Skyscrapers, churches, cemeteries, gas stations—is there anything Art Deco can’t make glamorous?
The Art Deco style may have started in 1920s Paris, but it’s spent the better part of a century influencing designers and architects around the world. It’s a style that conveys both glamour and opulence with its bold colors and ornate details. Yet its quintessential sleekness imbues it with inherent modernity—always looking forward even as it connects us to a bygone age. These 10 structures capture everything that is humbling, inspiring, and aesthetically nourishing about the Art Deco style.
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The Guardian Building
WHERE: Detroit, Michigan
New York City may have the market cornered on wildly-famous Art Deco skyscrapers, but Detroit, Michigan is home to one of the style’s most distinct examples. The 40-foot skyscraper was commissioned by the Union Trust Company and was completed in 1929.
The building was designed by architect Wirt Rowland, of the Smith, Hinchman & Grylls firm, who wanted the building’s details to convey a grandiosity that could be recognized by passing motorists. “We no longer live in a leisurely age,” said Rowland. “The impression must be immediate, strong and complete. Color has this vital power.”
The Guardian Building handily achieves this with its convergence of bold elements. The nave-like structure that connects the two spires makes it so the building resembles a cathedral, hence its nickname: The Cathedral of Finance. Its exterior features colored, geometrically arranged tile, terracotta, and a distinctly colored brick that its manufacturer dubs “Guardian brick.” The interior is, likewise, awash in color, glass mosaics, and murals that blend Native American, Aztec, and Arts and Craft influences that inspire awe in the building’s visitors to this day.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
WHERE: Mexico City, Mexico
The Palacio de Bellas Artes was conceived as a replacement for The National Theater that had been built on the site in the late 19th century. The goal was to open the grand structure in 1910 in order to mark the centennial of Mexican Independence. However, construction came to a halt due to both political instability and the fact that the structure had become too heavy for the spongy subsoil (fun fact, Mexico City is built over a drained lake basin). Nearly 20 years later, the project resumed under a new architect, Frederico Mariscal, who would complete the interior in the Art Deco style. (The exterior, which had been designed by the structure’s first architect, Adamo Boari, is primarily neoclassical and Art Nouveau in style.) The interior is outfitted with murals by José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiro, and Diego Rivera, and Art Deco stylizations of indigenous deities and symbols can be found adorning archways and light panels.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart
WHERE: Brussels, Belgium
Though the construction of this Belgian church started in 1905, two World Wars would put the process on hold for half a century. Finally, in 1969 the basilica was completed, its position at the top of Koekelberg Hill made it an instantly quintessential part of Brussels’ cityscape. But had the basilica been completed on its intended timeline, it would have looked completely different. The basilica was originally conceived as a Neo-Gothic structure, but when World War I paused its construction, the only complete part was the foundation. The war’s impact on Belgium’s finances meant the original, opulent designs wouldn’t be feasible. The final version was designed by architect Albert Van Huffel, a stunning example of the Art Deco style that was well worth the wait.
The Eastern Columbia Building
WHERE: Los Angeles, California
When we picture the quintessential Art Deco color palette, it tends to be dominated by black, golds, and off-whites, but the Eastern Columbia Building, which opened its doors in 1930, brings a big splash of blue to the architectural conversation. All thirteen stories of this Downtown Los Angeles landmark are clad in glossy, turquoise-hued terracotta. The top of the building features a clock tower that—because this is LA, after all—presides over a sparkling rooftop swimming pool. It’s no wonder why this stunning building has been dubbed The Art Deco Jewel of the West.
Fiat Tagliero Building
WHERE: Asmara, Eritrea
The Fiat Tagliero Building, located in the capital of Eritrea, might just be the most beautiful gas station you’ll ever see. But the design of this Futurist structure, completed in 1938, evokes an entirely different mode of transportation. The structure was designed to resemble an airplane, complete with wings and a cockpit-esque office area. The building is just one of several examples of modernist architecture that prompted UNESCO to name Asmara a World City Heritage Site in 2017.
WHERE: Azul, Argentina
A concrete Angel of Death towers over visitors as they enter the Cemetery Azul. This imposing sculpture makes for the dramatic centerpiece at the heart of the cemetery’s 70-foot-high portal. The clean lines and colossal scale combines elements of Art Deco and Italian Futurism that teeters on the edge of brutalism. The structure was designed by Francisco Salamone, an architect who primarily designed town halls, slaughterhouses, and cemetery portals for rural Argentinian towns.
Manchester Unity Building
WHERE: Melbourne, Australia
At the time of its completion in 1932, the Manchester United Building was the tallest structure in Melbourne. Architect Marcus Barlow was inspired by Chicago’s Tribune Tower, designing the Manchester Unity Building in a similar Neo-Gothic style with vertical ribbing and flying buttresses. The interior features black marble and friezes depicting Australian life. Though it’s been nearly 90 years since the Manchester United Building opened, a loving restoration allows visitors to experience the building as it was when it first opened its doors.
Unlike the other structures on this list, Singapore’s Atlas Bar is a 21st-century creation. The Parkview Square tower, completed in 2002, consciously evokes the feeling of glamour and elegance that’s now so closely associated with Art Deco designs. Another thing we closely associate with Art Deco? Gin- and champagne-based drinks served in coupe-style cocktail glasses set against a backdrop of roaring twenties opulence. But rest assured, Atlas Bar isn’t merely resting on its beautiful aesthetics (and 1,000-bottle strong gin library tower), as it was named in the top 10 of The World’s 50 Best Bars.
La Piscine Museum
WHERE: Roubaix, France
Sing it with me now: “I’m at the art museum, I’m at the swimming pool, I’m at the combination art museum and swimming pool.” This museum in the northern French city of Roubaix is formally known as the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, but it’s more commonly referred to as, simply, La Piscine. Due to the fact that, until it closed its doors to aquatic-based endeavors in 1985, the structure had been a swimming pool. It reopened in 2001 as the new home of the Roubaix Museum of Art and Industry, an institution with a permanent collection that was first compiled in 1835. And though you can’t go for a dip, the museum still has the swimming pool, currently flanked on either side by statuary and presided over by a stunning, stained-glass, sunburst design.
New India Assurance Building
WHERE: Mumbai, India
Built in 1936, the New India Assurance Building is a bold structure that combines intrinsic elements of Art Deco—vertical lines, geometric patterns—with traditional Indian symbolism for a style that’s become known as “Bombay Deco.” At ground level, passersby will see sculptural relief depict farmers and artisans, rendered in bold, clean style. Indeed, the New India Assurance Building is just one of the many Art Deco style structures found in Mumbai. Mumbai’s collection of Art Deco structures is so impressive, the only city with more buildings in this style is Miami.