Art Deco as an architectural style was first exhibited at the 1925 Paris Exposition, officially named the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts (Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes). Previous expositions had featured the works and art of historical styles, however, The Society of Decorative Artists (Societé des Artistes Décorateurs) wanted something that was dedicated to showcasing the decorative arts or style moderne as it was known then.
It was not until the 1960s that the term Art Deco started to emerge and become widely used by the public, initially in 1966 by the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris with their exhibition entitled Les Années 25 : Art déco, Bauhaus, Stijl, Esprit nouveau, and then by the British cultural historian Bevis Hillier in 1968 with his book Art Deco of the 1920s and 30s. The term was later made the official label for the movement when Hillier curated a major exhibition, The World of Art Deco, at the Minneapolis of Institute of Arts in 1971.
Art Deco is a mixture of different cultural influences from the past and present, including Aztec, Medieval, and Art Nouveau; although after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of Kings by Howard Carter in 1922, many buildings incorporated some sort of Egyptian element into their design. Another huge influence was the introduction of industrial design in the 20th century was also important to the formation of Art Deco buildings — with their strong and streamlined silhouettes.
Art Deco architecture was much more prevalent in public buildings, most notably office buildings, factories, and cinemas. They were often large linear or curved structures decorated in geometric patterns, ornamental metalwork, and modern sculptures and reliefs. They would also use a mixture of materials, for construction it would mainly be steel and concrete, for decoration it would be chrome-plated steel, bakelite, paint, and stained-glass windows.
The decorative elements of Art Deco were what defined the style and all buildings would have included any of the below both internally and externally:
- modernised floral motifs such as lotus blossoms or papyrus leaves
- use of different and bright colours
- stepped-form or ziggurat decoration
- sun-rise motifs and zig zag patterns
- repeating geometric forms throughout the building
- reliefs and large sculptural panels showing scenes relating to the function of the building