From the Supreme Court to “Puckingham Palace”: Art Deco in Canadian Culture
What exactly is Art Deco? The Canadian Art Deco Society
describes it as a 20th century phenomenon that emerged
during the period between the First and Second World Wars. It was a
new style for a new modern era. Combining the affluence of
materials with the artistic simplicity of specific design, the Art
Deco style often focused on geometric forms composed primarily of
angular elements, like highly stylized chevrons and zig-zags. Other
characteristics of Art Deco include: sunbursts, sweeping curves,
ziggurats (staggered or tiered pyramid shapes), a liberal use of
sleek-looking material, as well as Egyptian influences and motifs
focusing on birds and floral patterns.
Recognized as a popular, non-revolutionary modernism, Art Deco
was a self-conscious split from the past designed to celebrate the
new technologies of the 20th century: namely electricity
and gas- powered vehicles. The artistic direction of Art Deco found
inspiration in Cubism, the machine aesthetic, jazz, streamlining,
and 1920s fashion, all of which influenced the style's new
direction. Art Deco was at its height at the 1925 Exposition
des arts décoratifs in Paris, where the style derived its
name, but slowly declined in the aftermath of the stock market
crash in 1929. In Canada, Art Deco and its Depression era offshoot
- Art Moderne, remained popular until the 1940s when international
style modernism swept the country.
A number of Canadian Art Deco buildings are now recognized and
valued historic places. Within our nation's capital several
excellent examples are the Supreme Court
Building, constructed between 1938 and 1940. A
recognizable landmark along Wellington Street, the building was
designated by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada as one of
the top 500 buildings produced in Canada during the last
millennium. Designed by Ernest Cormier, the building is
characterized by its extensive use of geometric shapes and a
mixture of crisp lines and smooth, flowing curves. The building's
carefully proportioned symmetrical design, both inside and out,
together with a liberal use of sleek-looking materials, capped off
by ziggurats, are all characteristics of the Art Deco.
Interestingly, the original design included a flat roof, in keeping
with its modern aesthetic, but the current steep roof with dormers,
was added because of a directive from the Department of Public
Works to reference the Château style of other nearby government
buildings (some say that the Prime Minister of the time preferred a
less modern style).
notable examples of Cormier's Art Deco designs is his Montréal
Ernest-Cormier (left). One of the most prominent Art
Deco buildings completed in Québec, the interior spaces have a
strictly Art Deco character, created by the furnishings, colours,
textures, and patterns, all of which were designed by Cormier.
Recurrent themes throughout the structure include horizontal bands,
checkerboards and, specifically within the architect's studio,
interlocking circles. The house is also known for pioneering the
use of reinforced concrete as the main construction material.
Later, the building became the residence of Prime Minister Pierre
Elliott Trudeau and remains in the family.
The Art Deco
was not only for private residences and government buildings but
also for commercial enterprises. The Eaton's department store
chain, regarded as one of the most important retail businesses in
Canadian history, was known for its use of Art Deco in many of its
prominent locations, such as the Eaton's 7th
Floor Auditorium and Round Room National Historic Site of
Canada (right). The structure is recognized as one of
Toronto's best examples of Art Moderne architecture, a late type of
Art Deco design known for its use of curving forms, long horizontal
lines, and sometimes nautical elements. Lady Eaton, wife of Timothy
Eaton, aspired to bring high society and world-class culture to
Toronto and in doing so was actively involved in the planning and
designing of Eaton's College Street location and notably, the
seventh floor. To realize her desire for high style and elegance,
she commissioned famed French architect Jacques Carlu, renowned for
his work on Lady Eaton's favourite ocean liners, I'Île de
France and Normandie, as well as some magnificent
structures in Paris, namely the Trocadero and Palais de Chaillot.
Comprised of a former restaurant (Round Room), large foyer and
auditorium, the space is highly praised as a feat of Art Deco
design. Using simplified geometric forms, a contrasting colour
scheme, and a mixture of costly traditional and glossy new
materials, the site's rooms, which have hosted significant cultural
events and were a favorite gathering place for Toronto's middle
class and elite, are now available, after recent conservation work,
for private rentals.
Few may realize that one
of Canada's most celebrated sporting venues, Maple Leaf
Gardens National Historic Site of Canada (left), is an
example of Art Deco architecture. Also known as the "Taj-Ma Hockey"
or "Puckingham Palace," the building was constructed in 1931 as a
large-capacity arena for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. This
Toronto landmark exhibits the style through its symmetrical yellow
brick façade and dome with crowning lantern. Other prominent
characteristics of Art Deco within the Gardens include its simple
brickwork pattern, and use of metal along the building's patterned
window arrangement. Many of the original fittings, fixtures, fabric
and design components relate to the Toronto Maple Leafs and survive
to this day, contributing to the heritage value of the building
which is now a rehabilitated building, housing a local grocery
store and upper floor arena.
Occupying a prominent place in our built environment, the
architectural significance of the Art Deco has played an expressive
role both historically and aesthetically. Although a number of
these monuments are slowly deteriorating and disappearing, many
others are being conserved and continue to be national landmarks.
Visit one of these historic places and enjoy the beauty they add to
our cities and the importance they have in Canadian history.