The Historical Art Deco District of Miami Beach
In the United States, Art Deco was a product of new ideas and movements and found its inspirations in many distinct early 20th Century European design styles such as Cubism, French Art Deco, German Bauhaus and Expressionism, Dutch de Stijl and Amsterdam School, Vienna Secession and others.
The term Art Deco came into common usage in the 1980s as public interest in the style was renewed and is generally used to cover several distinct periods. Art Deco became known as the Skyscraper Style for the buildings that sprang up in every big city in the mid to late 1920s. This was classical Art Deco, as first popularized at the Exposition Internationaledes Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925, featuring expensive materials, angular yet voluptuous with elaborate motifs of fountains, nudes and flora.
Miami Beach’s building boom came during the second phase of Art Deco known as Streamline Moderne, which began with the stock market crash and ended in most cases with the outbreak of World War II. It was less decorative—a more sober reflection of the Great Depression. It relied more on machine-inspired forms, and American ideas in industrial design. It was buttressed by the belief that times would get better and was infused with the optimistic futurism extolled at America’s World's Fairs of the 1930s.
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Images by Elisa Rolle
Stripped Classic or Depression Moderne was a sub-style often used for governmental buildings, the U.S. Post Office being the best example in Miami Beach. Miami Beach architects used local imagery to create what we now call Tropical Deco. These buildings feature relief ornamentation featuring whimsical flora, fauna and ocean-liner motifs to reinforce the image of Miami Beach as a seaside resort.
What to look for
Overall symmetry, ziggurat (stepped) rooflines, glass block, decorative sculptural panels, eyebrows, round porthole windows, terrazzo floors, curved edges and corners, elements in groups of three, neon lighting (used in both exteriors as well as interior spaces).