Art Deco: Here are the buildings that made Joburg ‘little New York’ in the 1930s
- Art Deco Buildings are those developed between the 1920s and the 1950s, inspired by Art Deco design.
- Major features of Art Deco are geometric patterns and shapes, straight lines, sharp edges and exotic decorative details.
- In the 1920s, Johannesburg aspired to be like New York which had become one of the leading cities in Art Deco architecture.
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Art Deco first appeared in France, just before the first world war. A combination of visual arts, architecture and design styles, Deco – as it is also known – influenced building designs, jewellery, fashion, cars, movie theatres, trains and other everyday objects.
The style made its way into the Big Apple the 1920s – the Chrysler Building, which was briefly the tallest building in the world in the 1930s, and other skyscrapers in New York have become monuments to the Art Deco style.
Geometric patterns and shapes, straight lines, sharp edges and exotic decorative details are characteristic of these buildings from the 1920s – and many of these styles can be seen in buildings around South Africa.
New York, known as the global capital of Art Deco, set a trend of sorts – one that Johannesburg aspired to in the 1930s.
“Art Deco in Joburg and in South Africa is heavily influenced by Art Deco in the US. It was also a time when people were looking to the US as a leader in terms of modernisation in the 1930s.
“People saw it as an inspirational modern style. They called Joburg the little New York because Joburg was aspiring to be a world city like what New York was,” said Architects Brian McKechnie.
According to McKechnie, any buildings developed outside of the Art Deco period (between the 1920s and 1940s) does not qualify to be termed an Art Deco building.
“If you build a building now, you can use Art Deco elements but it is not an art deco building, it would be more like a postmodern building. For instance, the Leonardo in Sandton, that spire on top of the building is inspired by Art Deco building but it’s not an art deco building, it is basically like a bad copy.
“It’s like if you went to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag, you have to get the Louis Vuitton handbag that comes from the Louis Vuitton store. If you go and get a handbag at pep or game and you stick a little Louis Vuitton emblem to it, it’s a copy of Louis Vuitton. It’s not actually Louis Vuitton,” he said.
Here are some of Joburg's 'little New York' buildings:
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