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Art Deco 101 - Purpose Dictates Feeling

Buildings don't exist randomly in the wild, to be documented by architectural historians in the halls of academia. Building were paid for by humans who didn't quite know what they wanted, so they hired an architect who did their best to realize this persons's desires. Different desires yielded different results.

One place where you can see this very well is in the architecture designed for big business compared to the architecture designed as a living space. Despite sharing the vocabulary of Art Deco, the purposes of these buildings, and thus the feel of the spaces, differs wildly.

A home designed in the Art Deco style seeks to be cultured and modern, yet also seeks to feel welcoming and beautiful, a place that invites you to spend time there. A good hostess never wants her guests to feel alienated or overwhelmed. In fact, what she wants to hear is how "darling" her place looks. "Darling" is a word that we don't use in connection with architecture any more, but back in the 1920's and 30's, this word dominated the feminine vocabulary. You'll hear the word in any number of films.

Contrast that understanding of hearth and home with the big business. They want to present the feeling that their business is solid, modern, and scientific. They want to show themselves, and their customers, their reliability and good judgement. They are leaders of this new age. Their buildings beautify the city, and by the same token, their company contributes to the general well being. These are companies that you want, and want to trust.

Meanwhile, the newest art form, movies, were busy legitimizing themselves. They didn't want to be a second rate art form. In this new era, they sought to take their place with playhouses and concert halls. They embraced Art Deco as part of the new opulence, because movie theaters didn't have a fixed feel yet, and as a growing industry, were still differentiating themselves from the other arts.

Architects adopted the ideals of Art Deco to each of these scenarios, and more, as each business and each person saw themselves differently within the scenario. The mansion of a wealthy man was built with different aims from a movie starlet.

When looking at Art Deco, you can't separate what you see from the intentions of the client, for when the architect has done his job well, the look and feel are the intention of the client manifest. Purpose drives the arm form just as much as rules.

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.