Art Nouveau Architecture: History, Facts, and Characteristics

Art Nouveau Architecture: History, Facts, and Characteristics

It was the 1800s when a bunch of creative people collectively decided to do away with the staid and caged designs which defined their times. Art Nouveau was born, bringing with it a sense of refreshed transformation. This Historyplex post covers an important phase in the creative history of all humankind―Art Nouveau architecture―its history and characteristics.
Historyplex Staff
Let's leave the pretentiousness aside.
Those unfamiliar with different styles of art can find these terms pretty overwhelming, and understandably so. As such, if you're looking to find a simple, fail-proof way to identify Art Nouveau architecture, just look for flowers, leaves, and other elements which portray nature, either on the facade of the structure or even in its interiors. That's Art Nouveau for you!
The Art Nouveau movement ushered in a new era in the field of design. The style began to emerge in the 19th century in Europe, from where it swept through the rest of the world. It was between 1980 and 1910 that this style was at its most popular.

The movement sought to break the rigid rules that governed artistic expression during those times, as signified in the work created during the Neoclassical and Romantic periods. Though mainly an urban movement, Art Nouveau practitioners incorporated several elements in their design, which were primarily inspired from nature.

In the years following the First World War, the movement began to see a decline, making way for another, known as Art Deco. However, its pleasing elements were indeed hard to resist, and Art Nouveau saw a temporary resurgence in the 1960s.
ART NOUVEAU ARCHITECTURE CHARACTERISTICS
Municipal House in Prague
The ornate entrance to the Municipal House in Prague, Czech Republic.
Roof Of Casa Mila Barcelona Spain
Casa Milà, designed by Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, Spain.
Art Nouveau building in Riga
Heavily decorated facade of an Art Nouveau building in Riga, Latvia.
Pont Alexandre III in Paris
The Pont Alexandre III in Paris, France, is the city's most beautiful bridge.
Secession Building in Vienna
The Secession Building in Vienna, Austria, became an icon of the Art Nouveau movement.
Church of Saint Leopold in Vienna
Otto Wagner's Church of St. Leopold in Vienna, Austria, is one of the few Catholic churches designed in the Art Nouveau style.
Vinohrady Theatre in Prague
The Vinohrady Theatre in Prague, Czech Republic, is one of the many Art Nouveau landmarks in the city.
The Art Nouveau movement was born out of an innate desire to leave behind the rigid world of academic art, and present it as a medium of expression or 'free will', as they say. This French term translates to 'New Art', and was absorbed into English as it was. Even today, one can recognize its various names, such as the Glasgow Style, or as Jugendstil among the German-speaking populace. In Austria and Hungary, it is known as Secession; as Modernisme in Spain, and as Stile Liberty in Italy.

This style had little place for frivolity; these architects chose to focus on functionality instead. As a result, the world got a style of design that was as good looking as it was practical. Art Nouveau was seen as an appropriate modern-day response to the excesses of its predecessor, which was the Victorian design.

Typical architectural features included organic, flowing lines and forms resembling the stems and blossoms of plants, as well as geometric patterns such as squares and rectangles.

The movement forwarded the philosophy that art should become part of everyday life, incorporating flat, decorative patterns which could be used in all art forms. Thus, nature-inspired patterns with leaf and tendril motifs, intertwined organic forms with 'whiplash' curves dominated the field of architectural design. Also included were birds, flowers, insects, and other zoomorphs, with a definite hint of inspiration from Japanese art.
ART NOUVEAU ARCHITECTURE EXAMPLES
In Spain, the exaggerated bulbous forms of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) came to the fore, whereas, designer Hector Guimard (1867-1942) showcased his version through the distinctive Metro Entrances in Paris.

The Belgian Art Nouveau movement was spearheaded by Victor Horta, a renowned architect who designed the Tassel House in Brussels (1893), which was the first fully developed example of architecture in the Art Nouveau style. Other influential Belgian designers included Henry van de Velde and Gustave Serrurier-Bovy.

Central Europe had its own variations of the art form, with the Secession style led by Viennese artist Gustav Klimt. Among architects, the front runners of this movement were Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, and Otto Wagner. In the Czech capital of Prague, Municipal House, the Hotel Paříž, Smíchov Market Hall, and Hotel Central display the architectural style prominently.

In Eastern Europe, the center of the Latvian capital, Riga, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for some of its rather stunning Art Nouveau architecture.

The Art Nouveau movement did not influence the landscape of America in the same manner as it did in Europe, but there are traces of inspired designs, especially in New York City and Chicago. Architect Louis Sullivan's skyscrapers melded the steel frames with exteriors that were decorated with intricate ornaments inspired by nature and Celtic designs. The Chrysler Building in New York designed by William Van Alen is another stellar Art Nouveau landmark.