Art, Astoria
Oct 25, 2017

Exhibit: All the Queens Houses (For You and Me)

The photo exhibit, “All the Queens Houses” is about low-rise architecture in Queens and takes place at The Architectural League of New York in Manhattan until December 15.

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The Astoria Castle in 2008, one of the buildings featured in “All the Queens Houses.”

It’s uncommon for us to highlight something outside of Queens… though in a way you could say that the whole thing takes place inside Queens, too. I’m talking about the “All the Queens Houses” exhibit at The Architectural League of New York in Manhattan (594 Broadway, Suite 607). It’s a group of 237 photographs from an ongoing survey of low-rise architecture in Queens by Spanish-born and Sunnyside-based artist/architect Rafael Herrin-Ferri. I first heard about it via Untapped Cities, and I gotta say—it sounds seriously interesting.

The origins of the exhibit began as a (now defunct) blog called Architecture Happens, where Herrin-Ferri would post photos of all sorts of buildings he saw during his wanderings around NYC. At one point he realized that many of his photos were of Queens and so in 2012 he decided to focus on the borough specifically. He speaks more to the history and process of the project in this 2015 interview with Urban Omnibus.

Why Is Queens Architecture Like This?

Queens in general gets derided for its hodgepodge of architectural styles—as an aside, a coworker once told me, scrunching up his face, that Queens is unappealing “because it has no trees” (a definite falsehood). But as far as the housing stock in the borough goes, Herrin-Ferr finds a reason behind the unique mix, connecting it to the cultural diversity of Queens. He muses on it in the About section of the project’s website.

“To most, these houses will appear to be distasteful, kitschy, ill-proportioned, misshapen, or just plain ugly. There is not one example of classic, well-balanced, architectural beauty in all of the houses shown here. Perhaps the first reason for this is that they are extremely rare in the borough but the more important reason is that, the few that one can find, do not–in the author’s opinion–reflect the evolving everyday, incrementalist spirit of the borough. When so many people from so many cultures with so many different aesthetic preferences co-exist in a tight urban fabric it seems only natural that the streetscape should look like this. For me, these houses represent an “urbanism of tolerance.”

He also links the mix to the “shifting gridded street patterns and the topographic variations of the borough.” Queens started as a collection of small independent villages rather than planned out, like Brooklyn.

The Neighborhood Images Online and In Real Life

His website is filled with digital images and is arranged by neighborhood, going as far east as Jamaica; Astoria and Long Island City are featured. (Do you see your house/building in these photographs?) But as nice as it is to see the photos online, it’s a whole other experience seeing them printed and displayed in a public space. The exhibit at The Architectural League of New York opened on October 20 and goes until December 15. On November 9 at 7pm, there will also be a free talk and reception with Rafael Herrin-Ferri and urban historian and Joseph Heathcott, Associate Professor of Urban Studies at The New School (tickets).

So, if you have a chance, definitely head on over to The Architectural League of New York and check out the exhibit. No doubt it will be a fascinating and informative set of photographs. In the meantime let us ask you this—how do you feel about the architecture in Queens? Do you wish it was something else or do you like it the way it is? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.

About Meg Cotner

Meg Cotner was trained as a harpsichordist and now works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Queens," and is a skilled and avid home cook, baker, and preserver.

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