Art Deco, a term coined in the 1960s, describes a type of architecture that was popular from the mid-1920s until the late 1930s and early 1940s. When discussing Art Deco, many people think of famous landmarks like the Chrysler Building in New York City, but the style influenced many building types from private homes and apartment buildings to bus terminals, bridges, and movie theaters. Additionally, the style is broad and includes specific examples described as “High Art Deco,” “Moderne,” “Streamline/Art Moderne,” “Streamlined Deco,” “Zig Zag,” and grew out of the previously established style of Art Nouveau.
After the destruction of the First World War, an era of reconstruction would take place in Europe. During this period, the 1925 Exposition Internationale de Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, France would become incredibly influential in the world of architecture and design. Translated to “The International Exposition of Modern and Decorative Arts,” the exposition in Paris offered new opportunities to showcase a changing world. However, the United States did not participate in the expo. Having been invited, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover replied to this invitation with the counter that the U.S. did not have anything modern worth sharing with the world.
While this would slow the introduction of the style into the United States, artists were still inspired by it. Those who had ventured over to see the exhibition in Paris brought Art Deco ideas back with them. Designs began to make an appearance in the form of furniture showcases within high end department stores that were mostly directed to the wealthy, but would also begin to be diffused to the masses through film, specifically through set designs. One of the most significant moments of the movement, the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, further communicated these Art Deco and Art Moderne designs and brought them into the home. Over time, products and appliances in the home that were mass produced could, instead of being utilitarian, have an elegant, artistic, and more streamlined style. Artists were encouraged in a “machine aged consciousness” to make art applicable to everyday things. Furthermore, “streamlining” illustrated a want for saving time and energy, a viewpoint that had dawned in the 20th century.
Art Deco includes a variety of motifs, such as zig-zag, chevron, floral patterns, and materials like chrome and glass. Other motifs include circles, sunrises, and triangles, and Streamline Moderne examples may include exterior walls composed of glass and white stucco, while inside the home the spotlight was placed on rich colors, streamlined shapes, and geometric stylized ornamentation. Art Deco embraced technology and new forms of transportation, and this relationship with technology is what inherently separated it from its predecessor of Art Nouveau. Whether in the design of a building or a train, Art Deco relied upon the concepts of speed and movement, and items as small as a toaster played a large role in the establishment of the relationship between the artist and commercialization. Prominent designers, such as Raymond Loewy, Henry Dreyfuss, Walter Darwin Teague, John Vassos, and Norman Bel Geddes worked to develop this style that became synonymous with the era’s forward looking attitude.
This tour illustrates the new architectural era that dawned upon the closing of the First World War and ushered in a stylistic movement that solidified a direct correlation between interior and exterior design. Key sites, such as The Greyhound Bus Terminal, Henry J. Daly Building (Municipal Center), and the Atlas Theater and Shops illustrate DC’s architectural and historical evolution, and the city’s rich collection of Art Deco buildings.
Locations for Tour
Art Deco and Transportation In and Around Washington, DC with the Art Deco Society of Washington. YouTube. DC Preservation League, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUUkcnl1_KQ.
Art Deco Society Washington, “What is Art Deco?” Accessed September 14, 2023. chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://storage.googleapis.com/production-constantcontact-v1-0-3/863/148863/yJWjI77s/8a94bebac0704192892b33f871076053?fileName=About%20ADSW%20--%20What%20Is%20Art%20Deco%20-%20HL.pdf
Bush, Donald J. “Streamlining and American Industrial Design.” Leonardo 7, no. 4 (1974): 309–17. https://doi.org/10.2307/1573060.
Charles, Victoria, and Carl, Klaus H. Art Deco. New York: Parkstone International, 2013. Accessed September 14, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.
McAlester, Virginia Savage. A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture. Seconded. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.