As the skyline of New York City continues to evolve, we at Alldayeveryday began talking about architectural wonders from the past. We wanted to find great buildings from a different time that represent parts of the city that have either been forgotten or have received negligent attention. Brooklyn and Queens have an array of stunning architecture that has survived years of immense material transformation in both boroughs. What we came across were a few places that are emblematic of a time when Art Deco thrived in New York. Our interest in exploring Art Deco buildings came from a desire to better understand how far architecture has evolved in New York since the beginning of the 20th century, and to appreciate how this movement continues to offer us spectacular views in plainsight. The unique buildings that we mapped out and then recently visited were built from 1900 to 1940, during an era when the Art Deco movement slowly began and then thrived. So what is Art Deco anyway?
Art Deco buildings embody a myriad of geometrical forms such as spheres, octagons, polygons, rectangles and trapezoids and decorative motifs as well. Often, they are built with concrete, bricks, or faced limestone or steel beams that all synthesize into an aesthetic of order and technological innovation. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler building are two of the most well known Art Deco skyscrapers in New York City. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Sears building in Boyle Heights is another prime Art Deco location.
Originally appearing in France after WWI, Art Deco spread throughout the world during rapid industrialization between the 20’s and 40’s. Art Deco's precise start date has been contested for years, yet it has been widely agreed upon that the movement signaled a distinct break from the modern Art Nouveau wave that preceded it. Art Deco was a comprehensive aesthetic movement on its own and can be found to this day in art, design and architecture from the WWI-WWII Interwar years.
Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect who worked with Cubist Painters in the 1910’s in Paris, went on to write “1925 Expo: Art Deco” in L’Esprit Nouveau which has been considered the first widely read publication on the aesthetic movement. Even with this essay written, Art Deco style spread throughout the world in countries such as England, New Zealand, Germany, India, Argentina, Mexico, the United States and elsewhere, without the worldwide public attaching the name – Art Deco – to this global aesthetic movement until years later.
From Cubism came "The Cubist House" that was designed by Raymond Duchamp-Villon in 1914, in Paris. This building has been widely credited as the most influential precursor to Art Deco. Nevertheless, what separates American Art Deco architecture from French or German Art Deco? How are they different and what do they say about the national identities that Brooklyn and Queens have embodied? American Art Deco can be defined as inherently more eclectic because it derives influence from its French origins but also Germany as well. For instance, the Bauhaus School for design spread Industrial design throughout the world and New York Art Deco structures often appropriated these aesthetic forms. Whereas, the Parisian origins of Art Deco have been characterized by more elaborate inlay doorways and expression.
Join us on our explorative voyage. Have a closer look with us as we soak in these buildings decadence and decay.
All interior photos in this article are courtesy of BAM Harvey Theater, © Elliot Kaufmann, 2014.
The Sears Roebuck Building