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Thursday 13 March 2008
I think there's something to the Art Deco style that goes a little deeper than is generally credited. Years after the movement unofficially ended, it is still the subject of much emotional appeal, if it's continuing appearances in all forms of popular media are any indication. Perhaps it's because the movement is so strongly linked to the period between the World Wars of the 20th century, that period of simultaneous excess and poverty coupled with industry and futurism evocotive of the emergence of the United States as THE world power. Maybe it's because Deco was more decorative (for art's sake!) than the rival, utilitarian International Style without being as pretentious as the preceeding Nouveau. Or then again, maybe it's the fact that Deco was the springboard for the endearing Googie, providing it a position as a favored ancestor. I like to think that it's just because it looks so good.
Where did this train of thought come from, you ask? I've spent a lot of time this week looking at architecture from the American World's Fairs of the 20th century. There have been some spectacular buildings constructed for the purpose of temporary entertainment. New York has no doubt had the best of it, as the style and enduring memory of 1939's Trylon and Perisphere or 1964's Unisphere tower over other Fair relics such as Knoxville's Sunsphere, San Antonio's Tower of the Americas, and Seattle's Space Needle. (Towers and spheres were clearly pretty common themes for 20th-century modernist architects.)
I have long cherished the 1939 Fair as the cradle of superheroes. (1940 World's Fair Comics was the first to feature both Batman and Superman together -- on the cover. They were in separate stories inside.) But the 1964 Fair has a lot going for it, too. The aforementioned Unisphere is a masterpiece of sculpture. And the Uniroyal Tire Ferris Wheel was so spectacular that Detroit can't bear to let it go. (The giant vulcanized tire puts me in mind of Birmingham's cherished giant Vulcan, similarly made for a World's Fair -- St. Louis 1904 -- but now residing in a comfortable, customized park.) This all, of course, leads to one of my enduring interests: decaying urbanscapes. Have you seen the remains of 1964's New York State Pavilion? Fantastic!
To quote the NY Pavilion architect, Philip Johnson, "There ought to be a university course in the pleasure of ruins."