Appreciating our Architecture

by Steve Keller (unit 802)


One of the most recurring comments that I hear from owners and renters alike is that they love how our building looks. Some describe it as elegant while others say that they like the minimalist appearance and subtle colors of our interiors. I thought it would be fun to explore our architecture and interior design.

Our building's architecture can best be classified as Art Deco with elements of Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau first appeared in France at the turn of the century. After World War I it evolved into Art Deco and spread internationally from the 1920s through the 1940s. Art Deco grew from Art Nouveau and was influenced by Cubism, Functionalism, Modernism and Futurism--art styles that flourished at that time.

Art Deco emphasizes geometric shapes and forms. If you look closely you see circles, spheres, polygons, squares, rectangles, trapazoids, zigzags, chevrons, and sunburst motifs. Next time you enter the North garage, look closely at the motif in the sliding gate. You'll see similar motifs in the blue elements on the building exterior. Or stand on the Club Room balcony and look down at the similar motif in the grass lawn below. Walk through the lobby and look at the wall sconces that are so typical of Art Deco. Look up at the round, ceiling-mounted light fixtures with the geometric "X" motif and, as you walk down the halls to the elevator on the Lobby level, look at the half pillars which are also typical of the style. Even our stair railings are true to the Art Deco style with so many geometric shapes represented in the custom metalwork.

In its day, Art Deco was the veryessence of "class", "style", glamour, exuberance, faith in technology, and elegance. Everybody who was anybody embraced Art Deco. Google the movie poster for "The Great Gatsby" and you will see that the film is set against a theme of art deco to convey the lifestyle of the well-to-to of that era. In the 1930s many public buildings were built in this style, including railway stations (Cincinnati), ocean liners (The Queen Mary), movie palaces (The Chicago Theater), and post offices. Art Deco embraced technology in a changing world. It was perceived as being the latest and the greatest and became associated with quality and elegance. Art Nouveau transformed into Art Deco when the motifs changed from organic to technological. Art Deco favors symmetry. It emphasizes straight lines rather than curved lines. Eventually it evolved into the curvilinear streamline theme.

Many areas of design were influenced by Art Deco and many household items were manufactured in the Art Deco style, including cars, furniture, clocks, radios, telephones, etc. The next time you are in Miami, drop by the Wolfsonian Museum on Miami Beach and you will see hundreds of examples of consumer products made in this style. The Wolfsonian itself is a wonderful industrial design museum housed in a fantastic art deco building.

The 1920s were an exciting time in America and Europe. Until life changed at the beginning of World War II, the world was changing quickly. Art Deco integrated many of the metals, plastic-like materials, and other "modern" fabric. Nowhere in our building is this more noticeable than in the Club Room where our interior designer used a stainless steel grill with a typical Art Deco motif design behind the bar to cover the air vents.

As we approached the 1940s and as technology and industrial design overtook America, a sub-category called "Streamline Moderne" evolved from Art Deco. Many old cars were designed with the rounded aerodynamic fenders and geometric side panels characteristic of Streamline. When you stand on the beach and look toward our deck you see the characteristic streamline curved elements on the wall behind the spa reminiscent of some of the fine old hotels on Miami Beach. You see this also in the local Streamline Hotel on Atlantic Avenue.

While many of the original Art Deco landmark buildings used statues on exterior wall surfaces or bas-relief depicting depression era motifs, buildings built today (including our building) rarely include these only because the cost is too prohibitive.

In addition to providing us with a building that is pleasantly artistic and elegant, our interior designers did an outstanding job with wall surfaces, colors, and textures that are both functional and elegant. As you walk through the hallways on the upper floors, look at the sconces, light fixtures, carpet patterns, wall and molding contrast and ceiling insets and you will appreciate why so many people say they bought here for the elegant image our building presents. And if you were around when the units were still unsold, you noticed how every color used by the interior decorator inside the units could be seen by looking out the sliding glass doors at the subtle hues of the sky, water and sand.

I frequently hear owners say "Let's hire an interior designer to tell us what carpet to use or how to decorate our building further". Those of us who appreciate the artistic aspects of our building have a different view. Just because someone is an interior decorator doesn't mean that one is schooled in Art Deco or the principles of preservation. They know that the key to preserving that "look" of elegance we have all commented on is to aggressively avoid mixing architectural or artistic styles. If you look at the art on our lobby walls, you will see that this art is best described as "neutral". It neither adds to nor detracts from the Art Deco style and, if we were to add art that did not conform to the style of our building, it would surely detract. To assure that the look we all like is preserved, we need to make artistic decisions about floor surfaces, wall colors, light fixtures, furnishings, and other elements very carefully and with the advice of someone like a local museum curator who can guide us. No one person should be empowered to select colors, styles, and furnishings for our public areas without expert guidance from someone trained in the art deco style. This principal applies to everything from pool tile to artwork we may someday choose to buy for our lobby level hallways, as well as to furniture for our common areas.

We are not the only art deco building in the city. Now that you know what to look for, drive down Beach Street and spot several buildings in the style. Appreciate the soon to be renovated Streamline Hotel for its potential. Look for the old Greyhound bus terminal on International Speedway Boulevard where Jackie Robinson got off the bus on his way to making history. Remember the art deco style cable car ride on the pier. Look for the facade of the old Kress building on Beach Street. But have pride in the fact that our building, while only a few years old, recreates this style very accurately and is the crown jewel among all of the others.

Before an architect completes the design of a building, he prepares what is called the architectural program, which defines every aspect of the project and how the building should appear. Because no building is designed by any one person, but by a team of people, everyone on the team has to understand the design intent. The author tried to find the architectural program for our building so we could use it as a guide in how we redecorate in the future, but litigation with the architect made that impossible. So I did the next best thing and contacted the interior designer. To my surprise our interior designer was Niles Bolton of Atlanta, one of the most prominent interior design architects in the country.

With so many old art deco style buildings being demolished and their motifs and elements preserved by companies that specialize in buying and selling "architectural fragments" or pieces of building art salvaged from these wonderful buildings, we would be wise to keep our eyes open for fragments that can be displayed as art. How elegant it would be to walk through the lobby level corridors toward the elevators and see two or three museum pedestals with vitrines containing actual statues and artistic fragments from these landmark buildings and displayed with museum labels as the fine art it is.

Owners should resist material alternations to the common areas of the building that detract from or clutter the elegant art deco design left for us by our building architect. To do so threatens our property values and quality of life and risks turning our elegant building into something more a kin to a hotel. While our architect didn't get everything right, he was spot on with this wonderful architectural style that so subtly conveys the very image we want to project to our guests-- that Ocean Vistas is the premier property in this region, an elegant tribute to the great age of Art Deco and all that it represents.