The Art of Hugh Ferriss

Hugh Ferriss (1889 – 1962) was an American delineator (one who creates drawings and sketches of buildings) and architect. After his death a colleague said he ‘influenced my generation of architects’ more than any other man. Ferriss also influenced popular culture, for example Gotham City (the setting for Batman) and Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

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In 1916, New York City had passed landmark zoning laws that regulated and limited the massing of buildings according to a formula. The reason was to counteract the tendency for buildings to occupy the whole of their lot and go straight up as far as was possible. Since many architects were not sure exactly what these laws meant for their designs, in 1922 the skyscraper architect Harvey Wiley Corbett commissioned Ferriss to draw a series of four step-by-step perspectives demonstrating the architectural consequences of the zoning law. These four drawings would later be used in his 1929 book The Metropolis of Tomorrow. This book illustrated many conte crayon sketches of tall buildings. Some of the sketches were theoretical studies of possible setback variations within the 1916 zoning laws. Some were renderings for other architect’s skyscrapers. And at the end of the book was a sequence of views in Manhattan emerged in an almost Babylonian guise.

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