Although I’m a sucker for Art Nouveau, Art Deco comes a close second. Although it was short-lived, Art Deco left an impression on many cities in the world and is quite possibly the first global architectural style. We’ve teamed up with fellow travel bloggers and asked them to tell us about their favorite cities for Art Deco in the world.
What is Art Deco?
Art Deco is an art style which emerged in France just before World War I and encompassed the visual arts, architecture, and design. It strongly influenced all aspects of life, including furniture and jewelry. When it spread from Europe to America in the early 1920s, people today often associate the style with the time of the roaring twenties. With the economic depression, the style became more pragmatic in the early 1930s.
As it developed organically out of the Art Nouveau style, the two have many similarities. Art Deco, just like Art Nouveau, is a strongly decorated and ornate style. However, while in Art Nouveau natural curves predominated, Art Deco is characterized by strong geometric patterns. Early Art Deco may feature gold and silver, while the later, more subdued, Art Deco features a lot of steel, chrome, and plastic. As such, it was the beginning of modern architecture as we know it.
Best Cities for Art Deco in the World
1. Singapore, Singapore
Recommended by Nicholas from Rambling Feet
Singapore’s Art Deco architecture recalls a heady period in its history. Merchants from far and wide flocked to this part of the Straits Settlements to make their fortune, and immigrant laborers followed suit. The shophouses in Chinatown and Geylang that they built and traded in reflect the style of the times. Despite their size limitations, their facades still made a statement with their vertical forms, strong geometric shapes and bold lettering. These days, it’s fun to photograph and contrast them with towering contemporary skyscrapers in the background
Besides these shophouses, there are several landmarks in this style around the city. The former Cathay Building stands out for several reasons. When it opened in 1939, it was the first air-conditioned public space in Singapore. Frank Brewer gave the exterior stepped and curved surfaces in the Streamline fashion. The ‘Cathay’ name, arranged vertically in block letters, adorned the entrance, just above the billboard that promoted the latest Hollywood films. Thanks to a 16-story apartment block behind that facade, it was also the city’s tallest building.
There was always a cinema in the Cathay Building, even during the dark days of the Second World War. Teachers and grandparents used to recount the terrible things that Japanese soldiers did in the vicinity, and a child in the 1990s, those stories only made the aging walls seem even darker whenever I passed them. Following redevelopment at the turn of the millennium, the old residential block made way for a taller glass complex, but the distinctive facade was retained and scrubbed up. The Cathay, as it is known today, now houses a mall, apartments and the Cathay Organisation’s flagship cineplex.
2. Richmond, Virginia, USA
Recommended by Meagan from Two Restless Homebodies
Richmond, Virginia, one of the eastern seaboard’s most vividly up-and-coming cities, has seen more history and architectural influences than you can shake a stick at. Sitting amongst all the Antebellum, Post-Bellum, and mid-century architecture in the River City, you’ll also find many lovely examples of Art Deco architecture.
One example is the Hotel John Marshall, which opened in 1929 as one of the largest hotels in the country. Its striking Art Deco facade and rooftop marquee stand tall and shine over much of Richmond’s downtown, and it remains to this day a fixture of the city’s history. Speaking of marquees, the Byrd Theatre, constructed in 1928, is one of the nation’s last great movie palaces. Complete with a Wurlitzer organ show on the theater’s original organ, unrestored 1920s seats, and decor that will make your eyes fall out, this popular theater shows second-run films and is a wonderful intersection of art and architecture in Richmond’s historic Fan District.
Lastly, one of our personal favorite Art Deco buildings in the city (out of so many!) is the Central National Bank, or CNB building. Until relatively recently, it had fallen into grave disrepair, but it has in the last few years been transformed into lofts that still harbor a wonderful Art Deco flair. We were lucky to get inside while the building was still undergoing renovations, and got to explore it in its raw state – still absolutely to die for!
3. Reims, France
Recommended by Meagan from Two Restless Homebodies
Because Reims took such heavy damage in World War II, its reconstruction took place during Art Deco’s later years. Architects, donors, and designers from across the Western world – and the United States, in particular – came to Reims to help rebuild this wonderfully historic city. The era’s influence shows in the facades in many streets, with sweeping lines and elegant designs. But one of the biggest donors of the time was Andrew Carnegie, a steel baron in the States.
He helped to fund the period restoration of the Notre Dame de Reims, but also provided the backing for one of the most blatant and beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture in the city: the Carnegie Library. Sitting directly adjacent to the Notre Dame cathedral, this small ode to knowledge and art possesses lovely columns, an amazing card catalog room dripping in stained wood, and stunningly impactful stained glass windows in its famous reading room. This place is a must-visit for anyone with an appreciation for Art Deco or Art Nouveau architecture and is a place we could sit and admire for hours.
4. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Recommended by Lesia from Dutch Wannabe
Amsterdam is well-known for its canal houses that are largely decorated in the best traditions of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles. However, occasionally you will find a building that stands out from the rest. One such building undoubtedly is Pathe Tuschinski on Reguliersbreestraat.
There are a few buildings of the Art Deco style in Amsterdam, with the Pathe Tuschinski being the most vivid example that you will easily encounter on your walks through the city center. This unique building is tucked between adjacent houses that sport a way more modest look. It is easily recognizable by the mix of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Amsterdam School styles on the facade.
It was Abraham Icek Tuschinski, a Dutch businessman who specialized in opening cinemas, who commissioned architect Hijman Louis de Jong to design a beautiful this theater. Not only is it the architect’s biggest achievement, it is also one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world.
Theater Tuschinski originally opened its doors in 1921 and is currently a part of the Pathe cinema branch.
It opens its doors to visitors daily and you can enjoy its interior and amazing theater hall by buying a ticket to one of the shows. If you’re not in the mood for a movie, check out the audio tours that are being offered daily in English and Dutch. The tour starts between 09:30 and 11:30 and lasts 45 minutes. This tour costs 10 euro per person and includes tea or coffee.
Other buildings in Amsterdam that are executed in a similar style are Beurs van Berlage on Damrak, American Hotel on Leidseplein and the Astoria building.
5. Miami, Florida, USA
Recommended by Talek from Travels With Talek
The section of South Beach in the City of Miami Beach known as Miami Art Deco District is one of the finest and best-preserved collections of art deco buildings in the world today. Most of the historic structures are found on Ocean Drive, the wide avenue facing the Atlantic Ocean on the east and bounded by 5thstreet on the south and 15th street on the north. The area is a major tourist draw consisting of classy hotels, open-air restaurants, and Latin-themed nightlife.
There are about 960 historic Art Deco structures all declared a U.S. historic district in 1979 in order to preserve them in their original format. Among the most outstanding structures with Art Deco facades are The Colony, The Breakwater, and The Clevelander.
The Miami Art Deco District has gone through a roller coaster of highs and lows in the past decades. In the 1980s the district was run down and dilapidated. Many of the beautiful buildings were low rent hotels or even empty derelicts. In the 1990s artists began to move into the area. The city of Miami began to renovate some of the buildings and tourists slowly trickled in attracted by the beautiful beach. Over the next few years, the tourist trickle became a flood, the buildings were refurbished and the area began to develop the reputation for a fun and historically important district it has today.
6. Berlin, Germany
Recommended by James from This Travel Guide
For lovers of Art deco architecture, Berlin has plenty to offer with several art deco buildings dotted across the city.
Some of the most famous representations of the style include Babylon Cinema in Mitte, the Mossehaus building which is also in Mitte, the Haus des Deutschen Metallarbeiterverbandes in Kreuzberg, and the Delphi-Filmpalast in Charlottenburg. Other buildings that are also worth visiting include Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Wilmersdorf, the Kreuzkirche church in Schmargendorf, and Ullsteinhaus in Tempelhof.
You may want to look for other, lesser known, Art deco buildings while you’re in Berlin. This can seem daunting as Berlin is such a big, sprawling city, but one way to limit your search is to stick with what was formerly West Berlin particularly Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf.
7. Roubaix, France
Recommended by Kathryn from Travel With Kat
Designed by the local architect Albert Baert, La Piscine is a stunning example of Art Deco design in Roubaix, most recognized for the beautiful sunburst (a popular motif often used in the Art Deco movement) stained glass windows at either end of the main hall. It was known as the most beautiful swimming pool in France.
Back in the early 20th century, the living conditions of the workers in Roubaix were dreadful so the local major, Jean-Baptiste Lebas, commissioned this magnificent public swimming baths for the workers. Opening in 1932, the flamboyant building was a huge success, used by people from many different walks of life, breaking down the class barriers that normally existed.
As well as the main pool, there were 40 individual bathrooms which could be rented for half an hour for an affordable fee. With no access to hot water in their homes, women used these bathrooms to both wash their laundry as well as themselves!
Sadly, the swimming pool was forced to close in 1985 as the structure had become unsafe. Much to the delight of local people, it was later re-designed by Jean-Paul Philippon, fully renovated and reopened as an art museum in 2001.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice and it is, without a doubt, my favorite art gallery/museum, not just because of the beautiful building but also because of the wonderful artwork on display. The former changing and shower cubicles of the pool have been put to good use and are now exhibition rooms displaying textiles, ceramics and fashion items. And the onsite restaurant has kept many of the original fixtures and fittings and opens onto a lovely courtyard garden.
8. Napier, New Zealand
Recommended by Rhonda Albom from Albom Adventures
Napier New Zealand is the self-proclaimed Art Deco Capital of the World. A small city on the east coast of the North Island, it was rebuilt quickly in the early 1930s after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed much of the commercial district. At the time, Art Deco was the current trend in various parts of the world and quickly adopted by New Zealand. Today there are 140 Art Deco buildings in Napier. Just head to the center of town, and you can’t miss them, especially if you walk down Emerson, Tennyson or Hastings streets.
One of my personal favorite buildings is the three-story Napier Municipal Theatre. Like most of the town, it was rebuilt in the 1930’s in traditional Art Deco style, both inside and out. This particular building partially survived the quake, as the foundation and three walls remained standing. While the redesigned exterior exhibits many of the classic Art Deco features like long lines, geometric shapes, and colors, the interior brings it all alive. Attention was paid to every detail of the interior and looking around we find Egyptian columns, sunburst, ziggurats, chrome accents, neon and fluorescent light fittings, Art Deco flooring patterns and a classical Art Deco ticket booth.
9. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Recommended by Jen from Two Can Travel
Phnom Penh’s iconic Central Market was designed by French Architects Jean Desbois and Louis Chauchon in the 1930s and is one of the most important buildings that remain in the capital from that time period. The market was designed in the Art Deco style, painted in yellow and white, and was completed in 1937.
Cutouts in the ceiling and walls create natural airflow and cooling inside the building, making it much more pleasant to shop inside than in other markets in the city, which tend to get hot and stuffy midday. The center of the market is a large dome with a high ceiling that allows natural light to shine in, casting beautiful shadows and rays of light throughout the day. Four hallways jut out from the dome in a symmetrical shape.
The Central Market is a work of art from any angle and still functions as one of the most active and popular markets in Phnom Penh for both Cambodians and travelers. Many locals and expats do their daily shopping there as well as purchase goods and flower arrangements for funerals and other important occasions. Travelers also love to visit to see the architecture and for the wide selection of products including souvenirs, wigs, clothing, and jewelry. It is definitely impressive and worth checking out during your trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia!
10. New York City, New York, USA
No list about Art Deco can be complete without New York. Home to some of the most iconic Art Deco buildings in the worlds, it is quite possibly the best city for Art Deco in the world. When the city experienced enormous growth in the 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco was the predominant style in North America, which is why Art Deco is so omnipresent in the city’s landscape. From cinemas, to apartment buildings, and office buildings, Art Deco can be explored in all New York boroughs.
The Empire State building is without a doubt the best example of the style in the city. An essential part of the New York skyline, you can hardly miss it. What stands out in particular, is its 16-story spire. The interiors of the building feature typical graphic patterns with strong lines.
Other notable Art Deco buildings in the city include the Western Union Building, 1 Wall Street, Bryant Park Hotel, Brooklyn Public Library, and of course the Chrysler Building.
Now, what do you think? Which is your favorite Art Deco building in the world? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!