Art Nouveau

The influence over designers of tomorrow

Art Nouveau was a movement that had two origins. The first was the Maison De I’art Nouveau, a gallery in Paris that was started by the German art dealer Samuel Bing built in 1895. Art Nouveau design was getting published in the Jugend magazine in Munich and therefore did not have a singular starting point. It was known in Germany as Jugenstil, Stile Liberty in Italy and Modern in Russia, however it was said to be one of the first modern styles of the 20th Century. Due to the First World War this movement was not long lived.

Art Nouveau translates as “new art” in French and it could be said that today’s modern approach to architecture continuing the movement further with the modern approach to architecture. However when we look at Victor Horta’s work we see that this approach is not that obvious. “Curved lines rise like weightless volutes of smoke or swirling whiplash.”[1] The way his work expresses the modern style at the time is apparent in his work. The hotel Tassel shows this with the elegantly placed staircases which create a journey throughout the large open atrium spaces. The design of every object is specific and very detailed.

This is to make the object specific to the building, for example the use of curves helps express the Art movement. Not only does Horta design the exterior but also the intricate interior. Every detail is precise and purposely situated, due to the nature of the building being not just a “building” but a piece of art. Designs previous were of that particular time and that the curved nature to the building gives a sense of expression showing Horta breaking the mould that was so widely taught to all designers of the early 20th Century.

Art Nouveau can be seen as being developed when looking at the modernistic approach technology has allowed Zara Hadid’s architecture to express. Those curvaceous lines shown by Horta is much clearer in the exterior finish of Hadid’s Beko masterplan. Through the development of materials and differences in the way in which architecture is taught the approach Zaha Hadid has taken is to manipulate the commonly used “box” design and incorporate some of the wispy lines seen throughout the Art Nouveau movement.

However, contrasting the traditional Nouveau style which can be seen as cluttered or over decorated, Zara Hadid attempt to use the simplistic and minimal approach when tackling the task of designing. The current minimalist design can be seen as pure with the over usage of white, creating a clean and “light” affect. However when integrated with the green surroundings it is clear that the environment has become an importance when designing today.

As we learn more about the environment we also learn how much we are destroying it and it is with this in mind designers of today use more green. This can be shown as an evolution from the Art Nouveau movement as the free flowing forms are still apparent. Yet, there is also another factor that the buildings of today compared with the Art Nouveau movement do not have in common and this is the decoration. The very precise detail is no longer seen in the minute detail of the smaller objects finish but now in the whole picture of the overall buildings finish. For example the heavy detailing of door handles does not seem to be a priority today when compared to the overall form of the building.

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Analysing Charles Rennie Mackingtosh, the Art Nouveau moment is clearly demonstrated in his work. This can be seen in the decorative facades but also in the minute detail of his furniture. He gives the building a purpose and a sense of place, such that the building could not be placed anywhere but the location it is. This is art.

The “Glasgow school” is an example of his extraordinary work. “Mackingtosh himself would not have considered his interior furniture designs necessarily less important than the design of complete buildings, because his approach was the same whatever the size of the commission.”[1] This quotation shows the thought process Mackingtosh had when designing on different levels. The quotation goes on to explain how he had many drawings from a simple spoon to an exterior façade. It is this sort of design that I feel today’s architecture is lacking. The more we understand about needing an environmental response to a building the less we can fully design with the same level of detail.

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When compared to the architecture of today it is unclear as to how the architects of the art Nouveau movement might respond with the technology of today. The design of Art Nouveau was new and modern. It was and still is exciting and in many ways expressive of how great designers pictured the future. If the technology of today was available when the Art Nouveau movement started the designers of the time most definitely would design like the designers of today. However this cannot be a fact but I do believe the technology of the time was a hindrance to what potential the architects had. Due to the lack of materials and technology of the time, this is why I believe Art Nouveau cannot be expressed today. As Art Nouveau can only show the new approach of that time. However there is one thing that is clear and that is there is a definite change from what the designers were taught. It was no longer Arts and Crafts and needed to have its own title.

Then Now

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To conclude I feel that the beauty and intricate detail of the Art Nouveau movement is not shown in today’s architecture. However it has influenced many designers, with people like Zaha Hadid designing furniture, but the overall design of today is not what it once was. It no longer has the feel of what it once did as technology changes and new and advanced designs can be achieved. If the designers of the Art Nouveau movement had access to the materials and technology of today I still feel that they would not be designing the current way, as the Art Nouveau movement was about detail and elegance not minimalism. The expressive period was about showing detail and creating art, yet today this is shown through a different process that is “less is more”.


Lara– Vinca Masini, LVM(1984). Art Nouveau, Great Britain: Thames and Hudson LTD.

Rodney Graham, RG(1991). Victor Horta, Great Britain: Academy Edtions.

Rogger Billcliffe & John Murray, RB & JM(1979). Charles Rennie Mackingtosh– The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings & Interior Designs, Great Britain: John Murray (Publishers) LTD.

Camilla de la Bedoyere, CdlB(2005). Art Nouveau, Great Britain: Flame Tree Publishing.