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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Skyscraper City Art Deco
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Art Deco
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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.


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