Hugh Ferriss and Long-Ago Futures

United Nations, New York, NY – Bird’s-eye perspective looking south. 1947

On a recent trip to the National Building Museum, I encountered a book of drawings by the architectural draftsman Hugh Ferriss, 1889-1962. The name was new to me, but the style was immediately recognizable: Muted, glowing cityscapes, rendered in charcoal, evoking the beauties of classical modernist architecture, as well as memories of a now-vanished future.

Some of his subjects are still around, of course. Ferriss, who was based in New York City, did architectural drawings for many familiar buildings, such as the United Nations and the Hayden Planetarium,

 

Hugh Ferriss, “Preliminary Report to the Hayden Planetarium Authority,” Nov 1941-Feb 1942.

 

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Center of the Center, 1958.

Another depicts a building that he didn’t live to see completed, the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. (The trademark arches are clear, but otherwise the plaza doesn’t bear much resemblance to how it was built, much less how it is today. )

 

With a bit of digging, I found The Metropolis of Tomorrow, Ferriss’ poetic speculations, published in 1929 (in which 2018 must have seemed tomorrow and then some). In a charming introduction, he disclaims any particular prophetic ability, noting that he did these  in his leisure moments, and that they reflect “wondering in drawings” about where then-current architectural trends might lead.

Fascinating to browse (even if some of his utopian visions are a bit totalitarian in character). A full imaginary city takes up the final section of the book, and has  has zones for business, art, science, technology, etc., and a grand tower for philosophy, “where art and science meet.”   You can browse the entire book at the link above.

 

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