Art Deco Terms

Acute Angles: Close relatives of the boomerang, acute angles were inspired by delta-winged military jets that broke speed records in the 1950s. Just as streamlining evoked mighty locomotives and nautical designs in the 1930s, the acute angle and the delta-wing shape became icons of speed in the post-war period. The motif was employed in two dimensions as a decorative element and to give buildings a dynamic, futuristic look.

Aggregate Stones: pebbles, or colored gravel in cement, left untreated for texture or polished mirror-smooth, used to surface walls, floors, and paving.

Aluminum: Postwar budgets and advanced engineering and construction methods allowed for the use of this wonder material with a high strength-to-weight ratio. Plate glasswindows and doors were trimmed in aluminum. Through the electrochemical process of anodizing, protective and decorative coatings were added. Gold anodized aluminum was often used in sun grilles.

Architecture Parlance: Architecture imbued with symbolism to communicate its function. Also known as programmatic architecture.

Asymmetry: In a clean break with the past, Modernism rejected Beaux Arts ideals of balance, symmetry, and hierarchy, which pervaded Art Deco design. Modern engineering made irrelevant the centuries-old reliance on Classical orders in aesthetic compositions and elevations. In plan, asymmetry expressed the American desire for informality and individuality.

Baroque: The lush ornamentation, lavish materials, and awe-inspiring interior space of late Renaissance architecture provided inspiration for architect Morris Lapidus and subsequently his colleagues in pursuit of Miami Beach pleasure domes.

Beanpoles: Debuted in the interiors of architect Morris Lapidus, thin metal rods used as decoration and for space modulation in interior and exterior spaces. They often projected from built-in plantersin all manner of balconies, lobbies, stairways, and porches.

Boomerangs: The boomerang shape, an aerodynamic curve with primitive connotations, became shorthand for speed. The boomerang’s nationwide popularity in the post-war era made it ubiquitous in MiMo, appearing in two- and three-dimensional forms in apartment buildings, supermarkets, and motels.

Boxed Windows: After World War II, Art Deco eyebrowswere elongated into both horizontal and vertical decorative elements, often framing compositions of windows and slump brickpanels. The boxes, or frames, were frequently flared or tapered for an aerodynamic effect.

Brise-Soleils: A fixed or movable device, such as fins or louvers, designed to block the direct entrance of sun rays into a building. Le Corbusier was the first to design these louvered screens as an integral part of a building, not only for climate control, but also to give depth and richness to the normally flat surface of the typical modern façade. The pattern of vertical and horizontal compartments creates a different set of rhythms from those produced by the alternation of wall and window which the brise-soleil conceals. In South Florida, brise-soleils were executed in masonry, metal, and even wood.

Built-In Planters: In Prairie houses, Frank Lloyd Wright often employed successively smaller planters at the bases of exterior walls and corners to anchor the structure to the landscape and create a graduation from the architectural to the natural.

Canted Windows: Extending beyond the typical Modernist use of glass, post-war architects often tilted glass walls outward from the base, usually seen in motel lobbies, storefronts, gas stations, and fast-food restaurants.

Cantilever: A beam or other projection that is unsupported at its projecting end. Cantilevering shows off structural innovation and contributes to asymmetrical design. In the International Style, cantilevering made possible projecting canopies and balconies, also called tray balconies. Shallow masonry cantilevers, a MiMo ornamental device, evolved from eyebrowstypical of 1930s Tropical Art Deco architecture.

Catwalks: A cost-saving device compared with enclosed corridors, exposed, cantileveredexterior corridors were a basic ingredient of two-story motels, residential apartment-motels, and schools throughout South Florida. Sometimes called galleries, the open-air passageways provided a greater sense of independence to individual units.

Chalet Style: A close cousin to the bold gables of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style houses, the Swiss chalet style distilled the image of domesticity into a gabled front façade with a prominent, long-eaved roof. Multi-unit MiMo apartment-motels were often consolidated under a symbolic unifying gable roof, an expression of the American dream of a home of one’s own.

Cheese holes: Round holes of various sizes used in interior and exterior walls, which added visual interest in an organic and Modernist way.

Clerestories: Narrow window bands set close to the roofline that let in natural light and emphasize airy structural compositions. Clerestories were a common feature in Wrightian residences and were also adopted by MiMo architects for their Modernist appeal.

Compressed Arches: Vertically squeezed or horizontally squashed semicircular arches, forming roofs or canopies, were a popular device borrowed from Brazilian Modernism, which disapproved of emphasizing entryways.

Concrete Block and Stucco: Readily available, mass-produced concrete block became the standard South Florida building material from the 1920s onward. Stucco, an inexpensive fine plaster, was used to coat exterior block walls and was molded into decorative features. South Florida’s fantasy architecture from Mediterranean Revival to MiMo futurism was often simply stucco “icing” on a standard “cake” of concrete block. In MiMo architecture, stucco was molded into myriad abstract relief patterns to harness the abundant sunshine for ornamental effect.

Concrete Canopies: Thin concrete roofs, which often projected outward toward a driveway, street, or parking lot, were commonly used to shelter building entrances. Minimalist canopies with an uplifting sweep or jaunty zigzag celebrated arrival at elegant MiMo apartment buildings.

Crab Orchard Stone: Quarried in the Cumberland Plateau of eastern Tennessee, this hard sandstone became a defining decorative material in MiMo from the hotels of Miami Beach to the campus of the University of Miami. The popularity of the stone, which comes in shades of tan, buff, blue gray, and pink, was partly inspired by Wright’s reliance on natural materials in his domestic architecture. The use of natural stone in the rec room of the House of the Future at the 1939–40 New York World’s Fair strengthened the association of natural stone with leisure, informality, and the good life.

Curtain Wall Construction: A non-structural exterior wall, usually of plate glass, steel, or aluminum, hung on the structural frame. Developed in cool, cloudy Northern European climates, glass curtain walls required shading with grilles, screen block, and louversin South Florida.

Cut outs: The simple device of perforating eaves with circular or square openings hinted at the structural potential of modern materials and provided visual interest. Roof cutouts were usually paired with a corresponding planter to allow plants to grow through the openings. A palm tree piercing a perforated eave is a classic MiMo touch.

Decorative Railings: Railings along catwalksin motels and motel-apartments were frequently among the few opportunities for ornamentation, and appeared in imaginative, abstract geometric and curvilinear compositions. North Beach is particularly rich in decorative railings.

Delta Wings: Inspired by the advancement in aviation following World War II, the delta wing shape appeared in MiMo architecture as a whimsical design element. During the 1950s the delta wing was used on several aircraft to increase speed. When viewed from above, the delta wing shape resembles a triangle.

Egg crate Façades: The square or rectangular grid created by exposed edges of concrete floors and walls projecting outward from the building wall. Shallow modules provided shade to windows and a place to anchor brise-soleils, while deeper recesses are often used for terraces.

Exposed Concrete: In keeping with the Modernist tenet of the exterior expression of structure and materials, exposed concrete was used extensively by Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Marcel Breuer. The material was common in late MiMo, reaching high points in the Miami Marine Stadium and the Kendall campus of Miami-Dade College.

Eyebrows: An example of styling in MiMo architecture, cantileveredsunshades over individual windows and doors in 1930s Tropical Art Deco evolved into continuous, horizontal cantileversand vertical elements of varying depths.

Floating Planes: The concept of defining space with a hovering, seemingly immaterial appearance was made possible due to advancements in building materials. Reinforced concrete offered a homogenous coherence and horizontal spreads of considerable dimensions. This new architectural design technique was influenced by The De Stijl art movement and imitated the free-floating lines and planes of a Mondrian work. The first internationally recognized building which defined volume with the use of floating planes was the Barcelona Pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohefor the 1929 International Expositionin Barcelona, Spain. The use of floating planes was also embraced by Frank Lloyd Wright who influenced many architects following World War II who sought to create dramatic, monumental spaces.


Floating Staircases: Flights of stairs without risers or sideboards, often cantileveredfrom a wall so that the treads seem to float without support, embody the space-ageaspirations of the era and can be found in MiMo residences to offices.

Folded Planes: Inspired by the iconic roof of the U.S. Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, concrete planes, folded into origami-like configurations, create a wealth of light and shadow effects. Used as a purely ornamental device, folded planes appear in commercial MiMo architecture.

Hyperbolic Paraboloids: Square and circular planes were warped into eye-catching topical shapes. MiMo architects enthusiastically adopted the popular 1950s motif of acute hyperbolic parabolic curves, showcased in the extraordinary roof of the now-demolished Best Western Marina Inn and Yacht Harbor in Fort Lauderdale or the daringly engineered canopy of the demolished Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida.

Interior and Exterior Blending: Continuity of interior and exterior space is characteristic of Modernist design in all climes, but South Florida’s mild weather was especially conducive to the concept, most notably in the homes of Igor B. Polevitzky and the Coconut Grove School of architects (Alfred Browning Parker, Rufus Nims, Kenneth Treister, George Reed, et al.).

Interior Space Modulation: Modern construction and engineering freed architects from reliance on load-bearing walls, allowing for voluminous interiors unbounded by walls and traditional room proportions. Drawing on his expertise in store design, Morris Lapidus pioneered the use of multiple floor levels to create subtle spatial transitions in his hotel interiors. Other space modulation devices include tray ceilings, banks of beanpoles, cheeseholewalls, faux support columns, and ancillary enclosed volumes like reception desks and banks of elevators.

Intersecting Planes: The mastery of man over materials was celebrated with masonry, stone, and glass planes that magically seemed to intersect and interpenetrate, in canopies that penetrate glass lobby walls and entire façade compositions.

Jalousies: Operable, narrow glass louverswere ubiquitous before air-conditioning, because of their ability to maintain ventilation during rainy weather. Jalousies of frosted glass simultaneously provided privacy and were used in a full range of sizes from small bathroom windows to long, floor-to-ceiling arrangements. The West Laboratory School at the University of Miami was the acme of jalousie construction.

Keystone: A form of oolitic limestone, or oolite, quarried in Florida’s Middle Keys, hence its name. Readily available, easy to carve, and textured with fossilized sea life, Keystone was used extensively in Mediterranean Revival and Tropical Art Deco structures. It was used less frequently after the war, almost invariably in random ashlar. Miami oolite, which makes up the South Florida coastal ridge, is a softer, more porous type and is commonly given the misnomer coral rock.

Lettering: Certain typefaces on building signs, especially a round, upward-slanting script style, imparted a sense of carefree, casual 1950s living. Other motifs included sans serif letters, slanting italicized letters, and use of upper and lower cases.

Louvers: An assembly of angled, overlapping blades or slats, set vertically or horizontally, which may be fixed or adjustable. Originally louvers were designed for window and door openings to admit air and sunlight to varying degrees and to exclude rain. A common feature of Subtropical Modern homes, wooden louvers, modeled after the operable wooden louvers from Cuba known as persianas, very likely inspired jalousie windows. In Modern architecture, louvers became elaborate design elements in their own right. Fixed vertical louvers, in metal or masonry, were used to block direct sunlight and to create colonnade-like shadows, as in the Collins Avenue Façades of the Seville and Golden Sands hotels, and in Temple Menorah.


Marine Imagery: MiMo buildings continued the Tropical Art Deco tradition of depicting aquatic images but in more abstract forms, like the gradations of sea green mosaic tile representing the ocean’s depths on the façade of the Eden Roc hotel. Representations of sea life, such as mermaids, dolphins, sea horses, and seashells, were common in MiMo residences and grand resorts, as well as in MiMo motels especially in Fort Lauderdale.


Metal Grilles: Sometimes custom-made in an abundance of finely detailed designs, grilles were used in a similar manner as concrete brise-soleilsand louvers: to block sunlight. A ubiquitous feature of MiMo office buildings until they were made obsolete by reflective thermal glass, metal grilles were sometimes used simply for decorative effect.

Mosaic Tile: Glass tile, primarily from Italy, and ceramic tile rank with crab orchard stoneas a common MiMo decorative material. Mosaic tile made a splashy debut in the full-height panels on the façade of the Eden Roc hotel, and was later used to give color and sparkle to spandrels, public interior spaces, fountain basins, bathrooms, and other features.

Murals: Reflecting the popularity of the abstract, billboard-sized murals in Mexico City, large exterior murals appeared in and on MiMo architecture after 1960. The tile murals of the Bacardi USA building are one of the finest examples of Latin American influence on MiMo. At the Alexander condominium-hotel, Charles F. McKirahan employed a Polynesian-style full-height mural to give the narrow end of the building a strong presence on Collins Avenue.

Pedestal and Superstructure: Large Modernist buildings are often composed of a tower or superstructure atop a broad base. Pedestal-and-tower buildings were usually office buildings, but architects of resorts adapted the configuration, which was subsequently copied around the world and known as the Miami Beach hotel type. In resorts, the wide pedestal was appropriate for housing lobbies, ballrooms, and meeting halls.


Pilots: Another adaptation of the International Style, cylindrical concrete support columns that raised building masses above open ground levels and created areas of shade often used for parking.

Plate Glass: Thick sheets of high-quality glass were cast in broad plates and used in storefronts and hotel and motel lobbies. Steel-skeleton construction allowed for a generous use of glass, which became a hallmark of the International Style and a universal Modernist expression. In South Florida, a truly modern use of glass was not widely achievable until the MiMo period.


Populace: A term coined by the architectural critic Thomas Hine, referring to the flamboyant decorative style of the 1950s and 1960s, which employed bright colors and futuristic contours to impart a sense of luxury to mass-produced consumer items from appliances and cars to Miami Beach resorts.

Porte Cochere: In MiMo resorts, the driveway drop-off area becomes a dramatic ornamental device. In some hotel and even condominium exteriors, elaborate, fanciful porte cocheres were the only break from otherwise purely Modernist designs.

Proscenium: A façade frame which connects and projects above the roofline of two adjacent buildings.

Pylons: MiMo commercial and apartment buildings frequently employed vertical masonry panels as the centerpiece of a façade of intersecting planes and volumes. Pylons were also the preferred location for automobile-scale signage. Reflecting the popularity of Wright’s Fallingwater, pylons were often clad in crab orchard stoneor slump brick.

Random Ashlar Pattern: Paving or masonry consisting of stones cut into squares and rectangles of various sizes, or a faux version of this.

Ribbon Windows: Horizontal window bands were another earmark of the International Style, with its non-load-bearing walls. Ribbon windows appear in MiMo-style offices, hotels, and institutional buildings. Banded windows imparted a strong Modernist character to hotels like the Fontainebleau and were shaded with sun-protection devices in Subtropical Modernist buildings.

Roman Brick: Distinctively thinner and longer than conventional brick, roman brick was favored by Frank Lloyd Wright for its horizontality and fine texture, and became popular in the 1950s. Most roman brick in MiMo architecture is actually slump brick.

Rounded Eaves: An easily distinguishable characteristic of MiMo apartment-motels and houses, thick, rounded eaves were used to impart a sense of fullness to otherwise spare, rectilinear structures and to emphasize a sense of shelter.

Sawtoothed Floor Plates: MiMo hotel architects often designed floor plates with rooms set on the angle of a sawtooth, so that rooms facing north and south would have ocean views.

Screen Block: Mass-produced, cast-concrete block, also known locally as “breeze block,” was used in an imaginative variety of geometric and organic patterns to create stunning abstract compositions like the all-screen-block façade of the TechnoMarine Building on Biscayne Boulevard and NE 29 Street, and Wahl Snyder’s McArthur Engineering Building at the University of Miami.

Screening: Subtropical Modernists fully integrated mesh screening into their residential designs as they adapted the open Modernist houses of semi-arid California to humid, mosquito-ridden South Florida.

Shed Roofs: Wright brought the long, sloping shed roof, a feature of what Vincent Scully identified as the Shingle Style, back into the American mainstream with his design for Taliesin West. The shed roof became shorthand for modern American domesticity and can be found in countless MiMo houses and motels.


Slump Brick: Synthetic slumped brick was a ubiquitous decorative material in MiMo. The inexpensive concrete product came in a range of sizes, textures, and colors. Brick imagery balanced Modernism with a sense of tradition and domesticity.

Space-Age Imagery: A number of MiMo landmarks capitalized on space-age imagery, such as the University of Miami’s Pick Music Library, with its extending pods like those on a lunar landing module, and the Pepsi-Cola Bottling pavilion, with its spiraling floating staircases, a vision straight out of the 1953 film The War of the Worlds. Toward the end of the MiMo era, the television cartoon series The Jetsons reflected and parodied the period fascination with the future.

Spandrels: Panels placed between the window head of one floor and the windowsill of the floor above. MiMo spandrels were often clad in glass mosaic tileor textured, painted stucco.

Textured Stucco: Inexpensive stucco lent itself to the creation of textures and abstract decorative relief in the abundant Miami sunshine.

Tray Balconies: Cantileveredbalconies with concrete parapets (low walls, usually formed by the projection of a wall above a flat roof) are used for their sculptural form in MiMo hotels and residences.

Wiggles: Biomorphic kidney shapes popular in postwar design usually appeared as ceiling coves or trays for indirect lighting.

This Glossary is adapted, with permission from the author, from “MiMo: Miami Modern Revealed” by Nash, Eric P., and Robinson Jr., Randall. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2004.

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