“Among a hundred paintings, you could recognize mine, my goal was: Do not copy. Create a new style... colours light and bright, return elegance in my models.”
Tamara de Lempicka
Regardless of my preference for minimalistic, functional approach, and passion for ‘less’ in architectural expression, I have always considered Art Deco attractive. Maybe, because it allowed me to study and learn about the variety of details executed and materials applied in the design process or maybe because it is different, opulent and brave in comparison to what I deal with every day and what I consider to be ‘my simple style’.
However, the real reason for writing this note on the style was my visit to Miami Beach. There, facing the ocean promenade the most incredible, simple, whitewashed buildings stood. Some of them were covered in pastel colours (for some unjust architectural fad executed in the 80s’) but mostly in various shades of white, with elegant proportions and magnificent details.
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Art Deco, also called style moderne, is a movement in the decorative arts and architecture that originated in the 1920s and developed into a major style in western Europe and the United States during the 1930s. Its name was derived from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925, where the style was first exhibited.
Art Deco Style was the mixture of man-made and natural materials. Black glass, polished metals, lacquer, Bakelite, zigzag patterns, mirrors, prominent lighting and saturated colours. In furniture, the use of materials like ebony, zebrawood with inlays of tortoise shell and ivory was extensive. Sharply angled, cubistic shapes, stepped forms, geometric ornamentation, symmetry and repetition of elements were the main characteristics of the style. Admiration for the modernity of the streamlined ‘machine age’ was visible through the design. Art deco was a fashion oriented and strongly decorative style, not concerned with issues of functionality and technology.
In each country Art Deco presented different outcomes according to local traditions, which were combined with modernist tendencies and were inspired by nature, historical precedent, abstract geometry and exotic cultures. While the United States chose not to participate in the Paris fair, delegations of museum directors, curators, and department store buyers travelled to the show and witnessed the flourishing of design. They were responsible for bringing the new styles to the United States in the form of museum exhibits and retail presentations.
In the 1930s’, Miami Beach was emerging form the Great Depression and hotel-building boom prompted architects to turn to the newly opened Chicago World’s Fair (‘A Century of Progress Exposition, 1833-1933’) for inspiration for the hotels and apartment buildings that today make up for the core of the Art Deco District.
The Miami Beach Architectural District is a living museum housing hundreds of architectural gems, with streamlined shapes and multitude of fancy, long forgotten elements. There are bas-relief decorative panels, chevron (zigzag) details, concrete stucco rails (decorative porch railing), iron railings, sunshades over windows, rounded corners, glass block or port hole windows, stepped facades, central vertical elements often with neon signage and scuppers (outlets in the side of a building for draining water from the flat roof) grouped in patterns.
Along the promenade, old buildings melt subtly into the modern ambience designed to resemble art deco features and to create homogenous vibe
It was a visual feast to stroll among those buildings on a sunny afternoon when shadows were casting additional patterns on already rich in ornament, white facades.
‘A History of Interior Design’, John Pile, Laurence King Publishing Ltd. 2005
‘Lempicka’, Gilles Neret, Benedikt Taschen, 1993
Art Deco Museum, Miami Beach, Florida