Art Deco Architecture Beyond the Expected


 I love architecture – maybe the biggest single section in my library – and I love art deco architecture. How can you not? Chrome and color, form and style, speed and grace, power and subtlety. And all that beautiful geometry! Despite the fact that moderne and art deco only lasted a few years from (at most) the 1920s to the 1940s, these design styles continued to have an impact on the industrial design of everyday things. Even today the great works of architecture cannot help but attract our eye.

The first buildings that come to mind in the realm of art deco are usually the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and Rockefeller Center, three of my favorites, all in New York City. Chicago also has some fine specimens: the immense Merchandise Mart is one of my faves. It’s not hard to find books about these buildings and the architecture of these cities.
But art deco was a national – even a worldwide – phenomenon, named after a major exposition in 1920’s Paris. Examples of this architectural style can be found from Latin America to Europe, from Casablanca to Bandung. But nowhere did it shine more brightly than in the US – and art deco lit up the entire United States.
One book which reflects how pervasive art deco was across our land – in beautiful color imagery – is American Art Deco: Architecture and Regionalism by Carla Breeze (W.W. Norton, 2003). Not only does this book include a few of the greats from New York and Chicago, it handsomely portrays such outstanding examples as Detroit’s Union Trust Building (maybe my favorite example of polychromatic – brightly colored – art deco), the astounding Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, some of the beauties in art deco centers Ft. Worth and Tulsa, Los Angeles’ Sunset Tower and Eastern Columbia, Kansas City Power & Light, and Atlanta’s remarkable Fox Theatre.
In fact, the only major city which I think got left out of this book is Cincinnati, which has the best art deco hotel (the Netherlands Plaza) and the best art deco train station. Ms. Breeze could have given us a few more images of the colorful Miami Beach deco scene. But taken as a whole, no book better covers – in the required color – the breadth and beauty of art deco architecture in America. This is a book I can go back to over and over again, and enjoy it every time as much as the first time I opened it.
If you want to further explore our nationwide deco, another great book is Rediscovering Art Deco U.S.A.: A Nationwide Tour of Architectural Delights by Barbara Capitman, Michael D. Kinerk, and Dennis W. Wilhelm, with photographs by Randy Juster (Viking Studio Books, 1994). This book does include Cincinnati, Miami Beach, and other locales – even Hoover Dam. The only reason I did not rate it the first choice is that its great color photos are not presented quite as gloriously as those in the Breeze book. Lastly, although it’s all black and white, the most comprehensive art deco building list that I have been able to find is contained in The National Trust Guide to Art Deco in America by David Gebhard (Preservation Press and John Wiley, 1996).