Popular between 1890 and 1910, Art Nouveau architecture was a reaction against the eclectic styles which dominated European architecture in the second half of the 19th century. It embraced decorative arts and was inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers, and animals including butterflies, peacocks and swans.
Other hallmarks of the style included asymmetrical facades, decorated with colored tiles and often there was no distinction between the structure and the ornament. To achieve this elaborate look, Art Nouveau designers took advantage of modern technologies that were brought about by the Industrial Revolution.
The architectural style spread from Belgium and France to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain and the rest of Europe, taking on different names and characters in each country. It reached its peak in 1910, and by the beginning of the First World War it was virtually finished. A new style, Art Deco, took its place, which was similarly decorative but it combined modernist styles with fine craftsmanship and rich materials.
Using Street View, join us as we explore the different approaches to Art Nouveau found in buildings that still stand today.
The Hôtel Tassel, Brussels, Belgium
Built by Victor Horta in 1893, the Hôtel Tassel is considered to be the first true Art Nouveau building, because of its highly innovative plan and its groundbreaking use of materials and decoration.
The townhouse consists of three different parts, with two conventional brick and natural stone buildings linked by a steel structure covered with glass. This part functions as a connective space and the glass roof functions as a light shaft that brings natural light into the centre of the building. Horta made the most of his skills as an interior designer in this building and he designed every detail including door handles, woodwork, panels, stained glass windows and mosaic flooring. His work is celebrated because he was able to integrate lavish decoration without masking the architectural structures.
Majolikahaus, Vienna, Austria
Majolikahaus is an apartment building in Vienna, Austria designed by Otto Wagner in 1898. The building epitomizes the most classic details of the Art Nouveau style. The most distinctive feature of the building is the facade which is decorated with small ceramic tiles arranged in floral designs. Other materials used in the exterior include iron and wooden frames for the windows.
Wagner favored rich detail and the architect became well known for his work in the Art Nouveau style. He was often celebrated for his ability to use modern materials yet retain a traditional sense of decoration.
Casa Fenoglio-Lafleur, Turin, Italy
Casa Fenoglio-Lafleur was designed by architect Pietro Fenoglio in 1902 and it became his private residence. Fenoglio’s “home studio” was created to be an aesthetic model of the Art Nouveau style. Its most prominent features are the polychrome glass and intricate wrought iron bow windows, and a sinuous overhang above the terrace.
The building’s history is rich; soon after the building was finished, the architect and his family left the house and sold it to a French businessman named Lafleur. He lived there until his death and it was passed on to La Benefica, an orphanage and charity in Turin. It survived bombing during World War II but then went into a state of disrepair. In the 1990s it was sold to a private client who restored it carefully to its original splendor and now it is home to private residences and some office space.
Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain
Casa Batlló is located in the center of Barcelona and is one of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces. A remodel of a previously built house, it was redesigned in 1904 by the architect. The local name for the building is "Casa des Ossos" (House of Bones) because of the skeletal, organic quality.
The building combines animal shapes, vine-like curves, hints of bone and skeleton combined with glistening colored bits of glazed ceramics and glass. This is Gaudi’s interpretation of Art Nouveau architecture, and as with many of Gaudi’s projects, there is recurring religious imagery. Embedded and semi-concealed in the building are religious images and texts planted in the upper levels of the building, as well as in the small details around the facade.
The Old England Building, Brussels, Belgium
This 1899 former department store is an art-nouveau showpiece with a black facade aswirl with wrought iron and arched windows. Designed by Belgian architect Paul Saintenoy, the building now houses the Museum of Musical Instruments.
The building is an example of a more industrial style of Art Nouveau architecture, with exposed iron and steel being the focus. Other highlights include the octagonal tower on the northwest corner of the building that begins on the fourth floor and is topped with a lacy, steel pergola. The original yellow and orange enameled sign with the old store’s name remains, and it still manages to stick out from the light masonry buildings around it.
The Secession Building, Vienna, Austria
The Secession Building is an exhibition hall built in 1897 by Joseph Maria Olbrich as an architectural manifesto for the Vienna Secession, located in Vienna, Austria. Secession refers to the seceding of a group of rebel artists from the long-established fine art institution.
The building only uses two colours: white and gold. Due to its massive, solid walls, the building looks as though it’s been built using a series of concrete cubes. The most prominent feature of the structure is the dome made out of 3,000 gilt laurel leaves. The laurel was used for its associations with victory, dignity and purity. Most of the original interior was looted during World War II and the building was left in a state until the passion for Viennese Art Nouveau was rediscovered in the 1970s and the pavilion rescued from decay. It now stands as one of the most treasured examples of architecture in Vienna from that time.
Albert Street, Riga, Latvia
Albert Street is a street in central Riga known for its Art Nouveau buildings. It was built in 1901 and named after Bishop Albert who founded Riga in 1201. Many of the apartment buildings along the street were designed by the Russian architect Mikhail Eisenstein, who was particularly active in Riga at the beginning of the 20th century.
The architectural style makes use of structural and decorative elements of romantic nationalism common to northern Europe at the time. Konstantīns Pēkšēns and Eižens Laube, a teacher and his pupil respectively, were prominent in building design on the street at the same time. Other architects of the buildings include Baltic and Baltic-German architects Paul Mandelstamm, Hermann Hilbig and Heinrich Scheel. Since April 2009, the Riga Art Nouveau Museum can be found at number 12 and a handful of institutions are located on the street including the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga and the embassies of Belgium and Ireland.
Gresham Palace, Budapest, Hungary
Gresham Palace can be found in Budapest, Hungary and was completed in 1906 as an office and apartment building; today, it is the luxury Four Seasons Hotel Budapest Gresham Palace. The site was bought in 1880 by London-based Gresham Life Assurance Company, at a time when it was illegal for insurance companies to invest money in stock, but rental income was an acceptable investment.
Originally a neo-classical palace built in 1827 occupied the site, but when the company decided to build its foreign headquarters there, they decided they needed a grander setting. The insurance company commissioned local architects Zsigmond Quittner and Jozsef Vago to design the new structure, and in 1904, they began construction of the Gresham Palace.
Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, Hungary
The Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest is the third oldest applied arts museum in the world. The building was created between 1893 and 1896 and was designed by Ödön Lechner. The structure is intricately decorated inside and out, and was inspired by Hindu, Mogul and Islamic designs.
Its most distinctive feature is its tiled green roof, which gives a pop of color in among the gray surroundings. Despite the grandeur of the building, the museum has been neglected and is now in need of renovations and has since been closed since 2017 for three years of work.
Kirche am Steinhof, Vienna, Austria
Kirche am Steinhof, also called the Church of St Leopold, is the Roman Catholic oratory of the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital in Vienna. The building is another example of Otto Wagner’s work and is considered to be one of the most important Art Nouveau churches in the world. Built between 1903 and 1907, the church is decorated with mosaics and stained glass by Koloman Moser and sculptural angels by Othmar Schimkowitz. The majority of the smaller details present in the building are the work of Wagner himself. As expected, a lot of religious imagery can be found in the ornamental elements such as the large windows that portray seven saints, and the elaborate mosaic that represents the reception of the departed soul into heaven.
In addition to the superfluous details, Wagner incorporated numerous structural features specifically related to its function as an asylum. For instance, there are very few sharp edges and most corners are rounded, almost no crosses are visible, the priest’s area is separate from the patients’, emergency exits were built into the side walls in case a patient needed to be removed, and originally the pews were of different widths to accommodate the needs of different patients.