Architecture in the diverse arrondissement


Photo: Rafael Herrin-Ferri, courtesy of Jovis

When Rafael Herrin-Ferri and his wife moved from Manhattan to Sunnyside about 12 years ago, he began to notice how eccentric the buildings were on his walks around his new neighborhood: a square apartment turned 45 degrees by Compared to the downstairs grocery store, Tudors laid out like candy-coated gingerbread houses and a sky-blue two-story house wedged between two brick warehouses. The more he saw, the more his curiosity grew, until he traded his iPhone camera for a point-and-shoot and methodically documented the houses that caught his eye. He traveled every street in the 108 square mile Borough, mostly by bike and skateboard, but occasionally using Google Street View. “My friends told me, ‘You are on an urban reconnaissance mission,’ but I don’t think it’s that militaristic,” Herrin-Ferri says. It is almost the opposite: an archive in love with the particular, banal, often completely enchanting houses of a district which are not sufficiently appreciated by the world of design.

Herrin-Ferri’s obsessed hobby is now a book, All the Queen’s Houses, which is available from the German publisher Jovis. Like a guide, it’s divided into neighborhoods, offering what Herrin-Ferri calls “an architectural snapshot of New York’s largest and most diverse neighborhood.”

Photo: courtesy of the publisher

What exactly, is The architecture of the queens? As Herrin-Ferri learned during his quest to find the most interesting homes in Queens, naming a “Queens vernacular” is a near impossible feat. These homes, often single-family homes and duplexes, display an eclecticism that is difficult to categorize. There is no equivalent in Queens to a Victorian from San Francisco, a Brownstone from Brooklyn, or a chicago gray stone. Part of this is because Queens has never been a single city like Brooklyn once was. As Joseph Heathcott, a New School professor, writes in the book’s introduction, his history of colonialism, immigration, and real estate development has shaped the housing stock in a unique way compared to the rest of New York City. .

When Queens merged with New York City in the late 19th century, it was mostly farmhouses and rural villages. Only 150,000 people lived there in 1900, compared to over a million in Kings County. Then the rise of the Robert Moses road network, along with the declaration by the Queens Chamber of Commerce in 1920 that it would become “the home district”, laid the foundation for its character today. While some housing reformers have built large-scale projects like Sunnyside Gardens and the Garden City-inspired co-ops in Jackson Heights, the borough is mostly made up of single-family homes. Developers who bought small plots of land for planned communities like Rego Park, or who quickly built a few houses on one block, really made the borough what it is. “It is this very characteristic of Queens – the modest home – that has been the key to its rapid growth and tremendous social diversity,” writes Heathcott.

Over time, the modesty of the Queens house has lent itself to adaptation, customization and even wholesale rebuilding. This is what charmed Herrin-Ferri the most about the houses he encountered. “You have to have an acquired taste,” he says. “I am a professional architect and have worked with design companies all my life. These houses are the flip side of all these aesthetic rules. You see the rules broken or reversed, but what is behind it is the basic instinct to animate a home that you are proud of and that suits your lifestyle. These are very honest expressions. He explained to us some of his favorite recurring typologies from the book.

Modified Tudors

“Between Laurelton and Saint Albans in South East Queens, much of the Tudor housing stock has been altered. Along with the glued canopies and decorative panels, it’s the paint job on this Tudor townhouse in Laurelton that gives it a new character. Sometimes he confuses property lines. There are a lot of syncope going on. One in three homes will have something painted red or blue. It is a daily palette of everyday paint materials and colors. They are almost like a male version of the Painted Ladies of San Francisco.

Victorians dressed in vinyl

“Many Italian-style homes from the early 1900s were covered with vinyl siding, which is more affordable than repairing the original woodwork. The effect is a kind of “ghost” of the old handcrafted facade, as in this Astoria house built in 1901 and recently renovated in 1977.


“This style is found more in the eastern neighborhoods, which are more suburban than western Queens. You will see lots of stucco, color blocks and mansions built since 2000 with Mediterranean style facades. I called this house, built in Little Neck in 1945 and renovated in 2016, the “Pink Brick Capricci”. caprice is an architectural fantasy found in Renaissance and Baroque paintings.) “Everything you find in a Mediterranean palace is compressed into this imprint. It crashes. “

This Mediterranean stucco in Ozone Park was built in 1930 and renovated in 1957 and 1976.

Food buildings

“It’s a derogatory nickname for small, budget multi-family structures that have wall-mounted air conditioners (where the name comes from) and were built mostly in the 2000s. They’re all over Queens and Brooklyn too. . They have a nice ladder that just helps provide a lot of variety along the street, and they usually cut off a flyer. I like them urbanistically rather than architectural because they have a little more open space between the street and the frontage. This one is in Queensboro Hill.

Polychrome brick

“What I called the ‘Holy Zebra House’ in Ridgewood is one of my favorites. I posted it on Instagram and a friend commented, “If I lived here I would knit a matching sweater. William Butterfield, a Gothic Revival architect, resurrected decorative masonry, which was originally Venetian, and received the nickname “Holy Zebra” because of it. He used a technique called “changing layers,” which uses diamond patterns to fill gaps in a wall, much like what’s happening here. There is also a connection with Persian, Arab and Islamic traditions.

Queen Anne cartoons

“Here you have what was once a pretty elaborate and expensive house in Richmond Hill. It is now greatly simplified. You have a porch that has this red stone pattern and airy flat lattice columns. The hanging corner tower now has a stucco finish. This reflects the slow evolution of maintenance and renovations.

Two-family suburbs

“You get a lot of two-family homes that are split down the middle but are slightly different on either side. One of the most common but neglected types of housing is the suburban two-family. This one is at Wave Crest.

Pictures: Rafael Herrin-Ferri; courtesy of Jovis

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