Moderne Style 1930 - 1950


The Moderne style (sometimes called the Art Moderne style) is closely related to the Art Deco style which developed just before it. Both are part of the Modern Movement in architecture, a conscious break with traditional design in pursuit of a new aesthetic free from the styles and forms of the past. Both the Art Deco style and the Moderne style are sometimes referred to as "Modernistic" for this reason, although the two styles are of distinctly different appearance. The Art Deco style with its smoothly finished wall surfaces and distinctive ornamentation of chevrons, zigzags and other geometrical motifs, led to the development of a new, more streamlined, less ornamented style of architecture, the Moderne style of the 1930s. Influenced by advancements in the industrial design of ships, planes, railroad engines and automobiles, the Moderne style featured smooth walls with little surface ornamentation, rounded corners and curved glass. Moderne buildings have flat roofs, and bands of windows with a horizontal emphasis. Some buildings of this style have simple pipe balustrades, panels of glass block windows, curved canopies, or aluminum or stainless steel detailing.

The Moderne style is not widely represented in Pennsylvania or the country in general. It enjoyed a relatively brief period of popularity and was quickly eclipsed by the development of the International style for large commercial buildings. Its curvilinear form makes it easy to spot and most surviving examples served commercial or public purposes. Residential Moderne buildings, especially single houses are more rarely seen.

Common Building Types

  • commercial buildings and offices
  • public buildings
  • theaters, gas stations
  • apartment buildings
  • houses

Identifiable Features

  1. Smooth wall surface, usually stucco
  2. Flat roof
  3. Horizontal emphasis
  4. Curved corners or windows
  5. Aluminum or stainless steel detailing


Click the thumbnails for larger images.

Board of Education Building, Philadelphia County

1900 Rittenhouse Square Apartments, Philadelphia County

Joseph H. Brown School, Philadelphia County

Warner Theater, Erie County

West Chester Theater, Chester County