Monday, February 12, 2007

Art Nouveau & Vienna Secession: United States

While Art Nouveau in the United States didn’t have the most lasting impression on its generation, its impact on the future of design can’t be denied. It is often times considered to be a regeneration of Victorian Style influenced by an awareness of the standards of quality and craftsmanship established in the Arts and Crafts Movement. While the décor in interiors remained rather stuffy, a change in subject matter set it apart from the interiors that came before it. Lighter, iridescent colors came into play and a focus was put on nature and natural forms. Sinuous forms taking on plant-like characteristics became visible in exteriors and interiors alike, marking a dramatic change and replacing the historic decorative elements that had come before. Iron and cast iron became large players in the execution of these designs. It was easily molded and manipulated into these very curvilinear and almost obscurely abstract designs.

The two most prominent players in this era of design were Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) and Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924), both of which were known primarily for their definitive styles in Art Nouveau. Tiffany became increasingly interested in the decorative arts and founded the ‘Louis C. Tiffany & Associated Artists’ Design Firm in New York City. His early style tended to follow in the footsteps of the Victorian Era with highly decorative elements taking over his interiors. Tiffany was best known for his concentration in stained glass. He was commissioned to produce windows for many American churches, including H. H. Richardson’s Trinity Church in Boston. These works featured traditional imagery of religious subjects as well as landscape, floral and semi-abstract themes that were very similar to French Art Nouveau. While Tiffany grew to be most well known for his ‘Tiffany Lamp’, he also produced many vases, bowls and other decorative objects, combining his famous glass work with metal work resembling natural forms such as floral or vine-like pieces as well as peacock feathers and insect wings.

Louis H. Sullivan was the other key designer in this movement. Often considered the ‘Pioneer of Modernism’, Sullivan is noted for his ideology that “form is to follow function”. He was America’s first modernist architect and was noted for his use of rich ornament combined with strong functionality. Sullivan was a noted designer in terms of both spatial organization and ornament. His Chicago Auditorium Building (1886-1890) marked a major step in the development of iron structural framing, but the interiors of his buildings were the height of his designs. In this particular building, we find an auditorium topped with great arches incorporating the use of electric lighting, covered in gilded relief similar to what we’d find in the Victorian Era combined with great functionality and genius in his design of a moveable ceiling to promote better acoustics.

Many critics have considered this the “style that failed” and had only begun to appreciate it after World War II when various exhibitions and publications brought it to the masses. It is now considered to be a strong step towards modernism, but many disagree, claiming it didn’t let go of the frivolous and tasteless over decorating of the Victorian Era. Do you feel that this was merely an extension of the often over-done interiors of the Victorian Era or that it was, indeed, yet another step leading us toward modern design? Was Art Nouveau in the United States able to successfully transition from the Victorian Era and the Arts and Crafts Movement into modern design without entirely abandoning either of these schools of thought?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Art Nouveau & Vienna Secession: Europe

The Art Nouveau and the Vienna Secession in Europe originated in Britain during the late nineteenth century. As a style led by France and Belgium, the Art Nouveau expanded the possibilities of materials and was most commonly characterized by whiplash curves and abstract natural forms. This style developed due to the economic expansion of growing cities, the social rejection of historical precedents, and the experimentation of new materials. For example, in The Horta House, Victor Horta explored the possibilities of iron in the staircase as well as whiplash décor on the walls. As a rich display of slender columns, curvilinear lines, and sharp curves, the Horta House exemplified a new style in Europe that would continue to push technological advances. Small amounts of iron, for instance, supported a large amount of weight. This strength allowed the designer to have more flexibility with the space thus allowing Horta to experiment with curving lines based on natural forms.

Soon after the Horta House was created, Otto Wagner and many others led the Vienna Secession in 1898. They led this style by including even more abstracted natural forms in design. While the early characteristics of Art Nouveau included slender proportions, long curvy décor, and more functional designs, the Art Nouveau became more of a style for the aesthete, a person who had a refined sensitivity to nature and more of a disregard for historical precedents. And although architects such as Otto Wagner called for designs based on purpose, this style continued until World War I. Consequently, the art of pushing ideas from the past including reinterpretations of inspiration(the art of Japan, nature, and geometry)relatively ended in the 1920‘s. However, the flowing Art Nouveau patterns and carefully detailed fantastic forms continued to prosper throughout Europe.

At the height of the Art Nouveau style, Spain gave Europe an interesting interpretation on the style. For example, Antoni Gaudi used untraditional decorative design and fantastical forms in order to push the limits of the Art Nouveau style. In the same way, current designers often push ideas from the past in order to create designs with a new purpose. After all, social, economic, political, and technological circumstances dictate the direction of design and as one might say, ‘history repeats itself’. However, even though society was changing at the turn of the 20th century, was it a good idea to include such precarious metal work in Art Nouveau designs? After all, as a style of unpredictable turning angles someone could run into something, misjudge angles, get hurt; Was it worth the risks to create an interesting design over what some may call un-functional design?

Pile. A History of Interior Design.

Art Nouveau & Vienna Secession: United States

Art Nouveau in America was a time when iridescent colors, floral motifs, naturalistic forms, bold accessories and ornamentation dominated; as well as elaborate wall and window decoration. However, unlike styles before, Art Nouveau was slightly simpler but still highly decorated. The introduction of the Art Nouveau style in the United States is credited to two well known designers; Louis Tiffany, and Louis Sullivan. These designers took a long leap away from norms of classicism and were inspired by both the Arts and Crafts movement, and the decorative arts. Tiffany founded his own glass company and became internationally known for his intricate stained glass patterns, often showing relation to nature and the four seasons. He also popularized lamp design by adding metal bases to lamp frames, and glass shades. However, Tiffany's designs could no longer hold the majority of the public's interest.
Louis Sullivan is often referred to as "The Pioneer of Modernism,"because he was the most successful when it came to stepping away from the roots of antiquity. He worked a lot with public spaces such as hotel lobbies, stairways, stores, and auditoriums. Sullivan was a master of acoustical application; a prime example would be his Auditorium Building in Chicago. He also spent a great deal of his time studying skyscraper design, and focusing on how to add decorative aspects to verticality. The Schlesinger & Mayer Department Store in Chicago was one of Sullivan's most clever designs because his use of a grid pattern on the outside facade. Horizontal lines divided floors and vertical lines colonized windows. This itself was a brave approach to modern design. Like many others, Sullivan's work became less admired. He experienced disagreement with clients while working on St. Paul's Methodist Church because of finances. In his late career he designed small banks and employed great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His book, "A System of Architectural Ornament," is still used today by modern architects.
It's been argued that even though Art Nouveau was a down play from previous styles, it was still too excessive and overly decorated. Art Nouveau has been accused of poor taste and unnecessary decor. In your opinion, how important is architectural ornamentation and how does it affect you. Are you drawn to ornamental decor or are you not so interested, explain why. Also, was an Art Nouveau movement in the United States necessary?

Source: Pile, John. "A History of Interior Design" 2nd edition. 2005

This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.