UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Aestheticizing mobilities : art deco and the fashioning of interwar public cultures Windover, Michael Joseph


Art Deco, as a mode of design, was a response to the conditions of post-World War I modernity, including the advent of “mass” culture, a desire for a return to order, and an intense interest in mobility—physical/geographical, conceptual, temporal, and social. This thesis argues that mobility lies at the heart of Art Deco as it fashioned public cultural spaces throughout the globe in the interwar years. Both the iconography and general formal qualities (whether zig-zag forms popular in the 1920s or streamlining of the 1930s) evinced the idea of movement, which suited the optimism of the 1920s as well as a desire for control in the period of socio-political unrest caused by the Depression. This thesis explores some of the socio-political ramifications of the style as it entered the patterns and spaces of everyday life (i.e., lifestyle). The imaging of mobility so apparent on the surfaces of Art Deco points to the larger, interpenetrating systems of mobility that underpin the fabrication of modern public cultures. These “mobilities” included migration, transportation, commodity exchange, capital, and communication (notably print, film, and radio, but also fashion, design, and architecture). While the Deco appeared “new” in a manner consonant with the sense of immediacy (even fashionability) brought about by these mobilities, and optimistically gestured to a new world in the future-present, the style ultimately reinscribed the pre-existing social order. It was a cosmopolitan style: traditional yet modern, “worldly” in appearance yet local. This thesis travels through a number of different spaces, envisioning Art Deco as a kind of crossroads—a style of flow and intermixture yet stability. While celebrating mobility, the Deco often masked other forms of (im)mobility. I examine these concepts in relation to the Marine Building in Vancouver, Bullock’s Wilshire department store in Los Angeles, the Regal and Eros cinemas in Bombay (Mumbai), and the design of radio cabinets in Canada. In so doing, the thesis suggests the reach of the Deco into everyday life and across the globe, and offers a new way to approach a style that is most often associated with the frivolous by emphasizing its socio-political implications.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International