Hillier's coinage was important. It lent a legitimacy to a gamut of idioms that were not so much ignored as wilfully overlooked. And it grouped together those idioms in a sort of rewrite of history. Pharaonic kitsch and proto-minimalism, Vitrolite facades and austere sun-decks, Raymond Loewy and Rob Mallet-Stevens were treated as though they belonged to the same "school": so long as it was made/forged/designed/built between 1918 and 1939 and was not evidently retrospectively classical or a survival of the arts-and-crafts movement, well, it must be art deco. Hillier made us look at our surrounds with a fresh eye, with his eye.
My mother, who had grown up with art deco, thought I had, at best, taken leave of my taste when I told her of my new-found enthusiasm for eau-de-nil and Crittall windows. At worst she thought I was smoking dope: how otherwise to explain this aesthetic bereavement? Certainly there is a strain of art deco that is hallucinatory, whose irrationality is dreamlike. And what kind of dream would that be? Evidently a qualitatively different dream from one prompted by the laudanum that William Burges liberally dosed himself with in the 1860s, the dream that he made material at Cardiff Castle and Castel Coch. And a dream that was, crucially, susceptible to current fashions: Burges merely exaggerated those fashions, and that's it. No matter how you try to alter your perceptions you cannot escape your era – both the era that fabricates and the era that, 30 years later, looks back to it. We, now, look back to art deco from the same distance as that age looked back to the overwrought gothicism of Burges' time. The difference is that we look back from an age of architectural reason. Where is the hallucinatory architecture of today?
Do we create better buildings through sobriety? I doubt it … But we don’t need to scramble our brains
Do we create better buildings through sobriety? I rather doubt it. But the lack of sobriety I'm referring to is not necessarily the result of psychotropics. We can achieve the irrational without that catalyst.
We don't need to scramble our brains. The Move, touchingly, admitted that "we got psychedelicised on lager and sandwiches". Much art deco is kitsch rather than camp. It is almost unwittingly vulgar: the gap between what it aspires to and what it achieves is laughable. When it's camp – that is, knowing – it is enjoyable. Of course, one person's kitsch is another person's camp …