Paris is famous for its magnificent architecture, picturesque café culture, world-class museums, and chic fashion. Who hasn’t heard of the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, or the Champs-Élysées? However, Paris hosts countless lesser-known masterpieces. Many of them represent the best of their kind. That is especially true for the sleek Art Deco architecture that adorns the streets and squares of Paris. It’s chic, bold, and distinctly French. Paris is not only the birthplace of the style but also home to the largest number of Art Deco buildings in Europe. So next time you’re in town, you must visit the following jewels.
- 1 The Beginnings of Art Deco
- 2 Art Deco in Architecture: Characteristics
- 3 Paris Art Deco Architecture
- 4 Staying in an Art Deco Hotel in Paris
- 5 How to Visit Art Deco Buildings in Paris
- 6 The Best Art Deco Buildings in Paris
- 7 Art Deco in Architecture: Residential Buildings
The Beginnings of Art Deco
The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts gave Art Deco its name. The giant Paris Art Deco exhibition of 1925 took over the area between Les Invalides and the Grand Palais. The exhibition showcased the latest trends in architecture, design, furniture, and other decorative arts. However, the style is a little bit older. The establishment recognized only traditional art and overlooked decorators and designers. Not happy with that, the latter fought for equal official status. Everything changed when the Society for Decorative Artists opened in 1901. Art Deco was thus recognized and treasured. Soon enough, several Art Deco magazines became super popular and helped popularize the style. Art Deco took a decade to conquer architecture.
Art Deco in Architecture: Characteristics
At the beginning of the 20th century, the world entered a new period of technological innovation. However, Art Nouveau, the dominant style at the time, didn’t incorporate such advances. Hence, the world needed something new and created Art Deco. The new style incorporated technological innovations, while at the same time drawing inspiration from modern art movements like Cubism, Constructivism, and Futurism. That’s where the geometrical and abstract forms come from. At the same time, interest in the ‘exotic art’ from Africa and Asia picked up again. That explains the colorful oriental forms. The main characteristics of Art Deco architecture are bold geometrical patterns, strong colors, and the use of modern materials.
Paris Art Deco Architecture
Paris is the birthplace of Art Deco architecture. The first major building to be built according to the style is the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Its construction started in 1910 and it was finished three years later. In the following decade, Art Deco was the dominant style for theaters and cinema buildings. Then, it expanded to grand department stores, with La Samaritaine as its best example. In the late 20s and early 30s, many churches bore the distinct Art Deco stamp. The same happened with swimming pools. The style reached its peak during the 30s with two international expositions. The first one was the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition held in Bois de Vincennes. The second one was the 1937 Paris International Exposition around the Eiffel Tower.
Staying in an Art Deco Hotel in Paris
If you love the style you’ll be happy to know that you can stay in an Art Deco hotel in Paris. There are quite a few! The most famous hotel with Art Deco elements is the renowned Hotel Lutetia in central Paris. Lutetia represents the transition from Art Nouveau to Art Deco. The elegant hotel opened its doors in 1910 for the ever-growing clientele of the nearby Bon Marche Department Store. Since then, many celebrities have enjoyed its top-class hospitality. If you are looking for something a little bit more intimate, consider the Hôtel Bachaumont. We believe it’s the best Art Deco boutique hotel in Paris.
How to Visit Art Deco Buildings in Paris
As we detail below, there are dozens of Art Deco masterpieces worth visiting in Paris. Since these are scattered all around the city, you will need plenty of time to visit them all. If you are short of time, we suggest focusing on an area or two. The best place to look for Art Deco buildings in Paris is the area north of the Eiffel Tower, across the River Seine. The Palais de Chaillot, Palais de Tokyo, and Théâtre des Champs-Élysées are here, close to each other. The other interesting route is from the Grand Rex, towards the Luxor Cinema, passing by Folies Bergere. That way, you’ll visit 3 of the city’s five main Art Deco entertainment venues.
The Best Art Deco Buildings in Paris
Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
Address 15 Avenue Montagne
Architect Auguste Perret and Gustave Perret 1913
Théâtre des Champs-Élysées is the first major Art Deco building in Paris. Initially, the famous Belgian architect Henry Van de Velde was in charge of the building, but the owners replaced him with the Perret brothers. August and Gustave Perret were not even licensed architects at the time, but their knowledge of reinforced concrete qualified them for the job. The Perret brothers designed the thoroughly modern building with straight lines including the concrete structure. Notice that the decorative elements appear only on the upper level of the facade, under the roof. As you can imagine, that was a striking departure from the popular style at that time, Art Nouveau.
Address 6 Rue Belgrand
Architect Henri Sauvage 1920
The next entertainment venue is a masterpiece by Henri Sauvage, one of the most important French architects from the beginning of the 20th century. The Cinema MK2 Gambetta was built where a former local theater of Paris’ 12th Arrondissement once stood. The facade of the rotunda-shaped building features bas-reliefs in form of palm leaves and theatre masks. Originally, it was a one-room building, with an orchestra and two balconies. Since its transformation in 1970, it became a three-room space. The first balcony was transformed into another cinema room, while the second became a projection booth.
Le Louxor Palais du Cinema
Address 150 Boulevard de Magenta
Architect Henri Zipcy 1921
If you think that MK2 Gambetta decorative elements are exotic, wait until you see the Louxor. Le Louxor Palais du Cinema is by far the most colorful Art Deco building in Paris. It is also the city’s only Egyptian-inspired entertainment venue. Architect Henri Zipcy loved the movie Cleopatra from 1917 so much, that he incorporated Egyptian elements in his design. As the demographic of the surrounding area was changing, the Louxor struggled to find its audience. In the 70s it specialized in Arab and Bollywood movies. In the 80s it was a popular nightclub venue. It was sold in the 90s and remained abandoned for 20 years. It reopened again as a movie theater in 2013.
Address 32 Rue Richer
Architect Maurice Pico 1926
Folies Bergère is another famous entertainment venue in downtown Paris. Though today it functions as a cabaret, it was originally an opera house. Built in 1869, the opera was known as Folies Trévise. In 1886, it became a music hall renowned for its colorful costumes. The building acquired its current appearance in 1926. At that time, the main room was enlarged and decorated with an imposing Art Deco facade, created by designer Maurice Pico. The large bas-relief on the facade depicts the Russian dancer Lila Nikolska wearing nothing but a cloche hat. Copper foil covered the original relief. It was painted with gold during the renovations of 2012.
La Samaritaine Department Store
Address 9 Rue de la Monnaie
Architect Henri Sauvage 1928
Paris is home to some of the most spectacular department stores in the world. You’ve surely heard of Lafayette, Haussmann, or Bon Marché. These giant shopping centers are famous for their lavish neoclassical and Art Nouveau interiors. La Samaritaine Department Store followed the same pattern on its original building in downtown Paris. However, in 1928 Henri Sauvage himself designed a new wing for the renowned store. Since local authorities wanted a style that is true to the times, Art Deco was the best choice. The new building stands out for its simple geometrical lines, cream-colored stone, and top floors retracted from the main facade.
Address 4 Rue Nungesser et Coli
Architect Lucien Pollet and Louis Barillet 1929
The third decade of the 20th century saw a boom of public swimming pools all around Paris. Many of them were designed according to the Art Deco Principles. That is true for Piscine Pailleron, Piscine des Amiraux, Piscine Pontoise and the interior of Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles. Nevertheless, the most famous swimming pool from the 1920s is Piscine Molitor, across the Bois de Boulougne in Paris’ 16th Arrondissement. Renowned swimming pool master Lucien Pollet designed it to resemble an ocean liner. The iconic Art Deco stained glass window on the main facade is the work of a glassmaker Louis Barillet. Unfortunately, the pool remained shut between 1989 and 2014. Today it’s part of the Hotel Molitor Paris.
Palais de la Porte Dorée
Address 293 Avenue Damesmil
Architect Albert Laprade, León Jaussely and León Bazin 1931
Another jewel of Parisian Art Deco is the Palais de la Porte Dorée. The Palais was built for the Paris Colonial Exposition held in Bois de Vincennes in 1931. After the event, the building served as the Museum of Overseas France and the Museum of Arts of Africa and Oceania. Since 2014, it hosts the Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration, a museum of immigration history. The Palais is a synthesis of Art Deco and classical French architecture. Its main facade showcases a monumental colonnade inspired by the one from the Louvre. It is covered by a giant bas relief depicting wildlife, ships, and oceans. Sculptor Alfred Janniot designed it.
Address 1 Boulevard Poissonnière
Architect Auguste Bluysen and John Eberson 1932
Just like its name says, the Grand Rex Cinema is truly grand. Its auditorium is not only the largest cinema room in Paris but in the whole of Europe! The building’s American look is not a surprise. Auguste Bluysen modeled the cinema after American Atmospheric Theaters. He even invited John Eberson, the most respected designer of atmospheric theaters, to collaborate on the project. Together they created an auditorium with a starred ceiling and fairytale decorations. The impressive details on the facade are works of the sculptor Henri-Édouard Navarre. Grand Rex closed its doors to the public in August 2020 and is currently under reconstruction.
Palais de Chaillot
Address 1 Place du Trocadéro et du 11 Novembre
Architect Louis-Hippolyte Boileau, Jacques Carlu and Léon Azéma 1937
Palais de Chaillot is a monumental palace across the Eiffel Tower built for the 1937 Paris International Exposition. The palace stands on the site of the old Palais du Trocadéro which was completely rebuilt to accommodate the exhibition. It consists of two identical wings that form a giant arc that opens up to the Seine River. The central part of the old palace was demolished to make room for a rectangular esplanade. Both wings have kept their original structure, but with a new Art Deco facade. Today, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine occupies the Eastern wing. The western wing houses the National Navy Museum and the Museum of Mankind.
Palais de Tokyo
Address 13 Avenue du Président Wilson
Architect André Aubert, Paul Viard and Marcel Dastugue 1937
Palais de Tokyo is another architecture masterpiece built for the 1937 Paris International Exposition. The monumental building has two symmetrical wings connected via a peristyle. A rectangular swimming pool between the two wings faces the River Seine. The large staircase, on both sides of the pool, is decorated with bas reliefs named ‘The Glory of Art’. A statue representing France crowns the center of the building. There are also reliefs of centaurs, sirens, and nymphs. The building’s eastern wing hosts the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. The west wing is home to the Site de Création Contemporaine, a museum showcasing temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.
Art Deco in Architecture: Residential Buildings
If you think this is all Paris has to offer, you are wrong. Most of Art Deco architecture in Paris is residential. The first building to rise to international fame is much older than the Champs-Élysées Theatre. The Apartment Building in rue Benjamin Franklin 25bis from 1904 is the work of the Perret Brothers. This unique building is made of reinforced concrete covered with floral tiles. Some of the most impressive residential buildings are works of Henri Sauvage. The Stepped Apartment Building in rue Vavin 26, the Majorelle Building in rue de Provence 126, and the Studio Building in rue La Fontaine 65 are his best-known buildings.