Art Moderne Architecture

Art Moderne, also referred to as Moderne or Streamline Moderne, followed the Art Deco style in its rejection of traditional ornamentation. Popular throughout the 1930s, Art Moderne looked to the modern machine age for inspiration, especially the beginning of streamlined industrial design for ships, airplanes, and automobiles. The smooth surfaces, curved corners, and horizontal emphasis of the Art Moderne style contributed to a feeling of aerodynamic force. Sometimes nautical elements, such as metal railings and porthole windows, were featured in Art Moderne buildings. Streamlined features were also applied to objects such as electric clocks, sewing machines, radios, and other household appliances.

Art Moderne architecture was most commonly chosen for commercial and public buildings. It was popularly used for entertainment-related buildings such as movie theatres, as well as transportation-related buildings like Greyhound bus stations and airport terminals. Iconic examples include the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant in Los Angeles, which resembles an ocean liner, the San Francisco Maritime Museum, and several hotels on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach.

Characteristic Features

  • Soft round corners, flat roofs, and smooth wall finish without surface ornamentation.
  • Horizontal bands of windows that create a distinctive streamlined look, sometimes emphasized by the use of curved window glass that wraps around corners.
  • Ornamentation may consist of mirrored panels, glass wall blocks, cement panels, and an occasional metal panel with low relief decoration around doorways and windows.
  • Aluminum and stainless steel often are used for door and window trim, railings and balusters.

Examples of Colorado New Deal Projects in the Art Moderne Style

As applied to the WPA buildings of eastern Colorado, the character-defining features include flat or barrel roofs, smooth exterior surfaces, vertical fenestration openings, and linear building elements. Grooved bands emphasize horizontality in an otherwise smooth concrete exterior surface. Rounded corners are common. WPA Moderne buildings differ from other examples of this general style in that they tend to be hand constructed rather than machine-tooled. Metal details are rare except in the use of window frames. Windows typically are “stock” and not specifically designed for the buildings.