Art Deco incinerators

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Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) worked under Frank Lloyd Wright for several years. I especially love his Art Deco designs for municipal incinerators, like the two seen above. Much more on Griffin at BibliOdyssey. Link


  1. His wife Marion Mahony Griffin was behind alot of the designs and Wrights designs and renderings. Marion and Walter also designed the city of Canberra.

  2. …Those are absolutely fantastic! I’ve always loved the Art Deco – more accurately, Art Neuveau, as it was referred to in the 30’s – style, and still love it when it gets used today on the rare occasion. There were really two reasons the style died out:

    1) Money. It was expensive to design and build something in that style, and it hit its peak during the Depression. When you’re short on $$$, then a simple cube with a little trim for the birds to sit on or a pie to cool will suffice. One particular analysis I’ve read on the Empire State Building is that if it were built that tall using more conventional aesthetics, it could have been completed about nine months could have been shaved off the construction time. But the again it wouldn’t have looked as beautiful as it still does today.

    2) Hitler. Yes, that’s right. The Nazis – especially Speer – loved Art Deco designs. Had Hitler’s “New Berlin” been built, it would have made the sets from Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 Metropolis look cheap. According to a few architects I knew while growing up – guys who’d built tall buildings and office structures, not homes, and were grandparents of friends – they had numerous contracts come into their firms that either made it clear “no Nazi Art Deco” styling, or had proposals flat-out rejected because the artist’s concept looked like “Something Hitler would have built for his Nuremberg Rally!”

    …And such a view still subconciously dominates why Art Deco hasn’t had a major revival insofar as buildings are concerned. It’s a lot cheaper thanks to advances in manufacturing technologies to produce the style, but to far too many people the style still envokes memories of Hitler’s regime and the men that used Art Deco as the aesthetic mold for the Third Reich.

    Still, those are beautiful structures. One would never think they were incinerators at first glance…!

  3. Om: As far as I know, another reason Art Deco has never truly flourished (on the street or in the lecture hall) is how it’s perceived as a more historicist than modernist style — as it was put to me, not making any contribution to the “story” or historical narrative of modernism. Its reliance on applied ornament, when so many architects were abandoning it, damned it as well. As I know, it was deemed too ornamental or decorative by the architectural critics of the day.

  4. The exterior shot of the “Waste Management” building (secretly the Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defense) in the 2004 Hellboy movie looks like one of these buildings.

  5. #2: Art Nouveau is actually a distinct school of architecture that flourished a little earlier than Art Deco.

    I think Gloria is correct about the architectural establishment’s bias against Art Deco because of its historicism and ornamentation. In spite of this ideological stubbornness, a majority of architects consistently rate the Chrysler Building, an Art Deco masterpiece, as their favorite building of all time.

    But Art Deco did have a limited revival in the 1980s. Interior design and furnishings in an Art Deco style were very popular, and there were a number of Deco-inspired buildings, like One and Two Liberty Place in Philadelphia.

  6. wait a second, om…

    hold it there with hitler and art deco.

    the three prominent architects of the third reich – kreis, troost, and speer (who later was cabinet minister of the nazi government and sentenced to imprisonment after the nuremberg trials) were architects in the neoclassicist style.

    art deco? check out the chrysler building in new york by van alen.

    neoclassicism? check out the ww 2 memorial by st. florian. ironically, it looks like the architecture by those people whom the guys that are honored there tried to defeat.

  7. Re: Art Deco – the term gets applied to stuff that’s really the opposite of Deco. Fussy, ornate, expensive – downright effete! Suspiciously Continental, too. There’s a great book about 30s style by the late Martin Greif, and he called it Depression Modern. (He devotes many angry pages to why it’s NOT Deco.) That’s what it was, when it was.

    Om: not sure how conventional aesthetics would have taken time off the ESB’s construction. If you mean “vaguely classical,” it would have added time to construction, since it takes a while to cook up nine miles of terracotta frosting. If you mean “conventional” in the sense of the late 20s most prominent skyscrapers, most of them were opting for stripped-down lines with minimal ornamentation. The ESB went up pretty quickly in any case.

    Grief says the style died because people never really wanted it to define everything. Toasters, yes. Trains and cars, yes. Every house on the block, every building downtown? No. They liked sleek WPA Post Offices or grand Moderne movie sets, but when it came to homes and furnishings, people went with the usual bourgeoise geegaws.

    The Colonial Revival that followed the rehab of Williamsburg killed it dead, and after that it was 40s pastiche until the Googie / Jet age aesthetic came along, and reintroduced the future.

  8. The Griffins also designed the layout of Leeton and Griffith, Australia.

    Funny thing for people who know Canberra, their original design had a casino where the War Memorial now stands.

    I’m keen to learn more about the Masonic influence, the compass and protractor shapes would explain a lot of the weird streets in inner Canberra and from what I’ve seen of the two Riverina towns.

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