The Detroit Area Art Deco Society is proud to organize Detroit Modernism Week, ten days structured around events celebrating the Detroit area’s 20th century modernist architecture.

The Deco Society has partnered with many local nonprofit groups and organizations in order to bring several tours, lectures and events to the public. “Our goal is to increase awareness about the Detroit area’s 20th century architecture and design,” said Deco Society president Jeffrey Chappell.

The Deco Society is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization in its 29th year. The organization has worked to pull together a collection of events that feature the metro Detroit area’s modernist architecture with a schedule of events that includes something for everyone.

Events range from the DOCOMOMO US Symposium to a tour of Downtown Detroit’s Minoru Yamasaki designed buildings. “We partnered with several different groups in order to provide a range of events for everyone,” said Gary Spondike, DAADS Board Member.


What is Modernism?

A celebration in 20th Century Design!

By Ann Duke

At the end of the 19th Century, European designers lacking the capacity to create new forms coupled with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, turned to their past in an attempt to rediscover their own traditions. The result was the reproduction of objects from earlier periods. The 20th Century Decorative Arts movement came about as a reaction against this historical or revival period in design.

English reformists William Morris and John Ruskin, along with other aesthetes of the period were appalled at the dehumanization of the worker by the machine and as a result founded workshops and guilds throughout England aimed at elevating the status of the worker and the work. In the United States, Gustav Stickley introduced these same ideas and became the father of the American Arts and Crafts movement.

In France, the movement was named Art Nouveau and was much more fanciful, finding its inspiration in nature. Emile Galle’s School of Nancy was the first provincial center in France to generate and nurture a movement of artistic creativity independent of Paris since the renaissance.

The Art Nouveau style was popular in England, Scotland and spread throughout Europe. Louis Comfort Tiffany brought the style to America where it met phenomenal acclaim. The branch of Art Nouveau that spread throughout Central Europe was known as Jugendstil or New Style in Austria the Vienna Szession was founded by Josef Olbrich, Josef Hoffman and Gustav Klimt.

This led to the founding of the Weiner Werkstatte in 1902 and eventually the creation of the Bauhaus School of Design in Germany. The reoccurring theme behind these movements was “NEW, ORIGINAL, MODERN!!!”.

World War I marked significant change. Few companies were able to survive the war, and those that did found it increasingly difficult to compete with the Industrialists. The Society of Artists & Decorators in France set out to promote the supremacy of the decorators through regular exhibitions. Their work was consecrated with Les Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials in 1925.

The exposition was a uniquely effective showcase for the French designers. Most countries whether they had participated or not, sent delegations that returned with glowing reports. Les Arts Deco became the popular abbreviation for the style.

The economic necessities of the Great Depression resulted in the Moderne design movement which featured tubular steel and glass, less exotic materials than seen in earlier periods. Industrial designers popularized this aesthetic which accepted the machine as both a creative tool and inspiration.

Advances in the field of transportation provided inspiration for industrial designers as well. Objects such as clocks, radios and toasters began to resemble automobiles, trains and airplanes in the movement commonly known as Streamline.

The 1939 New York World’s Fair was a showcase for industrial design and set the state for postwar success of modernism.

The design industry was an early casualty of World War II. In Europe, it died out completely. In this country, a few manufacturers persevered in spite of material shortages and manufacturing restrictions. The World War II material and technological revolution challenged all prior notions of craftsmanship. The Museum of Modern Art in New York announced its Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition in 1940. Two young architects associated with Michigan’s Cranbrook Art Academy emerged with top honors. Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen redefined style and their organic designs introduced a whole new aesthetic to the existing scene. Their postwar modernism set the stage for fifties design in Europe and the United States.

The brilliance of European and American designers and architects throughout the first half of the 20th century continues to influence contemporary decorative circles.