We’re assuming you love Mid Century Modern (we do too!), but there are so many different styles of architecture found within the Modern Era. Streamline Moderne or Art Moderne was a style of Art Deco that—while markedly distinct—shares some characteristics with the modernist architecture we so enjoy. Here we take a look at this captivating and forward-thinking movement.

A black and white photograph of an auditorium façade with 4 pillars that look similar to aircraft fins.>
Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, circa 1955. The Pan Pacific Auditorium opened its doors in 1935 and is hailed as a shining example of Streamline Moderne style of architecture. The entrance pictured here has been used for photo shoots and movie backdrops. designed by the firm of Plummer, Wurdeman and Becket in 1935. The auditorium closed in 1972, then went through years of neglect and turmoil. Despite it being on the National Register of Historic Places, it burned down in 1989. (Photo by Bob D’Olivo/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Art Deco

Highly decorative and ornate, Art Deco was popular during the 1920s and 1930s. The opulent style was a sign of the times. With the end of the first World War, people longed to look forward into a brighter future. That optimistic world of tomorrow came in the form of the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, a benchmark event in Paris and where the term for the style was derived. However, the phrase “Art Deco” wasn’t coined until decades later in the mid 1960s.

A poster in black and red on cream background shows Art Deco artwork of a woman and a gazelle with the name of the exposition underneath
The exhibition in Paris was the height of the Art Deco craze. Woodblock poster by Robert Bonfils, 1925. Image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Transition To Streamline

As the Great Depression approached, styles began shifting once more. Opulence started to seem unnecessary and architects and designers looked toward function and efficiency. As the world was heading into the machine age, designs took an on industrial form that was seen in everything from cars to trains to commercial and residential buildings and even home appliances. The Streamline Moderne style emphasized horizontality and curved lines and was essentially “streamlined,” even in architecture, for a more aerodynamic aesthetic. The movement took cues from the Bauhaus and International Styles, focusing on stripping away the unnecessary.

A black and white photo of two trains traveling parallel on a bridge circa 1939. The trains are very sleek and streamlined
Planes, trains and automobiles were streamlining as the world moved into the machine age. Architecture, furniture and even household items took design inspiration toward the futuristic and aerodynamic aesthetic.

Mostly popular in the 1930s and 40s, the Streamline Moderne style utilized low-cost and readily available materials. From shiny futuristic toasters to beautifully curved Bakelite pencil sharpeners, attractive designs were now becoming accessible to the masses.

Color postcard from the 1940s showing a Greyhound bus station built with curved lines and several horizontal tiers. There are 5 taxis lined up in front of the structure.
Still popular into the 1940s, William Strudwick Arrasmith designed this Streamline Moderne Cleveland Greyhound station that opened in 1948.

Further Promoting Streamline Moderne

Just as the 1925 expo in Paris popularized Art Deco, the Streamline Moderne/Art Moderne movements were further promoted during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. Designed as a showcase for modern living, the fair was created in part to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression. The construction was led by a group of young architects who designed many of the exhibitions in a cohesive Art Moderne aesthetic.

A large home with curved sides and balconies that are almost nautical. The house is perched on a green hillside and the sky is bright blue
The Butler House, built from 1934-1936 serves a another prime example of the Streamline Moderne style. A true modern pioneer, the home was packed with gadgets and all the latest technology of the time. Courtesy of iowaarchitecture.org

Similarly, the 1939 New York World’s Fair, with the theme “The World of Tomorrow,” increased the popularity of the style. Perhaps most notably is Norman Bel Geddes General Motors exhibit. The pavilion featured “Futurama,” a large scale model of an American city in 1960 showcasing forward-thinking skyscrapers, complex superhighways and helicopter landing pads.

left: Black and white image of a towering “GM” building with curved sides and interesting passenger walkways above the street below which is filled with automobiles. right: A model city showing extremely tall skyscrapers and intersecting highways.
The General Motors pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair housed “Futurama,” a large-scale model of a 1960 city. Images courtesy of theatlantic.com.

While Mid Century Modern and Streamline Moderne are still their own distinct styles, there are some similarities in regard to functionality, forward-thinking, clean lines and availability to the masses. So, are you a Mid Century Modern purist or do you have soft-spot for the whimsical architecture of Streamline Moderne?

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