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Building Styles

Machine Age or Art Moderne (1930 - 1950)

-- Art Moderne - Machine Age Architecture

------ Residential---------- Tweed------Hamilton ---- Kitchener ----- Simcoe -

--- Commercial---- Ottawa ---- Nipigon --- Hamilton Go Transit --- Thunder Bay --- Sault St. Marie -- Simcoe------ Ottawa-

Machine Age Origins

Machine Age or Art Moderne follows closely after Art Deco and for many of the same reasons. Art Deco was a response to the new age of speed and electricity and was largely for the wealthy. Art Moderne was a response from designers to the needs of ordinary citizens living in the modern world of cars, airplanes and automats. Much of the strength of the Art Deco style was in the emphasis on exquisite craftsmanship and over-the-top detailing. Art Moderne designers looked towards a new age with excellent design for everyone. The artisan and his hand tools were set aside for the

age of the machine with the idea that mass production and quality were not mutually exclusive. The new look can be summed up in one word - streamlined. A basic rectangular building can be made "Classical" by the addition of columns, a pediment, or an architrave. The same building can be made Moderne with the addition of curved bays, chrome siding, Vitrolite, glass block, or neon signage. Art Moderne is a style that is largely for the small-business person. These designs are generally found on restaurants, cinemas, drug stores, hardware stores and the residences of desperately tasteful people.

Residential Machine Age

Shopping on ebay or in antique stores, the machine Age is HUGE. Chrome lamps, Lauffer table ware, Fiesta ware, even the Raymond Lowey pencil sharpener are the first items to go. This style is

relatively rare in residential form, but they are stunning buildings when you can find them.

Click Hotpoints for descriptions of terms in both text and images.


The most striking feature of this waterfront residence in Tweed is the two storey curved window that wraps around the entrance corner. The house is very streamlined with a prominent door surround emphasizing the clean lines of the house. All windows and doors are framed in black and a horizontal black band adds a nice finishing touch. The windows extending around the corner are also an indication of the Moderne style. Smooth wall finishes and a flat roof are also typical of this style.

Art Moderne Home

Tweed Ontario


Art Moderne houses often have corner windows; generally these are sash, and as well as making an unusual and interesting exterior look, they also allow a unique light to the interior.

Like the residence above, this house really looks like an ocean liner, from the port hole window to the "upper deck". Horizontal lines of the building are emphasized by the banding. The exterior finish is smooth, clean and really wonderfully streamlined. There is no extraneous detailing to detract from the clean lines of the façade.

Art Moderne House Hamilton

Hamilton Ontario


Also in Kitchener we can find this residence that illustrates many elements of the other Art Moderne houses on this page: the plain smooth finish, the horizontal banding, the corner sash windows, and the large bow window. The colours are white, grey, and black. Unlike the others, this has a very ornate Art Deco door surround.

The poured concrete door surround has a vaguely ziggurat form and an undulating ogee curve. It is not unusual to find Art Deco and Art Moderne elements on the same building.

Art Moderne House

Kitchener Ontario


Hidden away on the outskirts of town is an Art Moderne house with a rough, grey, stucco finish. Unlike many of the other examples, this has no detailing or ornament of any kind except for a single grey band along the roofline. There are flat roofs on the top of each wing of the house; one has a balcony overlooking a wooded area.

Distinguishing features of the style are the corner windows and lack of door surround. This house is also unusual in that it is set in a large, private, wooded lot.

Art Moderne House

Simcoe Ontario

Commercial Machine Age

The Daily News building in London England is probably the best example of a Machine Age vitrolite buildings. It is stunning. In Ontario, in the smaller towns, there are some excellent examples of Machine Age commercial buildings in vitrolite

and in other materials. Sadly, in the larger areas, they are falling fast.


For large apartment buildings within a limited urban space it is often left to entrances and windows to suggest the style. The overall streamlined look of this entrance places it firmly in the Art Moderne style while the lettering is really more Art Deco. The reveals are definitely Moderne, large curves with fluting. The window has very little ornament other than a stylized dripmold. You can imagine Audrey Hepburn dressed in a white flared coat and black gloves headed in to see George Peppard.


Art Moderne Apartment

Ottawa Ontario


Like many buildings in Nipigon, the Nipigon Cafe is a jewel. The glass block on the side windows and the curved entrance are characteristic of this style, as is the large horizontal cornice band.

Many Art Modern cafes and shops had special signs made for their establishments. The sign companies often maintained ownership and copyright for the sign and the owners paid an annual fee for use of it. Eventually, the sign companies went out of business and the stores were allowed to keep the signs. Many of them, like this one, are still in very good shape.

Art Moderne Cafe

Nipigon Ontario


The Hamilton GO transit station was recently refurbished by Trevor Garwood-Jones and Associates, and it is absolutely glittering from top to bottom. All of the details are exactly reconstructed with period hardware where possible and with modern fixtures that portray the Art Moderne style when originals were not available. Even the bathrooms are stylistically perfect.

All the interior surfaces are elegantly curved. The finishes are chrome, wood, and marble. For Art Moderne enthusiasts it is worth a trip to Hamilton to see this beauty. Maybe take the bus.

Art Moderne in Hamilton

Hamilton Ontario

Thunder Bay

The Paramount Cinema in Thunder Bay is a classic Art Moderne building with clean, circular shapes offset by a nicely textured surface. The entrance still has the original ticket booth and lobby, something that is rare in parts further south.

Notice that any historical detailing such as ornamented cornices, brackets and pediments is absolutely forbidden in the Art Moderne style. All lines are smooth and aerodynamic.


Art Moderne Cinema

Thunder Bay Ontario

Thunder Bay

One of the materials that is intrinsic to the Art Moderne style is Vitrolite. This is a semi-opaque glass that is either black, blue, yellow, or green. Vitrolite was an exterior finish as well as a finish used for bathrooms and kitchens. If it was well installed, it still looks great some 50 years later.

In Thunder Bay there are a few buildings where Vitrolite is still in good shape; one of them is this building, currently being used as a fitness club.

Vitrolite is available for anyone wanting to fix up an old building or add it to a new building. For information on vitrolite see www.vitrolitespecialist.com.



Art Moderne Lobby

Thunder Bay Ontario

Thunder Bay

This Art Moderne gas station has a corner tower similar to that of the very famous Hoover Building in London England. The wall finish is smooth and clean and the window details are discrete. Muntin bars on the corner tower are a regular checkerboard pattern. A decorative band above the entrance is wide and brightly coloured. There is a flat roof with a small black decorative band or parapet finishing the design.

Art Moderne Gas Station

Thunder Bay Ontario

Sault Saint Marie

More than most of the other examples, this public building looks as much like a ship as it does a sports center. The sweeping lines of the façade and the balustrade along the top are reminiscent of an upper deck.

The futuristic tower with fin-like buttresses is also shaped like a steam boat's exhaust. This building really illustrates the Art Moderne roots in modern transportation and streamlining.

Art Moderne Sports Center

Sault Saint Marie Ontario


The facade of this drive-through cleaners is entirely Vitrolite. The window frames and mullions are chrome, and the fascia of the overhang is also chrome. The windows are very large and unadorned.

Art Moderne style arrived with suburbs and the popularity of the family car. There is nothing in this structure that even remotely resembles buildings created prior to the modern age; the walls are bright yellow and green glass, the roof is flat, and the carriageway is chrome.

Drive Through Cleaners

Kitchener Ontario

Sadly Remembered -The De Luxe

Incomparable mid-century modern architecture, this wonderful restaurant was used often for movie shoots. The façade was the original vitrolite and chrome, the materials used in Art Moderne and Art Deco architecture. The vitrolite buildings in Europe are seeing a huge come-back. Sadly this is not the case here. This facade was removed in 2009 to be replaced by... yucky wood.

The signage on these places is also interesting. The signs were not purchased, but rather rented, with a maintenance contract. This gave the owner, who was probably not familiar with the new neon lighting, the ability to keep it under constantly good repair. When the signs went out of fashion, the sign companies often just left them where they were.

Extra Reading and resources for Art Moderne


Blumenson, John. Ontario Architecture A Guide to Styles and Terms. 1978

Kalman, Harold "Domestic Architecture" in A Concise History of Canadian Architecture 2000




Swing Shift



Railing Railing Clock Mullion Entrance Tower Buttress Balustrade Parapet Overhang Signage Cantilevered Marquee Rotunda Bay Window Window Surround Band Band Bay Window Door Surround Window Surround Dripmold or Hoodmold Reveal Roundel Signage Band Bay Window 12 over 12 Sash Windows Band Signage Parapet Sill Port Hole Window Port Hole Window Banding Banding Port Hole Window banding Sash Window Parapet Railing Door Surround Roundel Vitrolite Display Window Jamb Sash Windows Banding Door Surround Band Tower Muntin Band Sill Signage Parapet Mullion Frontispiece Parapet Band Balustrade Parapet Chimney Shutter