The style we now call Art Deco originated in Europe, and its heyday was from 1920 to 1940.
What is Art Deco?
It became widely known following the great Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris in 1925 and from which its name was ultimately derived.
By the late 1930’s it was in its streamlined phase and after World War II, the International Style, devoid of all decoration, held sway. Not until the late 1960’s did people begin to rediscover it and take it seriously.
Art Deco expressed all the vigor and optimism of the roaring twenties, and the idealism and escapism of the grim thirties.
Its decorative themes are:
- Sunbursts and fountains – representing the dawn of a new modern age.
- The Skyscraper shape – symbolic of the 20th century.
- Symbols of speed, power and flight – the exciting new developments in transport and communications.
- Geometric shapes – representing the machine and technology which it was thought would solve all our problems.
- The new woman – reveling in her recently won social freedoms.
- Breaking the rules – cacophonous jazz, short skirts and hair, shocking dances.
- Ancient cultures – for oddly enough, there was a fascination with the civilizations of Egypt and Central America.
Why rebuild in the Art Deco style?
The Art Deco style was at the height of its popularity for buildings in 1931. Its clean simple lines and base relief decoration suited the needs of the new city.
It was also very fashionable. With its past destroyed, Napier looked ahead and chose a style associated with Manhattan, the movies and modernism.
The Art Deco style is considered to be safe, with its emphasis on low relief surface decoration, Art Deco forsook the elaborate applied ornaments that had fallen from the buildings in the Earthquake and caused so many deaths and injuries.
Art Deco was also cheap to create. Its relief stucco ornament was an economical way to beautify buildings during the low point of the Great Depression.
Other architectural styles for the period were also used – the Spanish Mission style from California, Stripped Classical and Classical Moderne.
The styles of Greece and Rome but simplified and modernized, also local architect Louis Hay’s work which strongly reflects Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style.
Learn about Napier
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