Mapping Historic Ballard (MHB)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Style Summary: Art Deco and Art Moderne

What do you think of when you hear the term Art Deco? Many people immediately recall the iconic Chrysler and Empire State buildings in New York City, while others think of the Jazz Age, Hollywood, and all things glamorous.

Paris Exhibition of 1925

While the term “Art Deco” did not emerge until later, the ideas and forms that became known as Art Deco style were given broad exposure at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris in 1925. The intent of the fair was to celebrate modernism in architecture and all the arts. 

Although the United States did not participate in the Fair, hundreds of American designers, artists, and others attended. From there, the Art Deco style quickly spread to the United States, influencing the design of automobiles, trains, ships, jewelry, fashion, and everyday objects such as radios and vacuum cleaners.

Art Deco symbolized the dawning of the modern age; exuberance and optimism after the horror of World War One. By the 1930s, the angular, vertical, and geometric forms of Art Deco gave way to the more streamlined, horizontal, and curving forms of Art Moderne. In 1933 at the Chicago World’s Fair, Art Moderne architecture underscored the theme of “A century of progress.”
In architecture, both styles were mostly seen in public and commercial buildings; neither were common in residential architecture. The verticality of Art Deco was particularly suited to the American skyscraper which offered owners and architects a chance to showcase American design, craftsmanship, ingenuity, and progress. Seattle’s contribution to Art Deco architecture includes the Seattle Tower and Exchange Building, among others.
Exchange Building

Seattle Tower

Art Deco and Art Moderne—what’s the difference?

The simplest way to tell the difference between the two styles is to see whether the emphasis is on vertical lines or horizontal ones. Art Deco is typically vertical and embellished with zig-zags, chevrons, and other geometric motifs, while Art Moderne is typically horizontal with asymmetrical facades and massing, and often with curved edges and corner windows. Both styles can be seen in apartment buildings and larger private homes (with concentrations in Los Angeles and Miami), but less commonly in smaller homes in working class neighborhoods.

Despite the relative scarcity of modest Art Deco and Art Moderne-styled houses, examples do exist—even here in Ballard! The Select 160 list includes one Art Moderne house, #12, built at the tail end of the movement in 1939 and shown here in a 1940 photo. Glass brick windows flank the entryway and brick stringcourses (long raised bands) emphasize the home’s horizontality. The symmetrical front fa├žade has a quiet elegance in its clean lines. 

It is interesting to consider what made the owner choose the Art Moderne style for his home in a neighborhood otherwise mostly full of Craftsman, American Foursquare, and Tudor Revival houses. Property records indicate the owner was Carl Schweizer and the architect was T. Buchinger--most likely Theobald Buchinger who was born in Austria in 1868 and came to the Washington Territory in 1886. Buchinger designed buildings for the Catholic Archdiocese including St. Alphonsus school in Ballard, brewery buildings for the Hemrick Brothers in Seattle, the St. Charles Hotel in Ballard, and a variety of other smaller buildings and houses. He served as President for the Washington State Society of Architects in 1926 and died in December 1940, approximately a year after the Schweizer home was completed. Curiously, Carl Schweizer was a manager at Pacific Telephone & Telegraph--a company that built the only Art Deco building on the Select 160 list, described below. 

The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company commercial building (#75 on the Select 160 list) was built in the Art Deco style in 1942—also at the tail end of the movement. The brick chevron detailing above the windows is classic Art Deco, as is the terra cotta entryway with geometric designs above the door. Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company later became Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone Company (1961), then UW West (1984), Qwest (2000), and CenturyLink (2011).