Nov 28, 2014 | by Michael Champlin
I think I spent a lot of time taking Art Deco for granted. I grew up in Tulsa, which is (to the surprise of some) a city with a rich architectural heritage and an amazing collection of Art Deco buildings. Despite being from a small city in an often-overlooked corner of the Midwest, I grew up with world-class buildings all around me.
Looking back, Art Deco would be the subtle but consistent driving force that encouraged me to go to architecture school and led me down the creative path I’ve been following now for over a decade. It’s strange to think of a style as being so influential, but Deco is really something special — and something Tulsans are understandably proud of.
It’s an aesthetic born of the new-found industrialism of 1920s America; it embraced technology both as a motif and a method of production. Here was a style that was distinctly modern, celebrating both the precision of the straight line and the power of industry. At once streamlined and monumental, it’s a sort of homage to the affluence of the postwar period. This is the architecture of locomotives, of the WPA, of progress; train stations and civic pride but also luxury (this was the style of The Great Gatsby and early Hollywood, after all).
Visually, we recognize Art Deco from its trademark geometries: the zig-zag, the 90-degree angle, and later the distinctly compass-drawn curves of the streamline movement. Though I wouldn’t say it’s due for a resurgence (we should take inspiration from the styles of the past but I see no point in emulating it) it’s still quite easy to find. From modern renditions of The Great Gatsby (case in point: the film title screen from The Great Gatsby, 2013) to the movement’s quiet but undeniable influence on modern graphic design trends (geometric fonts and ornamentation, luxurious color schemes, and bold cubist illustration styles) the aesthetic spirit of the 1920s is alive and well.
And for good reason. Deco introduced concepts that would drive modernism for decades, and did so on a very large scale. Art Deco stands as a precursor, an outmoded but important forerunner to the long-beloved modernism that would come after the second world war. Here was society embracing clean lines and bold graphic choices — though perhaps a bit more gilded than the simplicity that was to come.
For our readers: Do you feel Art Deco is still influential today?