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Art Nouveau Architecture

Art Nouveau Architecture

Author: Ian McConnell
This lesson will examine the architecture of Art Nouveau.
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An overview of Art Nouveau architecture.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about Art Nouveau architecture. As you watch the video feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the idea behind a total work of art in Art Nouveau, identify examples of Art Nouveau architecture. Key terms as always are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. The first and only key term today its Total Work of Art, the idea that all the elements in a space, the furniture, fabrics, wall treatments, lamps, and other accessories are designed to work together to create a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing space.

The big idea for today is that the Art Nouveau aesthetic was in many ways a return to nature. The traits of Art Nouveau were responses against the Industrial Revolution. And we'll be looking at examples of architecture today from between 1892 and 1906. And the required works of architecture we'll see today reside in Brussels, Belgium, Paris, France, and Barcelona, Spain. So the architectural design characteristics of the Art Nouveau were more or less the same as the design characteristics of Art Nouveau art, which shouldn't surprise you.

In a nutshell the design characteristics of Art Nouveau architecture include organic forms, Japanese motifs, arches and curves, stained glass, hyperbolas in windows, stylized moldings that take on plant forms and natural textures of flames and seashells. However, as this was a movement that strongly emphasized the freedom of artistic production, artists and architects often pushed the boundaries of design and created examples that may not share as many characteristics with each other as you might expect.

Now, if you remember from our other lesson on Art Nouveau, this movement was called the Vienna Secession in Austria. And though the name was different, the spirit behind the movement was very much the same. The Vienna Secession building is an example of the Art Nouveau style in architecture in Austria. Joseph Maria Olbrich designed the building as a temple for the displaying of works of art from this time period, which does much to explain the emphasis on the linear and horizontal that's apparent in the exterior.

Now, it seems to contradict what I said before about curvilinear and organic, but take a look at that dome. It's a beautiful and original interpretation of the classical dome, except it's constructed completely out of metal laurel leaves, the types of leaves you would find in the capitals of Corinthian style columns from ancient Rome, the Renaissance, and the Baroque periods. Beneath the dome is an inscription which translates to "To the time, its art, to the art, its freedom". And below this are three gorgon heads-- and gorgons are like the Medusa from ancient Greece-- each symbolizing one of the forms of art, painting, architecture, and sculpture.

What's so interesting about the Art Nouveau movement is in how the aesthetic remains consistent internationally in many ways, but also how each nation or region tends to reinterpret it in a way that reflects aspects of their own culture. And one of the best examples of this is in the Casa Batllo, which we'll look at in a few moments. But before we do, let's take a look at a few examples that embody the design elements I was referring to earlier.

Victor Horta is perhaps most important Art Nouveau architect and designer to emerge from Belgium, in fact I can't think of a more important one, and one of the most important architects and designers in all of Europe due to his influence on and application of the Art Nouveau design aesthetic. Now, this image of his staircase design of the Maison and Atelier is a classic example of Art Nouveau design and evocative of the curvilinear organic forms and lines inspired by nature. This form of Art Nouveau design always reminded me a bit of the artwork of Doctor Seuss in how it departs from and in many ways completely avoids the use of rectilinear lines. There's a playfulness here that hasn't really been seen before in architectural design.

And in the design of the entrance to the Paris metro we can see how Hector Guimard applies the Art Nouveau aesthetic to what can be considered an unusual choice for artistic expression, a metro entrance. But Guimard had made his name in previous artistic endeavors and in the spirit of Art Nouveau was experimenting with more industrial applications in his attempts to see the aesthetic on a larger scale.

His metro entrance seems to perfectly harmonize with the surrounding trees almost appearing to grow out of the ground itself. It was a rather brilliant move in terms of exposure. The Paris metro was very much in its infancy but would become one of the predominant forms of public transportation in France. His entrance would be seen and used by potentially tens of thousands of people on a daily basis, exposing them to the Art Nouveau design aesthetic.

Now, like the contemporary Arts and Crafts movement of the time there was this pervasive idea within the Art Nouveau movement of a total work of art. That is, in terms of design elements in architecture everything within the building should work in harmony with everything else. Now, this idea was manifested in many ways throughout Europe. In Glasgow, Scotland architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh used this idea of a total work of art in his design of the so-called Willow Tea Rooms. And this is an example of the Room Deluxe. The interior furnishings coordinate wonderfully with each other, creating this harmonious and aesthetically pleasing space.

In the same spirit the architect Antonio Gaudi takes this idea to an entirely new level, in my opinion, in his design of the Casa Batllo in Barcelona, Spain. Now, his creations are entirely original and unmistakably Gaudi. They could perhaps be described best as livable sculpture, or sculpture that you can live in, in how they appear to be molded out of clay. Gaudi takes the sense of playfulness seen in Horta's work, expands upon it and really extends it into the fantastical. Gaudi was inspired by the Moresque architecture of his native Spain but takes that inspiration and completely reinterprets it into something that fuses the attention of detail of Islamic and Moresque design with the organic forms and curvilinear lines of Art Nouveau.

Now, he also maintains the idea of a total work of art. Every element of the building's interior is considered and designed to harmonize with the others, from the lighting features, like this lamp, to the fireplace. It's undoubtedly an interpretation with limited practical appeal, but that wasn't really the point. It was, perhaps, in my own interpretation, created with the intention of pushing the boundaries of architectural design so far that the path was essentially cleared for subsequent artists and architects to explore the possibilities of artistic design.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen this lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the idea behind a total work of art in Art Nouveau, and identify examples of Art Nouveau architecture? Once again, the big idea for today, the Art Nouveau aesthetic was in many ways a return to nature. The traits of Art Nouveau were responses against the Industrial Revolution. And that's it. Thanks very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Art Nouveau Architecture"

Key Terms

Total Work of Art
The idea that all of the elements in a space (the furniture, fabrics, wall treatments, lamps and other accessories) are designed to work together to create a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing space.


Metro Station Entrance; Creative Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Metro_station_entrance_%28%C3%A9dicule_Guimard%29_Porte_Dauphine_Paris_16e_002.jpg; Casa Batllo; Creative Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CasaBatllo.jpg    Image of Horta, Staircase of the Maison & Atelier Horta, Brussels, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Horta_Museum.JPG; Image of Vienna Secession Building Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Secession_Vienna_June_2006_017.jpg; Image of Vienna Secession Building Facade Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Secession_Vienna_June_2006_007.jpg; Image of Casa Batllo Facade Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Close_up_Casa_Batlo.JPG; Image of Casa Batilo Staircase Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Staircase_casa_batllo.jpg; Image of Casa Batilo Lamp Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:L%C3%A1mpara_Casa_Batll%C3%B3.jpg; Image of Casa Batilo Fireplace Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Casa_Batll%C3%B3_Fireplace.jpg; Image of Casa Batilo Tile Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Casa_Batll%C3%B3_Light_Well.jpg; Image of Willow Tea Room Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Room_de_Luxe.jpg