What Is Art Nouveau Architecture?

Between 1890 and 1914, the Art Nouveau architectural style flourished in Europe. The rebellion against classical ideals in architecture and art gave birth to this style. It was founded on the idea that nature was the best source of aesthetic principles, or ideas about what was beautiful. Curved forms and ornate embellishments with natural shapes were key features of Art Nouveau architecture and art. Art Nouveau styles were found not only in architecture and paintings, but also in the decorative arts, making it widely accessible.

During much of the 1800s, proponents of Art Nouveau architecture fought against references to classical Greek and Roman standards. They were compelled to abandon strict and formal art philosophies. Rather, the expressive lines and shapes of nature, particularly flowers and other plant life, inspired architects who designed Art Nouveau buildings.

The exterior of Art Nouveau architecture was dominated curved lines and arches. Casa Batllo, in Barcelona, Spain, was redesigned in the Art Nouveau style Antoni Gaudi between 1905 and 1907. Casa Batllo’s exterior features curved, leaf-like balconies. The lower floors have undulating arches, and the bottom of each balcony has a flower design that can be seen from the street. Even the building’s corners are curved, so there aren’t many straight lines or geometric shapes in Casa Batllo.

The Hotel Guimard, built Hector Guimard in 1912 in Paris, France, is another example of Art Nouveau architecture. The house was built for Guimard and his wife Adeline Oppenheim. The Hotel Guimard’s windows are shielded arches with root-like designs. An elaborate wrought iron railing with flowery elements adorns a large balcony at the top of the building. The house’s entranceway features an arch with asymmetrical floral designs.

Not only was Art Nouveau visible on the outside, but it was also reflected in the interior design. Building interiors featured ornate moldings with relief sculptures of plants, flowers, and birds. Expensive, winding staircases were also common.

Art Nouveau’s proponents envisioned it as a non-elitist style of art that blurred the lines between fine arts like painting and sculpture and applied arts like ceramics and metalworking. Rugs, furniture, textiles, wallpaper, lamps, and graphic design were all decorated in the Art Nouveau style. As a result, Art Nouveau was a style that was accessible to a wide range of people.