)

700 block of Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, Florida. These early 20th century hotels… all display various aspects of the style, especially the contrast of smooth-faced walls with details of metal, terra cotta, and colored concrete. (Poppeliers, 89)

Paramount Theater (1931, Timothy Pfluger), Oakland, California. Richly decorated with theatrical motifs such as these dancing ladies that grace the north wall of the Grand Lobby. Their stylized robes and faces harmonize with the Art Deco details surrounding them. (Poppeliers, 90)

W.P. Story Building (1934, Morgan, Walsl and Clements), Los Angeles, California. Features bronze gates at the garage entrance that are pure examples of zigzag Moderne, with stylized floral motifs and faces. (Poppeliers, 90)

The Selig Commercial Building (1931, Arthur E. Harvey), Los Angeles, California. Luxuriously ornamented with black and gold terra cotta in chevron, spiral and frond design. (Poppeliers, 90)

Panhellenic Tower, now the Beekman Tower, (1929, John Mead Howels, New York City, New York. Exhibits typical Art Deco features as setbacks used as design elements and concentrations of crowning decorations. (Poppeliers, 91)

Thomas Jefferson High School (1936, Morgan, Walls and Clements, Los Angelese, California. Pronounced horizontal banding, curved concave and convex surfaces and vertically articulated piers. (Poppeliers, 91)


aluminum grille
bas relief
casement window
cast concrete
curvilinear forms
decorative doors
decorative lamps
decorative terra-cotta
etched glass
floral motif
geometric motifs
sharply defined outlines
steel casement windows
striped brick pattern
stylized letter forms
terrazzo floor
the section

Sources Cited

  • Capitman, Barbara and Michael D. Kinkerk, Dennis W. Wilhelm Rediscovering Art Deco U.S.A., A Nationwide Tour of Architectural Delights. Santa Monica, California: Hennessey and Ingalls, 2002.
  • Poppeliers, John C.S., et al. What Style Is It? A Guide to American Architecture. Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1983.

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