Moderne Streamline

Streamline Moderne Station: Image courtesy of Chester Liebs, American Roadside Architecture, 1985.

By the mid-1930s, the nation was in the grip of the Depression. To promote a sense of optimism for the future,
manufacturers and designers heavily employed the Streamline Moderne, or Depression Moderne, style.
Based upon the American love for the automobile and speed, the Streamline Moderne style incorporated smooth surfaces,
rounded corners, and sleek lines. The design was enhanced with porcelain enamel walls and large plate glass windows.
The Streamline Moderne gas station was originally designed as a one-story box.
Eventually, the entrance bays were extended above the first story, like a tower, or raised out from the front façade.
This style lasted through WWII into the early 1950s, at which time it was phased out for more modern designs.


The first streamline buildings evolved from the work of New Objectivity artists, a movement connected to the German Werkbund,
that was initiated by Hermann Muthesius (see e.g. Mossehaus).

As the Great Depression of the 1930s progressed, Americans saw a new aspect of Art Deco—i.e., streamlining,
a concept first conceived by industrial designers who stripped Art Deco design of its ornament in favor of
the aerodynamic pure-line concept of motion and speed developed from scientific thinking.
Cylindrical forms and long horizontal windowing also may be influenced by constructivism.
As a result, an array of designers quickly ultra-modernized and streamlined the designs of everyday objects.
Manufacturers of clocks, radios, telephones, cars, furniture, and many other household appliances embraced the concept.

The style was the first to incorporate electric light into architectural structure. In the first-class dining room of the SS Normandie,
fitted out 1933–35, twelve tall pillars of Lalique glass, and 38 columns lit from within illuminated the room.
The Strand Palace Hotel foyer (1930), preserved from demolition by the Victoria and Albert Museum during 1969,
was one of the first uses of internally lit architectural glass, and coincidentally was the first Moderne interior preserved in a museum.

The Streamline Moderne was both a reaction to Art Deco and a reflection of austere economic times;
Sharp angles were replaced with simple, aerodynamic curves. Exotic woods and stone were replaced with cement and glass.

Art Deco and Streamline Moderne were not necessarily opposites.
Streamline Moderne buildings with a few Deco elements were not uncommon but the prime movers behind streamline design
(Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague, Gilbert Rohde, Norman Bel Geddes) all disliked Art Deco,
seeing it as effete and falsely modern—essentially a fraud.

PWA Moderne was a related style in the United States of buildings completed between 1933 and 1944
as part of relief projects sponsored by the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

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