With sharp-edged looks and distinctive geometrical details, Art Deco is an easy architectural style to recognize. As one of the first American architectural styles to look forward, rather than to the past, Art Deco was a conscious break with preceding revivalist styles. From 1925 to 1940, Americans embraced Art Deco as a refreshing change. The style was essentially one of applied decoration; buildings were richly embellished with hard-edged, low-relief designs in geometric shapes and stylized floral and sunrise patterns inspired by Native American artwork. During its heyday, Art Deco represented glamour, luxury, exuberance, and faith in technological progress.
Some of what is now referred to as Art Deco was often called Art Moderne. While both Art Deco and Art Moderne are part of the Modern Movement in architecture and are considered close cousins, they are distinctly different in appearance. Moderne had a horizontal rather than vertical emphasis, rounded rather than angular corners, and little surface ornamentation.
Art Deco buildings have a sleek, linear appearance and feature distinctive smooth finish building materials such as stucco, concrete block, terra cotta, glazed brick, smooth-faced stone or even mosaic tile. The primary façade of Art Deco buildings often features a stepped outline. Chevrons, zigzags, and other geometrical motifs are common forms of ornament on Art Deco style buildings. Since the Art Deco style was seen as a rejection of historic precedents in its use of new construction technology, it was particularly suitable for the design of the 20th century’s newly emerging building form, the skyscraper.
Although some buildings used expensive hand-crafted decoration, others made do with machine-made embellishments. Costs could also be kept down by limiting ornamental treatment to the most visible parts of the building. For all its panache, Art Deco was immensely practical in execution. For projects on a tight budget, a simple box building could be embellished with motif appendages that made a basic structure appear fashionable and up to date.
There are many examples of Art Deco architecture in the U.S., especially in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Although individual homes were rarely designed in the Art Deco style, architects found that the style adapted quite well to apartment buildings. Miami Beach, Florida has a large collection of Art Deco buildings, with some thirty blocks of hotels and apartment houses dating from the 1920s to the 1940s. In 1979, the Miami Beach Architectural District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearly all the buildings have been restored and painted in their original pastel colors.
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