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Art Deco / Art Moderne

  See also the section on Setback Style Skyscrapers and the section on Art Deco Metalwork
  Click here for Top Ten NYC Architecture Art Deco
  Approximate Dates 1920 to 1940


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001  Jones Beach 005  Williamsburgh Savings Bank 019A Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, North Building 019 Metropolitan Life Insurance 003 One Fifth Ave.
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005  Forbes Magazine Building 020 New York Studio School 053 401 Broadway Building 004-Empire Diner 005 Port of New York Authority Building
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006 Salvation Army Centennial Memorial Temple 009 Joyce Theater 024-Savoy-Plaza Hotel 037 TRUMP BUILDING   041 20 Exchange Place
051-irving.jpg (66613 bytes) Downtown Athletic Club Building - Photo credit Carl Forster Pict0274.jpg (133472 bytes) 070B.jpg (37382 bytes) Pict0257.jpg (129722 bytes)
  051 One  Wall Street BANK OF NEW YORK

063 Downtown Athletic Club

068 Federal Office Building

070 Barclay-Vesey Building

073 East River Savings Bank (now Century 21)

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003 Beekman Tower

014 Daily News Building 017 General Electric Building
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019 Chanin Building 021 Chrysler Building 032 Waldorf-Astoria Hotel 033 Helmsley Building 044 Rockefeller Apartments
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049 Tiffany’s 053 International Building 055 Rockefeller Center 060 GE Building, originally RCA Building 061 Radio City Music Hall 
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061A THE RKO BUILDING   061C THE TIME WARNER BUILDING 062A Cheney Silk Company 068 American Standard Building

073 Empire State Building

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083 Mutual of New York Insurance 091 Russian Tea Room   098 Brill Building 110 Paramount Building 131 Film Center Building
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129 New Yorker Hotel

130 McGraw-Hill Building


138 Cheyenne Diner

139 Munson Diner

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150 400 MADISON BLDG 152 444 MADISON BLDG 154 THE UNIVERSAL PICTURES BUILDING 162 240 Central Park South 010 American International Building
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019 Woolworth Building 028 Criminal Courts Building 005 AT&T Headquarters 016 Western Union Building 003-Ritz Tower
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007-Sherry- Netherland Hotel 010-Hermes 017-Hotel Pierre 018-Bloomingdale’s 026-Milan House
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060-Hotel Carlyle 105-THE MARRIOTT EAST SIDE HOTEL 107-THE FULLER BUILDING 117-Church of the Heavenly Rest 25 CPW-Century Apartments (008)
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009-Pythian Temple 115 CPW-Majestic Apartments (016) 020-Beacon Theater 145 CPW-San Remo Apartments (021) 300 CPW- The Eldorado (038)
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035-The Normandy 044-Metro Theater 049-Master Apartments 066-St Moritz Hotel (Ritz-Carlton) 067- The Level Club

See also the section on Setback Style Skyscrapers and the section on Art Deco Metalwork

The largely French-inspired styles of the era between World Wars I and II, when cubistic structures were embellished by the use of florid ornament inspired by the Paris Exposition of 1925 (Art Deco) and later by sleek streamlined ornament that also influenced the Paris Exposition of 1937 ' Art Moderne . Many polychromed works of Ely Jacques Kahn exemplify Art Deco: the corner-windowed “modernistic” apartment houses of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx and the Majestic Apartments, at Central Park West and 72nd street are Art Moderne.

Style Definition

Both Deco and Moderne use setbacks to reduce building mass and to emphasize verticality. Unlike "Wedding Cake" buildings, their shapes recede from the street gracefully, not in tiers but in gentler and more carefully positioned steps. Limestone is the most common cladding material, with brick facades common in Art Deco.

Prominent architects in the style include Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, and Lawrence Murray Dixon.

In 1925 something else very important happens that would affect the look of skyscrapers—the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. With this exposition the French government intended to showcase the latest in French modern design, though it was an international exposition, as other countries were invited to open up pavilions exhibiting their modern design. The United States was one of the countries invited to have a pavilion, but the government's response was that the nation had no modern design, so there was no United States pavilion. Ultimately, however, this exposition, des arts décoratifs, from which the term art deco comes, had a tremendous influence on American design. Many Americans attended—architects, builders, even the general public. They either traveled to the fair itself or read books about it. So the exposition eventually had a tremendous impact on the look of the city.

Now before we look at art-deco buildings, we should note that this style is not synonymous with the setback office building. Very often, buildings like the Barclay-Vesey and the Fred French are called art-deco buildings, though technically they are not. They use different types of ornament. Art deco is a style of ornament imported from France after the 1925 exposition that provided an ornamental overlay on office buildings that were built under the 1916 zoning law. So it is important to note that the style is not synonymous with the zoning law but with a type of ornament that was used after 1925 on buildings in New York. The buildings that Americans saw when they attended the Paris exposition were very small scale, like this one, which was built as the Pavilion Bon Marché for the Bon Marché department store in Paris. But they had a highly ornate decorative quality—using, for example, stylized sunbursts, frozen fountains, and zigzag ornaments—and it was this style of ornament, used on both the pavilions and the modern decorative arts shown at the fair, that the Americans brought back with them. 

Andrew Dolkart 

The period termed "art deco" manifested itself roughly between the two world wars, or 1920 to 
1939. Many actually stretch this period back to 1900 and even as far as the late 1950's, but work of this time is generally considered to be more of an influence to the Art Deco style, or having been influenced by the style. As with many other art movements, even work of today is still being influenced by the past. This period of design and style did not just affect architecture, but all of the fine and applied arts as well. Furniture, sculpture, clothing, jewelry and graphic design were all influenced by the Art Deco style.

Common themes

Basically it was a "modernization" of many artistic styles and themes from the past. You can 
easily detect in many examples of Art Deco the influence of Far and Middle Eastern design, Greek 
and Roman themes, and even Egyptian and Mayan influence. Modern elements included echoing machine 
and automobile patterns and 
shapes such as stylized gears and wheels, or natural elements such as sunbursts and flowers. 

New York City has perhaps the most varied skyscraper "family" in the world. All prevailing design 
styles from the late 19th century to date are represented there -- as well as several buildings 
that have either become cornerstones in skyscraper design, or have been notable for their sheer 
size, stimulating imagination even more. 

Neither any other city is as much defined by its high-rises than New York. For example, the 
Empire State Building must be as well-known a symbol around the world as the Statue of Liberty. 


Built in 1924 for the American Radiator Co., a heater company, and had one of the first 
stepped-back pyramidal silhouettes in the city. The program for the building called for a 
relatively small structure, and to give the structure an enhanced appearance of a tower, Hood 
brought the building in form the lot borders. The black brickwork on the facade was chosen to 
lessen the visual contrast between the walls and the windows and thus give the tower an effect of 
solidity and massiveness. The Gothic-style pinnacles and the friezes on the edges of the setbacks 
are coated with gold. The base is clad in bronze plating and black granite. There are carved 
allegories, symbolizing the transformation of matter into energy, quite appropriate for a heater 
company. The entrance lobby is decorated with black marble and mirrors.

Barclay-Vesey Bldg.

The 152-meter building is considered to be the first Art Deco skyscraper 
and its designers were also awarded the Architectural League of 
New York's gold medal of honor for 1927 for fine expression the 
new industrial age.The brick-clad building is topped with a short, sturdy 
tower, with the vertical piers ending on 'battlements' on top and with
sculptural ornaments on the setbacks. The entrance is decorated with 
bronze engravings with a main theme of bells, the symbol of the
Bell Telephone Company. The lobby of the building runs the whole
length of the building, with the floor covered with bronze plates 
depicting the construction of New York's telephone network, and the 
ceiling has frescoes with the theme of the history of communication. 


Was completed in 1924 as the Shelton Towers Hotel, then the tallest in the world. The 34-storey 
building's exterior follows the zoning regulations with its triple setbacks. Each setback and the 
top was clad in limestone, in contrast to the overall facade brickwork. 

Also, the base is of limestone, and the decor and arches are neo-Romanesque. The 
decor also includes protruding gargoyles above entrance as well as extensive use of 
other sculptures. The hotel was built with 1,200 guest rooms for bachelor residents, 
but was soon turned into an ordinary mixed-use hotel. To cater for occupants' needs, the top 
housed sporting facilities and roof gardens. Painter Georgia O'Keefe lived in suite 3003, which 
she also used as her studio, until 1934. 

(1501 Broadway)

Completed in 1926 for the paramount Pictures film company. The building's fourteen setbacks are 
reminiscent of a 'para'mountain and the building top with the stylized globe is illuminated at 
night. The building originally housed the offices for the Paramount Pictures and it incorporated 
also the new, grandiose cinema, the Paramount Theater, which could house 3,664 people. The 
theater sported the Grand Hall, a lobby larger than that of the Paris Opera, as well as several 
lounges and promenades. 

The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is the quadri-faced pharos of the city. And until outstripped by the 
twin towers of the World Trade Center (1975), its 102 floors were the highest in New York. Though 
designed at the end of the so-called Art Deco period in the 1920s, when zigzagged appliques were 
prominent, its exterior shows little of the frippery characteristic of that 'decorated' period. 
It is, moreover, one of the very few skyscrapers with four facades, not just one facing the 
"Zoning required several setbacks, but these were given a skillful buildup of scale at the lower 
levels, while the tower itself rises unflinchingly. Indented setbacks in the center of each of 
the long sides help lateral scale. An observation platform and a pylon topped by a television 
transmission antenna crown all." 

—from G.E. Kidder Smith. Looking at Architecture. p152.