art nouveau // DESIGN HISTORY

With its dreamy curvilinear lines and romantic natural forms, Art Nouveau is one of the most easily recognized of the early modern movements.  We’ve already looked at the seeds of this style in Austria (Vienna Secession) and Scotland (Mackintosh).  Now it’s time to explore the designers who exemplify what we think of as Art Nouveau today.  This includes those who were working around France and Brussels, Belgium at the beginning of the 1900s.

One of the common aspects of “Art Nouveau” is that it spares no expense.  This movement was rooted in the Arts & Crafts movement, where hand-crafted, local wares were preferred over mass-produced options, regardless of price.  And this is one of the main reasons the movement had a fairly short life.  But it also means that the buildings that still exist are a sight to see, from balcony railing to the street-level vents.  I was fortunate enough to visit Paris this past fall and, even luckier, managed to convince my travel companions to spend a little time looking at the buildings by Hector Guimard on the rue de la Jean Fontaine.  Looking at these buildings what struck me the most was how design appears on every facet of the structure.

EXPOSED STRUCTURE AS DESIGN ELEMENT

Maison du Peuple + NYC Loft

Victor Horta was a Belgian architect.  He built both residential and commercial buildings, many in Brussels.  Here we see his Maison du Peuple, the headquarters of the Belgian Socialist party.  The building no longer exists, but in this vintage photo you can see his love of cast iron and how the normally “hidden” details of a building, such as rivets and steel braces, are an important element of the design.

When this NYC caviar warehouse was converted into a loft space instead of using drywall to cover the pipes and beams in the ceiling, the architect left the area exposed.  This highlights the pipes and interesting pattern between beams.  These elements are repeated in the wood staircase that is flanked by a “pipe” balustrade.

CURVILINEAR SHAPES

Staircase at Maison du Peuple + Private Home in NYC

In another area of the Maison du Peuple was this amazing staircase.  Curvilinear shapes are carved into the masonry

While the chandelier, square windows and limited decoration recall the modern simplicity of Loos, the curvilinear bath and vanity recall the lines Horta used in the staircase at Maison du Peuple.

ORIGINAL DESIGN

Guimard + Gehry

Art Nouveau forms were unique in that they were not a revival or expansion of any previous design period. Instead, they were uniquely “art nouveau” and these buildings still hold up today. Looking at Guimard’s residence in Paris it is unmistakably Art Nouveau.

While Gehry’s forms are now repeated in a number of his own buildings, they are uniquely his.

NATURAL FORMS

Castel Béranger + Tom Price Sculpture

Art Nouveau is characterized by the use of wrought iron cast in curvilinear lines based on natural forms.

This garden piece by artist Tom Price, a tree cast in bronze. The tree itself decorates a private courtyard, while the branches extend through the wall to the public sidewalk on the other side of the wall.

Much like the Arts & Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau was an international style that had distinct movements in several countries including ViennaScotland & Germany.

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