Woodside architect’s book captures borough’s ‘household treasures’ in photos –


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About ten years ago, a curious architect-photographer from Queens, who had a “weakness” for unusual dwellings – and understood that someone’s home is indeed his castle – embarked on an adventure which turned into a wonderful obsession.

By biking and walking around his beloved neighborhood – where each neighborhood offers its own unique flavor, and where one can see a myriad of styles reflected in homes as diverse as the people who live there – Rafael Herrin -Ferri discovered, and began to take photos of, the surprisingly remarkable “household treasures” of Queens.

The result? An impressive collection with thousands of captivating photographs that recount his incredible odyssey.

“All the Queens Houses: An Architectural Portrait Of New York’s Largest and Most Diverse Borough” was exhibited at the Gallery of the Architectural League of New York office in Manhattan in 2017. The exhibition featured nearly 300 snapshots of “castles” “premises taken from 34 neighborhoods. .

Then, an essential photography book followed.

“All the Queens Houses” is an ongoing photographic project by Woodside-based architect / artist Rafael Herrin-Ferri that examines themes of identity, differentiation and adaptation as expressed in the low-rise housing stock of “World’s Borough”. “(Photo courtesy of Rafel Herrin-Ferri)

“As I got to know ‘World’s Borough’, I was delighted to discover how unorthodox the building stock was. Regardless of socioeconomic status, almost every street in every neighborhood in Queens has a very idiosyncratic residential structure that exhibits great personal, cultural and, in many cases, religious pride. And it became my mission to find them all, ”said Herrin-Ferri.

The book is now available in stores, as well as online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

This is more than your typical photo book, according to its author, which points out that there are 175 short interpretive texts (i.e. extended captions) that detail the history of the houses and place them in the context of Queens, and include architectural history on time.

A house in Ozone Park. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Herrin-Ferri)
A house in Jackson Heights. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Herrin-Ferri)

Readers can also find a scholarly introductory essay by New School professor and renowned town planner Joseph Heathcott, as well as a preface by Herrin-Ferri.

To access every block in the Borough without his own car, the traveling architect – who lives on the border of Sunnyside and Woodside, just east of the Celtic Park Garden Apartment complex – would rely on his faithful folding bike, whether it ‘Take the subway or the Long Island Rail Road or hop in the trunk of a taxi or Zipcar. Neighborhoods more accessible by metro were explored on foot or by skateboard.

“I have always been interested in exploring unknown landscapes. When I was younger, they were mostly natural; now they are more urban. I especially like getting a full picture of the cities I live in, ”said the Spanish-born artist, noting that before moving to New York in 2003, he had“ explored in depth ”the cities of San Francisco and Barcelona, ​​Spain.

As the project progressed, Herrin-Ferri thought about the weather first and foremost, as he spent a good deal of his free time taking pictures on a cloudy day, when there was a chance he starts to rain.

“February and March were the best months for stable cloud cover, [which is] ideal for capturing true colors and architectural details; minimal street tree foliage [so there were] no sheets blocking the facades; and no holiday decorations except Valentine’s Day – not a big party for Queens, ”he recalls.

But if the sun rose – after a long subway ride to his destination – he would have to go home, disappointed.

A house in Elmhurst. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Herrin-Ferri)
A house in Elhurst. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Herrin-Ferri)

Thinking back to those frosty photoshoots, the author recalled those frustrating times when the batteries in his camera and phone suddenly ran out, and he felt like his fingers were frozen.

“Nonetheless, these were some of the best times in surveying, and the times when the ‘mission’ made even more sense,” he said. “For the most part, the people I met who questioned what I was doing were very supportive, even complimentary at times. “

A house in Howard Beach. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Herrin-Ferri)
A house in Wave Crest. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Herrin-Ferri)
A house in Forest Hills. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Herrin-Ferri)

But a few times his actions were misinterpreted and things got a little “hairy,” he recalls.

“Once a guy following me in his car called the cops. On another occasion, an owner, who was also a security guard, physically restrained me, ”said Herrin-Ferri. “In both, I was lucky enough to be able to convince them of my artistic intentions, and they let me go.”

“Overall it was an incredible adventure in one of the most interesting built environments I have ever seen,” he added.

The eclectic house lover spoke about his favorite neighborhood in Queens: Corona. Herrin-Ferri explained that he liked the neighborhood for “its intricate street patterns and its eclectic mix of housing types that have a high concentration of” living balconies “,” that is, furnished balconies that serve also of living room and of dining room outside.

What about his favorite architectural styles? “Painted Tudors, polychrome brick ‘Fedders’ buildings and two-family structures facing Janus,” Herrin-Ferri said.

What Makes Queens Really Special?

“Its great diversity is reflected not only in its food, clothing and religion, but in a wide range of residential structures that this global community calls home,” Herrin-Ferri said. “Many of them – at the small end of the spectrum – are in what appears to be a slow transformation, as the ‘World’s Borough’ continually redefines its identity with waves of immigrants.”

He pointed to “the somewhat austere Northern European architectural styles employed by the original developers (English, German, Dutch)”, which have been modified “to accommodate a global population that values ​​colors, grounds and bold outdoor spaces (no empty balconies in this arrondissement). “

“Besides the physical structures themselves, I also think the urban fabric of Queens is quite unique. Queens is a mosaic of small town centers and villages that have grown together, but the charm of the village is still there, ”said Herrin-Ferri. “The winding roads and changing grid patterns are a nightmare to navigate by car, but give the borough a grand human scale in which it is wonderful to walk, cycle and live.”

The Woodside creator, whose family lives in Ithaca and Valencia, Spain, said he has several friends scattered throughout the borough, but mostly concentrated in western Queens.

Rafael Herrin-Ferri, author of “All the Queens Houses”. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Herrin-Ferri)

Herrin-Ferri said he completed the borough survey in 2020 and was able to work on the book during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What started more in the tradition of urban exploration, or backpacking, led to a meticulous surveying system that allowed me to complete the project in less than 10 years… or my life, can -be, ”said Herrin-Ferri.

He said the pandemic allowed him to focus on his book.

“It has been a blessing in disguise, for the most part. It allowed me to lean in and finish this book project, [which was] seven years of preparation, having a more flexible work schedule and spending quality time with my family during the week, ”said Herrin-Ferri. “If we can one day put this pandemic behind us, I hope it will teach us how to find a better work-life balance. But jumping on the train and the daily interaction with my fellow New Yorkers in Queens and beyond, without masks, I miss very much. This part was horrible.

Prior to this massive project, the multi-talented artist’s work was on display at a local abstract art exhibition at Bliss on Bliss Art Projects in Sunnyside, along with other collage artists from the Philippines. Surprisingly, this “abstract and informal interest” is part of what Herrin-Ferri calls his “aesthetic criteria for photographing houses” and has ignited much of his passion for everything architectural.

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