Art Deco

Art Deco is a label we now apply to a group of buildings and objects which, in their day, were simply “modern”. Then, as now, there were many ideas as to what “modern” should look like.

Its likely that most people got their first look at Art Deco at the movies or in pictures from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes (Paris, 1925). This event set the stylistic tone of early Art Deco; buildings based on earlier neo-classical styles but with the application of exotic motifs such as flora and fauna, fountains and chevrons, typically arranged in geometric patterns. Luxurious, elegant and dramatic, Art Deco had it all, while still being accessible to ordinary folk (and usually derided by architectural critics).

Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945) helped promote Art Deco architecture in Europe. In the United States, Art Deco was embraced by Raymond Hood, who designed three of the most distinctive buildings in New York City: the Radio City Music Hall auditorium and foyer, the RCA building at Rockefeller Center and the New York Daily News building.

These were the buildings of the future: sleek, geometric, dramatic. With their cubic forms and zigzag designs, art deco buildings embraced the machine age.

Common Art Deco characteristics are:

  • vertical orientation, often with setbacks
  • geometric ornament, often in colorful terra cotta

Sources:, Chicago Tribune, Decopix.