Saturday, May 22, 2021

Keeping Cool in Miami: Art Deco


Sherri Stewart

Have you ever been to South Florida in the summer when the air conditioning system breaks down? I have. In the middle of the night, we stood outside under a hose trying to cool off. I was miserable, which made me wonder—how did people in Florida manage to keep cool before there was air conditioning? One answer: Art Deco.

The Art Deco hotels of South Beach have brought vacationers and celebrities to its beaches and restaurants since the Roaring Twenties, although the hotels suffered a decline between the sixties and the eighties when residents couldn’t keep up with the high cost of maintenance, and unsavory types hung out on the streets. Think Scarface. However, South Beach enjoyed a rebirth when Miami Vice was filmed in the area and fashion designer Versace moved into a mansion on Ocean Drive. 


Most of the Art Deco buildings in Miami were built during the 1930s and 1940s and were considered to be part of the second wave of Art Deco known as Streamline Moderne. With tropical seaside influences, Miami’s Art Deco buildings were characterized by pastel colors, floral and aquatic embellishments, and nautical designs reminiscent of ocean liners. However, Art Deco had another purpose before the invention of air conditioning: to keep its people cool. Here are a few of Art Deco characteristics that are both aesthetic and functional.

The Law of Three: Hotels were often three stories tall and the facades were divided into three. In truth, most buildings were limited to three stories because city codes at the time required anything higher to have an elevator, a considerable construction and maintenance cost. However, we all know that heat rises, so the shorter the building, the cooler its occupants.

 White Facades with Pastel Highlights: Although the shapes of the buildings were geometric, the palettes of the buildings were meant to reflect the environment they existed in: clouds, water, and flora. Of course, we know that dark colors absorb more heat than light colors, so the lighter pastels kept folks cool before air conditioning was de rigeur

Eyebrows: Horizontal blocks of reinforced concrete above each window that seemed like unfinished balconies were essential to the compositional movement of Art Deco. More importantly, eyebrows provided shade over each window to block the sun, which kept rooms cooler.

Terrazzo Floors: If you ask politely, the hotel staffs will often let you step into their lobbies to appreciate the geometric terrazzo floor patterns. But terrazzo has a cool function. Standing on one such floor in your bare feet will cool you off in no time.

 Windowed Corners: While ocean breezes helped to cool down things, sometimes the hotels were too far from the ocean to benefit from the breeze. Art Deco architects created corners, so residents could open up windows to create cross breezes on each side.

Talcum powder, paper fans, and glasses of iced tea helped many a Southern belle keep cool, but the relentless heat and glare of the south Florida sun required extra help to keep its patrons from becoming overheated. Art Deco was cool in more ways than one. 


Sherri Stewart loves a clean novel, sprinkled with romance and a strong message that challenges her faith. She spends her working hours with books—either editing others’ manuscripts or writing her own. Her passion is traveling to the settings of her books and sampling the food. She loves the Netherlands, and she’s still learning Dutch, although she doesn’t need to since everyone speaks perfect English. A recent widow, Sherri lives in Orlando with her lazy dog, Lily. She shares recipes, tidbits of the book’s locations, and pix in her newsletter. Subscribe at

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  1. Thanks for the post! I never realized the different facets of Art Deco architecture before this, I just thought people with too much money were being fancy! Thanks for researching this!

  2. What a fascinating post! Although unversed on all the style names and eras, I love looking at different architecture. Thanks for sharing.

  3. It's a unique style, a rebellion against the stuffiness of Victorian