Art Deco Ornamentation


The following pictures display examples of Art Deco ornamentation.  Architects who designed Deco were free to pick colors, materials and subjects of their ornamentation. 




Buffalo City Hall

Buffalo, NY

Art Deco is a style of colors.  Both public and private buildings were highly colored.  Colors could be bright and glossy or pastels and decorated both interiors and exteriors.  Buffalo City Hall used colored terra cotta in Native American patterns.







Eastern Airlines Building Eagle

C/O Norman McGrath

Constructed in 1939, the Eastern Airlines building was topped with a pair of streamlined eagles.  Art Deco in its earliest form at the Paris exposition was a representation of nationalism amongst the countries showing pieces.  In the US, the use of national imagery was used widely on both WPA government projects and private buildings.








LA Times Building

C/O Randy Juster

Art Deco exuded a grandiose and powerful aura.  The ornamentation was not prescription, but meant to make a building special.  The burgeoning industrial age introduced new materials and man's control over his environment.  This power was often mixed with pre-classic elements to create ornamentation in the form of sculpture, relief and metal work.  Mythological characters were used to show a building's connection to the industry which occupied it.  Elements taken from Egypt such as hieroglyphs were incorporated into bas-reliefs, but streamlined.  Classical figures were seen in the roles of modern workers, exemplifying the connection between classical idealism and modernity.




Circle Tower

Indianapolis, IN

C/O Randy Juster

Efficient industrial processes in the early 20th century made alloys economical to use on a large scale.  Metal was the perfect representation of America's industrial might, strong and sleek.  Easily workable and relatively light weight, metals such as aluminum, stainless steel and bronze were a necessity on an Art Deco building.  These metals were used as cornices, elevator doors, light stanchions, sculptures and radiator covers.  Metals were used to highlight and add color to heavy masonry elements.  Formed to shapes including plant and Native American imagery, metals were always expressing a greater decoration beyond their function.













Louisiana State Capitol

C/O Carla Breeze

Depending on the type of building, architects used iconic sculptures, bas-reliefs and murals to exude what the building represented.  Public buildings had icons which told stories of the past or represented the glory of modernity.  Private enterprises turned ephemeral goods such as railroad car wheels into decoration defining the period's increasing speed and reliance on technology. 










Chevrolet Showroom

Chicago, IL

C/O Randy Juster


Heavy machinery and industrial processes are what provided the fortune for corporations to build such lavish buildings.  Reliefs and sculpture included romanticized murals of industry and transportation.  The machine age can also be seen in the crisp metal working details which often take natural elements and patters and give them a geometric shape.





Integrity Trust Building

Philadelphia, PA

Building off the terra cotta ornamentation of Louis Sullivan which modeled a specific botanical element, Art Deco ornament abstracted plant life into geometric elements.  These ornamental features could reflect both the company of the building, such as a milling firm or often reflected geographical important plants.  This example shows geometrically altered corn cobs, abstracted to form metal ornament on a spandrel.  Regionally oriented ornament tied the building into its location and helped to foster a sense of belonging.  Abstraction gave organic plant forms a geometric and mechanical aura.


Cincinnati Union Terminal

Cincinnati, OH

C/O Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati International Airport

Ault & Wiborg Varnishing Works

Art Deco murals are an amalgamation of the ornamentation styles.  Strictly a non-functional element, murals are meant to be beautiful and convey a message.  Including the classicizing of characters, industry, iconography, nationalism and modernism, Deco murals used rich colors to add life to interior space and were a pure expression of an architectural design entirely focused on ornamentation.







City National Bank Building

Philadelphia, PA

Sculpture and relief fit into the same category as Art Deco murals.  With the stripping of classical architectural elements, many buildings of the period used lettering and reliefs to add ornamentation to concrete structure.  Sculptures in both metals and masonry could represent a wide range of figures depending on the type of building.  Both elements are purely ornament and typify Art Deco design.





Integrity Trust Building

Philadelphia, PA

Geometry can be seen in all Art Deco buildings.  Incorporated from late classical buildings of the 1910s and stripped classical buildings of the early 1920s, geometric features were smooth and machined.  Masonry and terra cotta ornamentation could be applied to make plain designs intricate and geometrically complex.  Sharp Euclidian geometry gave the feeling of mass to a building and biological imagery such as plants and animals were given crisp, repeating shapes to make them seem industrial and well defined.  The strong geometry of Deco creates an intermediary period between classic, Beaux-arts decoration and the minimalism of the International School.


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