Art Deco is a style of architecture and industrial design that arguably reached its peak of popularity in Europe between World War One and World War Two, but persisted in American industrial design through the 1940s and into the 1950s. The style (along with Art Nouveau) is now often seen as being deeply evocative of the inter-war years.
Art Deco is difficult to define, but can be considered as a primarily sculptural style that makes heavy use of geometrical forms and symmetry. Curves are usually semicircular or quarter-circle arcs, there is an emphasis on right-angles and an avoidance of more acute angles, and major edges are often rounded-off with quarter-circle arcs or masked with cylindrical sections that replace what would otherwise be an edge. Curves are normally convex rather than concave, and where a protrusion appears too plain, "stepping" or spaced ridging is often used for decoration.
The resulting "rounded-edged block" design was easy to apply to domestic goods, and was perfect for mass-production using ceramics, moulded Bakelite or other early plastics as it allowed products to separate easily from their moulds, and allowed designers to easily produce stylised designs using the basic Art Deco principles.
In architecture, the style appeared widely in the UK in the design of cinema buildings of the period – these buildings needed to be highly visible landmarks, and had few or no windows above ground level, offering a large sculptable area. These architectural designs often featured heavily rounded corners, stepping and broad vertical central spine blocks, and often featured large blocks of cream or brown tiling influenced by the Glasgow architecture, producing a smooth and shiny surface that emphasised the geometrical nature of the design.
Towards the end of the 1930s, Art Deco symbolised modernity and mass-production's role in making designer goods and buildings available to the general population ("affordable luxury for all"), in an optimistic view of how people would live in the future. However, this utopian 1930s vision of Art Deco cities and transport was badly damaged by the pessimism and shortages engendered by World War Two, making the slightly cliche'd 1930s Art Deco "Cities of the Future!" conceptual designs seem naiive and dated.
- Art Nouveau is another heavily stylised form whose period overlaps with Art Deco, but peaked in popularity a little earlier, in the 1920s. Art Nouveau has more emphasis on stylised organic and "fiddly" plant shapes, whereas Art Deco is more abstract. Art Nouveau styling appears in figurative sculptures and as surface decoration, but normally does not have the physical robustness of Art Deco when it comes to industrial design – one can easily visualise a single-colour Art Deco pop-up toaster, but an Art-Nouveau toaster would be more difficult to implement.
- Futurism was a predominantly German style, more aggressive, asymmetrical, disjointed and "pointy" than the blander Art Deco.
Most well-known Art Deco designs "break the rules", and depart from the extreme, "purist" Art Deco archetype in one way or another. In New York, the Chrysler Building is considered classic Art Deco with its elegant aluminium stepped spire, but the heavily-pointed tip is a departure from the standard "blunt" approach, and the almost plantlike, organic shape of the spire is perhaps entering Art Nouveau territory. The "clunky" stepping of the Empire State Building is very Art Deco, but perhaps a more purist implementation of the style might have used more curved "shoulders" on the stepping.
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Pages in category ‘Art Deco’
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Media in category ‘Art Deco’
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