I went to Miami Beach recently for the first time in fifteen years, and one of the highlights of the trip was the Art Deco Walking Tour. One of the most interesting things that we learned is that there are only two places in the world with a high concentration of Art Deco architecture. One is Miami Beach and the other is Napier, New Zealand. Both were devastated by natural disasters around the same time causing them to have to rebuild in the 1930s when the Art Deco style was prominent. Art Deco became popular around the world after the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Miami Beach’s Art Deco District was the first 20th century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places and is the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world. Much of the preservation is the work of one woman, Barbara Baer Capitman, who had the realization in the late ’70s that these buildings were worth saving and devoted her life to the cause.
A few details to note on the buildings themselves. The buildings that are completely white are actually more historically correct. When the architects designed these structures they were after a streamlined aesthetic and loved the use of white. They were particularly interested in the play of light on the buildings and the shadows created by the “eyebrows” or overhangs over windows and other sculptural elements such as the ziggurat or stepped rooflines and decorative sculptural panels seen on many of the buildings. Other common themes include symmetry, repeated elements in groups of three, curved edges and corners, and the use of neon lighting.