|Art Moderne house in Park Hill Historic District of North Little Rock|
Today we are going to shift gears from the high Modern buildings we have been looking at to a building from the architectural movement that directly preceded Modernism in America, Art Moderne. Also called Streamline Modern and Moderne, this style had a brief existence from the mid 1920's through the mid-1940's. There is a relatively small sample pool of buildings in this stylistic disposition because of the significant decrease in building following the 1929 Stock Market collapse which which effectively stalled a majority of construction until after WWII had concluded. Art Moderne can be looked at as the transition stage between highly decorated and flamboyant Art Deco period, the last of the Beaux-Arts inspired styles, and the simple, utilitarian International Style which signaled the beginning of Modernism in America. This nexus that Art Moderne exists in is evidenced in its appearance. There exist both Art Deco and Modern architectural elements in its styling. The smooth, white walls and lack of ornament of the Art Moderne as well as the flat, often functional roofs and the asymmetrical facade arrangements hint at the coming International Style. While the accenting elements on Art Moderne buildings appear as simplified Art Deco features. There tends to be an overwhelming horizontal influence in Art Moderne buildings, with exception to the vertical elements often found around the entrances, which is exactly the opposite of the vertically emphasized Art Deco but still exist in the same form language. The massing of Art Moderne buildings tend to be a blend of Art Deco and International Style. The forms are generally boxy, like International Style, but they vertical protrusions accenting the overall forms. While these protrusions are not as elaborate as ones found in Art Deco, they still hint to the style. In a very real way, Art Moderne can be seen as America leaning towards Modernism, but not yet ready to go full steam into International Style. While there are not a great deal of examples of this style in Arkansas, there are a few of note that are worth discussing.
A beautiful example of Art Moderne architecture is found in the house pictured above in the Park Hill Historic District in North Little Rock. This house was design by the Little Rock firm of Brueggeman, Swaim, & Allen in 1925. This firm was responsible for a great deal of residential designs in Park Hill, but was also very active in the Heights/Hillcrest area of Little Rock. This house is similar to the Art Moderne styled Knoop-Werner House in Little Rock, also designed by Brueggeman, Swaim, & Allen. In this house we see horizontal emphasis in the raised bands found under the porch and in the parallel bars that rise up the left side of the forward massing on the facade. This horizontal influence is also seen in the very Modern porch/Porte cochere. While this element is far more Modern than Art Deco, it still helps to draw the building out to the side and detracts from the vertical presence. Also we see the three vertical pieces extending from atop the door, which draws attention to the entrance. All of these are nods to the Art Deco movement. However, all of these accents are then balanced by the white stucco and simple, planar porch, which look towards International Style. Notice the arrangement of windows and placement of the door on the house. They are balanced but not a symmetrical way, as was done in Art Deco. They are asymmetrically placed with the parallel bars offsetting the window on the right side of the facade and the shadowed, covered lower area on the left side of the facade is balanced by the bright white area above. This type of arrangement was common in International Style. An interesting feature on the house are the porthole-style windows in both the front door and above the garage. This element in not typical to either Art Deco or International Style but was common in Art Moderne. It is believed that this element was taken from the cruise-liners of the time, which some believe was a significant source of inspiration for this style. Another feature that is attributed to the possible nautical origins is sparse accent colors of blues and teals, which is seen here in the bright teal front door. While this house does feature many of the prominent Art Moderne features, it does lack the typical curved corner walls or windows rounding the corners. However the house does pocess enough other features to place it comfortably in the Art Moderne category.
This house was built as a true nexus. It exist between the architectural movements of Art Deco and International Style, and between the traditional taste of its neighborhood and the forward thinking aspirations of its builders. Sometimes it pays to stand out, especially if it means looking this good.