Rejecting the European and Classical references of the Beaux-Arts movement, Art Deco architecture emerged in the 1920s and 1930s when rapid industrialization began to transform society. The style got its name from the 1925 “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” in Paris, and extended to industrial design, art, furniture, and fashion.
Art Deco architecture found inspiration in mechanization and speed. Designs incorporated bold, streamlined, geometric forms that matched the vitality of modern cities. At the same time, designers looked to non-traditional iconography from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia, Mesoamerica and Oceania as the basis for stylized figural and floral forms. These were perfectly suited to decorate the expansive surfaces of soaring skyscrapers built around steel frames. Embraced and amplified in its exuberance by Hollywood’s theaters and by fashionable retailers, Art Deco came to represent luxury, glamour, and faith in social and technological progress.
Art Deco took hold in Boston later, and hung on longer, than in other American cities. The initial delay reflects Boston’s general architectural conservatism; the lingering was the result of WWII, which delayed some already-designed building projects for more than a decade. The financial district features several fine Art Deco skyscrapers, and others still punctuate the Back Bay skyline. A number of Art Deco theaters, retail storefronts, and commercial buildings have been restored and renovated, their original vitality intact.
The Art Deco Society of Boston promotes understanding, appreciation and preservation of Art Deco and related design styles: http://www.bostonartdeco.org
Image: United Shoe Machinery Corporation Building, ©Polly Carpenter, 2017