Here at VanDam we’re experimenting with new ways of looking at and rendering the metropolis. Buildings. Skyline. Skyscape.

The metropolis exists on paper as graphic design before it becomes reality. As a designer and cartographer I’ve been influenced in my thinking about the rendering of cities and their architecture by a guy named Hugh Ferriss who was known as a delineator. By the skillful manipulation of shadow and light he created the iconic images which became Gotham City – later the playground of Batman.

When a zoning code was passed in 1916 to control the mass and bulk of new buildings – counteracting the tendency for architects to design buildings that filled the whole lot with a structure that would go as high as possible, — Ferriss was hired by the RPA to visualize this new zoning envelope. RPA, the Regional Plan Association, is a private planning and advocacy agency that has shaped the grand design of the metropolitan area. It’s regional plan of 1929 for the NYC metro area was the blueprint for Robert Moses remaking of the region.

After 9/11, the RPA commissioned me to produce an animated film to envision the re-building of lower manhattan from a public transportation perspective. We visualized a new transit hub, predicting uncannily the design that would eventually be approved. But the film’s primary purpose was to serve as a fundraising tool for Congress. According to Bob Yaro, the RPA’s chief it succeeded beyond expectations when Congress wrote a $4.5 billion check for transportation improvements.

Although not an architect himself, Ferris influenced generations of designers by his iconic renderings of buildings and the very cityscape itself. During the 1920’s his work became more moody. He often depicted buildings back lit or at night lit by spotlights or in fog, creating haunting images of the city. Ferris’ drawings for the RPA created the very idea of Gotham. And I find his visualization as haunting today as they were when first conceived.

His imaginary renderings of a modern city skyscape envioned skyscrapers with setbacks, terraces and gardens imagining the new modern environment for a new urban elite.
His drawings influenced future comic books and the iconography of the city as stage set emerges from that.

“Manhattanism is conceived in Ferriss’s womb,” proclaimed Rem Koolhaas in his 1978 book, Delirious New York.

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