Avery Drawings & Archives Collections
 

James Rossant papers, 1950s-1990s

Summary Information

Abstract

James Stephan Rossant (1928-2009) was an American architect and urban planner principally active in New York City, working from 1956 until 1967 at the office of Mayer and Whittlesey, from 1967 to 1995 in partnership with William J Conklin, and from 1995 until his death as James Rossant Architects. The collection includes his project records, original and reprographic architectural drawings, professional papers, electronic media, records related to Rossant's teaching and artistic practices, as well as a small number of personal papers of biographical interest.

At a Glance

Bib ID 10574758 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Rossant, James S., 1928-2009
Title James Rossant papers, 1950s-1990s
Physical Description 8 document boxes; 2 print boxes; 577 drawings
Language(s) English
Access

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.

Arrangement

Arrangement

This collection is made up of six series: Series I: Project Records; Series II: Professional Papers; Series III: Academic Papers; Series IV: Personal Papers; Series V: Electronic Media; Series VI: Architectural Drawings.

Description

Scope and content

James Stephan Rossant (1928-2009) was an American architect and urban planner principally active in New York City, working from 1956 until 1967 at the office of Mayer and Whittlesey, from 1967 to 1995 in partnership with William J Conklin, and from 1995 until his death as James Rossant Architects. The collection includes his project records, original and reprographic architectural drawings, professional papers, electronic media, records related to Rossant's teaching and artistic practices, as well as a small number of personal papers of biographical interest.

Architectural projects represented include residential, commercial, institutional, and governmental buildings, as well as urban master-planning exercises, including the widely-published Reston (Virginia) and its "village centers," and a small number of imaginary cities of a speculative or conceptual nature (e.g. "Cities in the Sky"). While the bulk of the collection deals with projects on the east coast of the United States (particularly the New York City and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas), there is extensive documentation of the unrealized National Capital Center in Dodoma, Tanzania, while smaller holdings address built and unbuilt projects in Thimphu, Bhutan; Lagos, Nigeria; and other international sites. The majority of architectural projects are represented by presentation materials (summary documents, photography, presentation drawings, and publications), with a limited quantity of correspondence and office documentation, and a very small number of design-in-progress drawings and sketches. A number of the large-format drawings are signed by James Rossant and support his reputation as a skilled renderer of large-format perspectives. These include ambitious aerial views as well as ground-level vignettes, populated by pedestrians whose diverse demographics, costuming and attitude is typical of the period's shift away from abstracted, universal Modernist figures. James Rossant's work as a painter is represented here only in reproductions (gallery brochures, etc.) The collection may be of particular interest to scholars of East Coast modernist architectural practice from the late 1950s to the early 1990s, and of architects' proposed alternatives to archetypal postwar "sprawl," both in the downtown core and in greenfield suburban development. As well, the holdings related to Dodoma and the "Island City" project in Lagos, Nigeria (dating from the late 1970s and early 1980s) may be of particular interest to scholars of planning in postcolonial, sub-Saharan Africa, following the first wave of post-independence activity.

Substantial quantities of material date from Rossant's employment at Mayer and Whittlesey (later Mayer, Whittlesey and Glass; Whittlesey and Conklin; and briefly Whittlesey Conklin and Rossant), and his long partnership with William J Conklin as Conklin & Rossant or Conklin Rossant Architects (CRA) (1967 to 1995). These different origins are generally not demarcated separately in the collection, as a number of projects overlap the changes in partnership, and individual documents do not consistently indicate the specific office of record. The collection was reorganized into the six series. These do not reflect any filing system used by Rossant, apart from certain of the professional papers and most of the Dodoma holdings, for which it was possible to maintain some existing folder-level grouping of material. A note in the accession file (not part of the collection) suggests that some quantity of material was shredded by a storage company during the recession of the mid-1970s. This, together with the later separation of Rossant's and Conklin's practices, may account for the varying degrees of coverage and richness from project to project.

  • Series I: Project Records

    Series I is organized alphabetically by project name. Project records typically include one or more summary sheets and some form of photographic representation (primarily photographic prints and/or 35mm slides of drawings, model photography and views of completed structures). A small number of projects lack summary documentation, and appear only as slides or printed drawings; many have more extensive files including various correspondence, publication clippings, printed drawings, promotional materials, etc. With the partial exception of the National Capital Center in Dodoma, projects are not documented with extensive incremental notes, sketches, client correspondence, etc.

  • Series II: Professional Papers

    Series II includes various promotional brochures and résumés listing and illustrating the work of Rossant's firms, with the majority stemming from the Conklin & Rossant era. Also included are documents relating to Rossant's participation in commissions and professional organizations, and essays and lectures Rossant published or presented in his capacity as an architect, concerning general themes on architecture and urbanism, or surveying the firm's work as a whole. Texts concerning specific projects are generally found in Project Records.

  • Series III: Academic Papers

    Series III includes several folders covering James Rossant's teaching at Harvard University, New York University, and especially Pratt Institute, organized by institution, then by course or project. Also included is a small amount of correspondence and documentation relating to hiring and faculty issues at these institutions, and the contents of two binders, "Cities" and "Cities Plans Slides II." These last total 1,200 35mm slides, and likely comprise some portion of the contents of Rossant's long-running courses on the history and design of cities.

  • Series IV: Personal Papers

    Series IV covers material distinct from Rossant's professional and teaching careers. An incomplete selection of his student work (1946-1952) includes keepsakes as well as incomplete student notebooks from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in the early 1950s. Otherwise, the bulk of this series deals with Rossant's output as a fine artist, including gallery correspondence, resumes, brochures, reproductions of his designs for imaginary cities, and some miscellaneous sketches and cartoons. Also included are the contents of a binder of Asian travel photography and a handful of letters (including personal correspondence and non-architectural letters to businesses and publications) which offer biographical insight into James Rossant's life, interests, and personality.

  • Series V: Electronic Media

    Series V includes mixed digital and filmic media, and is principally comprised of 5.25" floppy diskettes and CD-ROMs, the labels of which indicate project records and office files, chiefly from the 1980s and 1990s. For a small number of projects dating from the 1990s and 2000s, including the World Trade Center site competition, the Dim Sum Go Go Restaurant, and the children's book "The Little Blue Duck," the CD-ROM collection appears to comprise the primary or sole form of documentation in the archive. One 16mm film reel and one VHS tape are also included.

  • Series VI: Architectural Drawings

    Series VI contains 577 large-format original and reprographic architectural drawings, organized alphabetically by project name.

Using the Collection

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.

Conditions Governing Use

Columbia University is providing access to the materials in the Library's collections solely for noncommercial educational and research purposes. The unauthorized use, including, but not limited to, publication of the materials without the prior written permission of Columbia University is strictly prohibited. All inquiries regarding permission to publish should be submitted in writing to the Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.

Related Materials

Extensive documentation of the planning and construction of Reston, Virginia can be found in Special Collections and Archives of George Mason University (Fairfax, VA), in the Conklin and Rossant Reston project collection, part of the Planned Community Archives Collection.

Materials relating to the master-planning of Dodoma can be found in the Macklin Hancock/Project Planning Associates collection, within the Centre for Canadian Landscape Architecture holdings at the University of Guelph Library in Guelph, Ontario.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Addison Godel, Graduate Intern, under the supervision of Shelley Hayreh, Avery Archivist, in 2017.

Revision Description

2019-04-19 File created.

2019-05-29 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Subject

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Architects -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Africa -- Designs and plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Designs and plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Study and teaching Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
City planning -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Planned communities -- Designs and plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Urban renewal Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical sketch

James Stephan Rossant was born in 1928 in New York City. He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1946, then attended Columbia University for one year before receiving his Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Florida in 1950. He enrolled at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, with the support of recent graduate Paul Rudolph, and received his Masters in City and Regional Planning in 1953. In 1956, following a brief tenure at the office of Gino Valle in Udine, Rossant began a long tenure in the firm of Albert Mayer and Julian Whittlesey, becoming a partner in 1967. Later the same year, he co-founded the successor firm of Conklin & Rossant (later Conklin Rossant Architects or CRA) with William J Conklin; this partnership lasted until 1995, when Rossant and Conklin each founded eponymous sole proprietorships.

Among the significant architectural projects in which he participated are the planning of the "new town" of Reston, Virginia and its first Village Center; the unrealized plans for a National Capital Center in Dodoma, Tanzania; and the Myriad Botanical Garden in Oklahoma City. Rossant was particularly active in his home city, with noteworthy New York projects including planning and design concepts for the Lower Manhattan Plan (including unrealized early versions of Battery Park City), the influential Butterfield House apartments, the Metro North Riverview housing and school complex, Brooklyn's Cadman Towers, and his own SoHo townhouse, among others. Throughout much of the same period he was also active as a teacher at several institutions, including a long affiliation with Pratt Institute, and as a member of the Arts Commission of the City of New York, among other organizations. His parallel production of imaginary cities, realized in drawings and paintings including the "Cities in the Sky" series, received attention through a number of gallery exhibitions and a segment on the CNN television program "Future Watch."

While his work included houses, apartment buildings, religious buildings and other smaller-scale institutional commissions, the architectural press and Rossant's own reflections on his work emphasize his contributions as a master-planner of larger-scale urban compositions. The collection's holdings of his work in this category offer excellent distillations of wider trends in postwar North American Modernist practice. Most famously, in the "new town" of Reston, Virginia, designed in the early 1960s, Rossant and his collaborators combined a Modernist architectural language with garden-city principles, an enthusiasm for European plazas, and the street-oriented, high-density urban townhouse living championed by Jane Jacobs and other critics of orthodox Modernist planning. Similar concerns are reflected in various built and unbuilt designs from the 1960s and 1970s, including the Lower Manhattan studies, Metro North Riverview, the Bronx's Lavanburg Community, Baltimore's Old Town, postal-worker towns in Florida, and the Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia. The collection also offers windows into other trends in Modernist urbanism, particularly the use of large-scale climate-controlling envelopes, seen in a competition entry for Regina; the Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City; and most dramatically, a set of geodesic domes (in the manner of Richard Buckminster Fuller) enclosing downtown Poughkeepsie.

By the 1980s, likely reflecting a shift in available funding streams and commissions, Conklin and Rossant's planning work was more often for private residential communities on suburban sites. These lesser-known projects (such as the Admiralty, Eagle Chase, the Hamlet on Spring Pond, and the Villas Lucania) often retain the Reston-era interest in "clusters" of townhouse-type housing units. Around the same time, two unbuilt projects in African cities – the "Island City" expansion in Lagos, Nigeria and the civic and commercial centers for Dodoma, Tanzania – indicate a further shift towards an urbanism of figural outdoor spaces, linked together as an unfolding series of pedestrian experiences; these might also be seen as reflecting the influence of landmark Postmodern works like Rowe & Koetter's Collage City (1978), Rob Krier's Stadtraum (1975), and Charles Moore's Kresge College (circa 1966-1974). Several of the later building-scale projects (such as the Jericho Jewish Center, the Mason Pavilion, and the "Tempietto" addition to Rossant's own house) similarly appear to engage with Postmodern design tendencies.

In 1955, James Rossant married the gourmet Colette Palacci, later a teacher, restaurateur, and prolific cookbook author. They would remain wed until James Rossant's death; details of their life together can be found in Colette Rossant's series of culinary memoirs, particularly The World in My Kitchen: The Adventures of a (Mostly) French Woman in America (New York: Atria Books, 2007). They had four children: the educator Marianne Rossant, the architect and novelist Cécile Niemitz-Rossant, the culinary journalist Juliette Rossant, and the architect Tomas Rossant (today a design partner with Ennead Architects, successor to the firm of James Rossant's New York peer James Stewart Polshek). In 2007, James Rossant approached Avery Drawings & Archives concerning the possibility of donating his architectural papers and drawings in order to "assure their future." Following his death in 2009, the collection was transferred to Avery.