Want to know your structuralism from your deconstructivism, and your neo-gothicism from your classical rococo? Need a small refresher, or perhaps interested in learning a little more about architecture? Try our crash courses in architectural styles! This week: Streamline Moderne. Child of the Art Deco movement, Streamline Moderne was a pared down, nautical-inspired movement that stripped Art Deco of its excesses and introduced a new design concept to everything from buildings to furniture.
The Art Deco movement of the 1920s was lavish, excessive and beautifully decorative, fully showcasing the wealth and extravagance of the Roaring Twenties. However, after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and the following Great Depression of the 1930s, the excesses of Art Deco were put aside in favour of a plainer, more streamlined fashion: Streamline Moderne. Reflecting the Bauhaus ideology of classical architecture in its purest form without ornamentation, Streamline Moderne pared down the ostentatiousness of Art Deco and concentrated on the essence of simplistic yet beautiful architecture.
The Midland Hotel, Morecambe; photo by Peter M. Dean
Streamline Moderne also reflected the West’s love affair with new machinery and transport, taking its cue from ocean liners and aeroplanes. Instead of Art Deco’s flora and fauna symbolism, exaggerated curves and exotic materials, Streamline Moderne demonstrated speed and motion in its clean lines, subdued colours and flat roofs.
As the main proponents of Streamline Moderne felt that Art Deco was too effete and ostentatious, the new style cut through the froufrou and developed a simple, ‘streamlined’ design principle. Based on the new technology of transportation, particularly ocean liners, Streamline Moderne sought out notions of speed, minimalism and modernity. The key features of buildings built in this style are long, low buildings with smooth stucco walls, flat roofs and long, horizontal lines, mirroring early twentieth century ocean liners and trains. Glass is an important part of the external façade, with blocks of windows and portholes imitating nautical themes and breaking up the appearance of the exterior which is otherwise relatively bare. Curves rather than corners are preferred, with long, elegant curves often sweeping around to link up elevations, demonstrating the link with Art Deco but utilising a more understated version. Higher storeys rising above the rest of the building are usually styled nautically, imitating lighthouses or the bridge of a ship.
Left: Uphall Primary School, Ilford, London; photo by mermaid99
Right: Club Moderne, Anaconda, Montana; photo by John T. Lowe
In terms of looks, Streamline Moderne downplays decoration and avoids excessive ornamentation. Colours are kept to neutral tones, such as white, beige or cream, with dark contrast colours used for long, horizontal trims and grooves to give the building a feeling of dynamic motion and kinetic energy. The feeling of modernity was enhanced through its use of electric light – the first architectural style to embrace such new technology. Streamline Moderne wasn’t just for the outside of buildings, however. The simplicity and sleekness leant itself beautifully for both interior and exterior design, meaning that the whole building could be entirely co-ordinated – from railings and refrigerators to toasters, radios and even cars.
Left: Toaster – photo by Rainer Zenz
Centre: Clock – photo by artdecodude
Right: Radio – photo by Gregory F. Maxwell
STREAMLINE MODERNE IN PRACTICE
The Normandie Hotel – left photo by OZinOH; right photo by Sam Rosenbaum
With origins as romantic as any classic love story, the Normandie Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico fused a Streamline Moderne exterior and an Art Deco interior into one luxurious destination for the stars of the 1940s. Named after the ship on which Puerto Rican engineer Félix Benítez met his future wife, Benítez decided to recreate an imitation of the sumptuous surroundings of the original ocean liner in tribute to his wife with the help of architect Raúl Reichard. The porthole-style windows and long, curved white balconies more than hint at its nautical origins, along with the interior skylighted central atrium that the internal corridors overlook. Construction began in 1938 and finished in 1942, having cost more than US$2,000,000 to complete, and instantly became a hit with major Hollywood and Latin American stars.
The Coca-Cola Building, Los Angeles – photo by The City Project
The Coca-Cola Building, designed by Robert V. Derrah and constructed in 1936, is a classic Streamline Moderne design, complete with porthole windows, catwalk and a bridge. It’s even constructed with rivets, both inside and out, giving the structure an authentic ship feel. Originally a cluster of older buildings, Derrah remodelled them into one cohesive design to be used as a bottling factory. Other US Coca-Cola bottling plants took on pastiche designs (including two in Florida that resemble Spanish Revival houses), but the Los Angeles building stands out as a proudly original, architectural piece. Derrah also created several other classic Streamline Moderne buildings, including the Crossroads of the World building in Hollywood, also built in 1936 and taking on the distinctive nautical theme.
Connaught Theatre – photo by dayglowill
Connaught Theatre in Worthing, West Sussex, is unusual for several reasons: firstly, as a streamline building that has had a few famous visitors – including Winston Churchill himself, and secondly as a dual-use cinema and theatre – a rare conversion in which theatre and cinema performances are both shown in the same building. The Connaught Theatre began life as two separate buildings: the Picturedrome cinema, built in 1914, and the Connaught Hall and Theatre, built in 1916. After the Hall and Theatre was licensed as a theatre in 1932 (previously it had been a hall for vaudevillian acts), the buildings continued to remain separate until 1935, when the Worthing Repertory Company outgrew the existing theatre and moved next door into the Picturedrome, making the unusual conversion of cinema into theatre, and the façade of the two was remodelled into the streamline style seen today.