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At a Glance
Scope and Contents
Roger Cesare Ferri (1949-1991) was an American architect, painter, and designer, principally active in New York City. This collection includes Ferri's project records, original and reprographic architectural drawings, paintings and sketches, professional papers, and very limited miscellaneous personal documents and items. Design projects represented include upscale residential and commercial buildings, some institutional buildings, several designs for furniture and household objects, and the unbuilt proposal for a "Pedestrian City." The majority of projects are represented by presentation materials, sketches, and/or studies, with some featuring more extensive sets of construction drawings, and limited quantities of client correspondence. Ferri's work as a painter is chiefly represented through individual renderings of architectural projects; the great majority of his paintings are in the possession of family, friends, and private buyers.
In architectural and stylistic terms, the collection should be of considerable interest as documentation of a particular strain of renewed Classicism and organicism, within the larger stylistic development recognized as Postmodernism. Ferri was conversant with other Postmodern developments and figures, and contributed to the architecture of the New Urbanist showpiece of Seaside, Florida. However, the characterization of Postmodernist incompletely captures his sensibility. On the one hand, Ferri displayed an earnest, passionate enthusiasm for Classical techniques and subjects such as the male nude, versus the dominant mode of ironic parody and pastiche. On the other hand, notwithstanding his fine-arts training under Robert Beverly Hale and the Classical religious painter Frank Mason, Ferri's work differentiates itself from more strictly academic and historicist practices by his joyful embrace of bright tones, a pastel palette, invented ornamental details, and idiosyncratic personal motifs (particularly the dolphin). This unique position was recognized at the time, for example by Paolo Portoghesi in a 1988 introduction to Ferri's work in the journal Eupalino.
In addition to classicism, Ferri was strongly inclined towards formal organicism and biomorphic motifs, and the collection should be of interest to those studying pre-digital approaches for incorporating natural forms into architectural design (e.g. the work of Louis Sullivan and Antoni Gaudí). Ferri's approach in this sense returned not to classical form, but to the putative classical method of studying natural form and deriving ornament therefrom. Examples can be seen in the floral, arboreal and vegetal motifs of the Pedestrian City, the Lutèce Garden Room, Grace Plaza, the Tandy Center, the covered court in the Sarasota Triangle, and the House in Ligonier, as well as the dolphin-form elements in the Tokyo Regent Park Hotel and the V'Soske Rug. The more vaguely biomorphic qualities of his flatware and furniture design almost appear to anticipate digital practices like those of Zaha Hadid and Greg Lynn.
These naturalistic tendencies parallel Ferri's interest in the "reintegration" of society with nature through design more generally, an essentially Modernist theme seen clearly in his desire to master-plan the urban environment to ensure aesthetic and social harmony. Thus, the collection should also prove useful to scholars of ideal cities, and of efforts to unify "human" and "natural" settings. In this vein, the unbuilt, quasi-arcadian Pedestrian City (perhaps Ferri's most widely-published work in his lifetime) suggests a continuation of the utopian impulse of Modernism. While evidently belonging to the tradition of pedestrian-scaled, greenbelt-set towns including Ebenezer Howard's Garden City, the work of the Regional Planning Association, and Paolo Soleri's Arcologies, the Pedestrian City addresses several concerns unique to its moment, most notably an early recognition of the link between automobile use and environmental degradation, echoed in Ferri's reference to "climate change" in the 1987 essay "Architecture of Reintegration." Salutary contact with the natural landscape recurs in several schemes incorporating full-height trees in high-rise buildings - the Spiral Tower, the Station Square Luxury Apartments, and the early and dramatically collaged Madison Square skyscraper.
The most extensively-documented projects include very high-end detached houses and Manhattan apartments, and may be of interest to scholars investigating this niche of the architectural profession. As Ferri's client base and social circle included several scions of well-established East Coast families (who generally arranged to remain anonymous in publications of the work), this work may also be of interest to those studying the culture of what was, in the late 1980s, popularly known as the "lifestyle of the rich and famous." This work represents a substantial branch of the period's architectural practice, easily overlooked in histories of formal avant-gardes and highly visible public buildings. Even in his more speculative projects, such as the Pedestrian City and the Madison Square skyscraper, Ferri addressed himself pragmatically to wealthy individuals and profit-minded developers. Appropriately, these projects saw publication not only in architectural journals but in mass-market venues such as the Wall Street Journal, Tatler, and Financial Times.
Using the Collection
Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Conditions Governing 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several large-format items which arrived in tandem with the material in this collection were, in the course of collection processing, transferred to Avery Art Properties to ensure adequate storage and conservation. These included: Cartoon of V'Soske Rug #1. (C00.1801.01); Model of a Dolphin Capital for the Dai-Ichi Bay Hotel, Tokyo (C00.1801.03); Sassafras Grove, Pedestrian City (C00.1801.02)
The Museum of Modern Art holds several ink, pastel and colored-pencil works, relating to the Pedestrian City project and "Nude in the Garden" study.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
This collection was processed by Addison Godel, Graduate Intern, under the supervision of Shelley Hayreh, Avery Archivist, in 2018.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
Roger Ferri was born in 1949 and was raised in Wantagh, Long Island. Following some early fine-arts training, he enrolled at Pratt Institute in 1967. Following his graduation with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1972, he worked for several New York architectural practices (Prentice and Chan, Olhausen; Gruzen & Partners; Steven J. Bass; Richard Metzner) before founding his first firm, Roger C. Ferri & Associates, in 1977. He received additional instruction as a painter from 1978-1982 at the Art Students League of New York, in the studios of Robert Beverly Hale and Frank Mason. From 1984 to 1986 he was employed as a design principal at the large corporate firm of Welton Becket Associates (WBA). From 1987 until his death from complications of AIDS in 1991, he practiced as Roger C. Ferri Architect. Further biographical and bibliographical detail can be found in the exhibition catalogue Roger Ferri: Architectural Visionary (Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, 2002).
Roger Ferri had become acquainted with the Avery Drawings & Archives and its longtime curator Janet Parks in the mid-1980s, when he taught as an adjunct professor of architecture at Columbia University. He made extensive efforts to organize his papers before his passing, and left instructions to the architectural historian Colin Amery to make final arrangement for their preservation. In 1992, an agreement was made to deposit these materials in Avery Drawings & Archives; Ferri's business partner Maurice Saragoussi undertook additional work to organize and label many of the drawings before the bulk of the collection was deposited at Avery that year.