Art Deco originated in France during the 1920s and quickly spread across the globe through architecture, furniture, jewelry, art, and everyday household objects such as radios and telephones. The Art Deco architecture style (also referred to as Style Moderne Architecture) is distinguished by sleek and bold symmetry as well as bright colors, luxurious interiors, and the use of metal – all of which reflected the machine age and the period’s hollywood glamour. Frequently found on Art Deco buildings are recessed setbacks and symmetrical zigzag, triangular, curvilinear, rectangular, sunburst, square, and chevron patterns. Building materials were usually stucco, concrete, stone, terracotta, stainless steel, and aluminum. Art Deco architecture was often chosen for the construction of movie theaters, office buildings, train stations, department stores, factories, ocean liners, and skyscrapers around the world. The style was popular through the 1920s and 1930s and can be found in countries as diverse as India, Spain, Cuba, Japan, Brazil, and the Philippines (to name but a few).
New York City has the distinct fortune of being home to some of the most well-known and beloved architectural symbols of the Art Deco architecture period. We’ve put together a self-guided tour for iconic Art Deco buildings in Midtown Manhattan – and we hope the tour will take you back to an era, nearly 100 years ago, when this new style of architecture represented modernity and futurism.
Empire State Building
350 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10018
Completed in 1931 and designed in two weeks by architects Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, The Empire State Building was the tallest structure in the world until 1972 (it is now the 40th tallest building in the world – the tallest building is nearly 3 times as tall – and the third tallest building in NYC). The building took 15 months to build and stands 1250 feet, 1453 if you include the spire on top. Look out for the stainless steel trim above the ground level on the exterior, the art deco lettering, spire, and ceiling mural in the lobby, geometric patterns, as well as the sunburst motifs throughout.
405 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10174
The Chrysler Building is arguably the most iconic example of art deco style for skyscrapers worldwide. Completed in 1930 and designed by architect William Van Alen, it was the world’s tallest building for 11 months before The Empire State Building was completed in 1931. Distinctive art deco features include the stainless steel exterior details, the sunburst motif on the stepping spires, an abundance of geometric patterns in the lobby, and a mural on the ceiling in honor of the machine age and the age of aviation. Be sure to look out for the automotive details on the building, such as replicas of Chrysler’s 1929 radiator caps on the four corners of the 31st floor, as well as the hubcap and fenders on the surrounding frieze.
122 East 42nd Street
New York, New York 10168
The Chanin Building was completed in 1929 and designed by architects Sloan & Robertson. At the time, the 56-story building was the third tallest in New York City and the 56th floor had a movie theater, observation deck open to the public, and the lobby held a bus terminal. Keep an eye out for the bronze and terracotta friezes along the base of the building, as well as the bronze reliefs abundant in the lobby.
45 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, New York 10111
Completed in 1939 and designed by Raymond Hood, Rockefeller Center is comprised of 19 buildings (with various architects) on 22 acres between 48th and 51st Streets. 14 of these buildings are art deco and span the area along 5th and 6th Avenues. The myriad of art deco carvings, murals, mosaics, and sculptures within Rockefeller Center are an art lover’s dream and were all created around the themes of progress and innovation. Be sure to visit the lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza (The Comcast Building), the centerpiece of the Plaza, as well as Radio City Music Hall. You can also prepare for your visit in advance by browsing through the different art pieces online and booking a tour of Rockefeller Center here.
McGraw Hill Building
330 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10020
Also designed by Raymond Hood, The McGraw Hill Building was completed in 1931 and boasts a terracotta exterior, metal-framed windows, recessed setbacks, and colorful, symmetrical geometric patterns, as well as art deco lettering, along the base and top of the building and in the lobby.
If this walk down architecture lane has you loving the look of Art Deco, and wanting an Art Deco home of your own, explore available New York City Art Deco listings for rent by clicking here and for sale by clicking here.