Miami Art Deco

Did you know that Miami is home to the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world? Strolling through the Art Deco district is like traveling back in time. The city has a remarkable collection of approximately 800 buildings built in this style that originated in Europe in the 1920s.

The 1925 International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris helped to spread Art Deco around the world. That’s also where its name comes from, which is nothing more than an abbreviation for “Decorative Arts” (Arts Décoratifs).

Art Deco is an artistic, architectural, and decorative style that flourished between 1920 and 1939, leaving its mark on a wide range of artistic and creative disciplines, including graphic, industrial, and interior design, fashion, painting, sculpture, and cinematography. This movement was influenced by the First Avant-Garde movements such as Cubism, Futurism, and Art Nouveau, as well as it adopted elements from the rationalism of the Bauhaus school and ancient cultures like Egyptian and pre-Hispanic.

Europe had been deeply affected by the war, leading to the search for a new way of life. In that context, Art Deco emerged as a fresh and optimistic proposal characterized by elegant lines, geometric shapes, and luxurious materials. Additionally, it was a time of great technological advancements, and artists began to adopt innovative techniques and new materials like plastic, chrome, and neon. The spirit of the era opposed the pessimism of the war and sought to celebrate progress and modernity.

While Art Deco in architecture can be found in other cities in the United States like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Tulsa, and Pittsburgh (among others), Miami has the highest number. This is mainly due to the enormous awareness and preservation work carried out by the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), an organization founded by Barbara Baer Capitman in 1976. The MDPL played a crucial role in saving many of the most iconic Art Deco buildings from demolition. Since its inception, the organization has also been dedicated to promoting the awareness of Art Deco architecture and its historical, cultural, and social significance.

Art Deco buildings are characterized by elegant lines, as well as the use of shapes like triangles, squares, and circles in a repetitive or symmetrical pattern. Additionally, they feature aerodynamic forms inspired by the new technology of the era, such as cars, airplanes, and ocean liners. They were constructed using lavish materials such as marble, chrome, and glass, resulting in an atmosphere of opulence and glamour.

1. Carbide & Carbon Building, Chicago, 1929. It is said that the Burnham Brothers’ firm designed it to resemble a champagne bottle. It is clad in black granite, green terracotta. The gold on the top is genuine gold. Gold leaf is an extremely thin sheet of gold obtained through a process of beating and hammering.

2. Chrysler Building, New York, 1928-1930. Designed by William Van Alen, it was the tallest building in the world before being surpassed by the Empire State Building and the first to use stainless steel as a major building material. It is a symbol of the city of New York and one of the most iconic Art Deco buildings in the world. It is adorned with gargoyles, eagles, and friezes that pay tribute to the automotive industry, including gears, pistons, and radiator caps. These motifs are a reference to the Chrysler Corporation. Both buildings deserve a separate post.

Miami: Art Deco, Streamline Moderne and Tropical Deco

The Miami Beach Historic District contains a mix of Art Deco, Streamline Moderne and Tropical Deco buildings.

– Streamline Moderne, marking the second phase of Art Deco, made its presence felt throughout the 1930s and 1940s. This style was more modern and fluid, moving away from the excessive ornamentation of classic Art Deco. Streamline Moderne buildings are often characterized by aerodynamic shapes inspired by the new technology of the time, such as automobiles, airplanes, and ocean liners.

– Tropical Deco is a subgenre of Art Deco that is exclusive to Miami. It is characterized by its use of bright colors, tropical motifs, and materials such as wood and stucco. Tropical Deco buildings often have curved lines inspired by the natural environment of Miami.

– Renowned architects like Morris Lapidus, Henry Hohauser, and Lawrence Murray Dixon took the lead in designing the majority of Miami’s Art Deco buildings during the 1930s. These masterpieces stand out with their pastel colors, which are distinctive of the Art Deco style in Miami.

– Leonard Horowitz, a furniture designer and conservationist, played a significant role in popularizing pastel colors within the city’s Art Deco district. In 1976, he proposed a palette of 40 pastel shades inspired by the ocean, sky, and sand landscape. His goal was to revitalize the aesthetics of Miami Art Deco buildings.

Let’s See Some of the Most Iconic Buildings:

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Crescent Hotel
Designed by architect Henry Hohauser in 1938, who also led many other notable buildings such as The Carlyle, The Breakwater Hotel, and The Saxony. Its curved facade with geometric motifs and pastel colors is typical of Miami’s Art Deco.

Ocean Plaza Hotel
Built in 1939 and designed by architect Henry Hohauser.

McAlpin Hotel
Built in 1939 and designed by architect Lawrence Murray Dixon. Eyebrows are a distinctive element of Miami’s Art Deco architecture. They are typically made of metal or concrete and are often curved or angled to provide shade from the sun. 

The Colony Hotel
It was designed by Henry Hohauser and is a classic example of Art Deco architecture. The building’s facade is divided into three vertical and horizontal blocks, and each floor has three sets of windows. The neon lights that illuminate the facade at night make The Colony Hotel a landmark on Ocean Drive.

The Webster
The Webster is a 1939 Art Deco building designed by Henry Hohauser. The facade features reliefs with “frozen fountains” motifs, which were a common feature of Art Deco architecture. Fountains with water frozen in an upward motion were often used in Art Deco architecture to symbolize movement and progress.

The Delano Hotel was opened in 1947 and is named after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The four-story building has a streamlined style and features nautical motifs on the exterior. It was designed by architect Robert Swartburg and renovated in 1994 by renowned designer Philippe Starck.

The Marlin Hotel
It is a four-story Art Deco hotel designed by L. Murray Dixon and built in 1939. It features a modern streamlined style and has been featured in the films Scarface (1983) and Miami Vice (1984).

Other Significant Art Deco Buildings:

The Carlyle Hotel, Kiehnel and Elliot, 1941.
Hotel Breakwater, L. Murray Dixon, 1936.
The Park Central Hotel, Henry Hohauser, 1936.
The Cardozo, Henry Hohauser, 1939.
The Essex House, Henry Hohauser, 1938.
The Hotel Astor, L. Murray Dixon, 1935.
The Leslie, L. Murray Dixon, 1936.
The Lowe, L. Murray Dixon, 1936.
Leslie Hotel, Henry Hohauser, 1936.
The Tides, Henry Hohauser, 1936.
The Waldorf Towers Hotel, Albert Anis, 1937.

Find Art Deco in movies and series

Some films and series used these buildings as locations and others recreated Art Deco set extraordinarily:

– Nightmare Alley (2021), starring Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett.
– Scarface (1983), directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone. The story follows the life of Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino. The facade and lobby of The Carlyle Hotel were used.
– The Birdcage (1996), starring Robin Williams. The Carlyle Hotel was one of its locations.
– The Great Gatsby (2013). It is a film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, published in 1925. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
– Poirot (1983-2013). A series based on Agatha Christie’s fictional character, Hercules Poirot.
– Several Batman adaptations use Art Deco aesthetics, like Batman The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, The Dark Knight, etc.

* The featured image of this post: The Century Hotel, a boutique hotel on Ocean Drive. It was built in 1939 and designed by Henry Hohauser.

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