All the Queens Houses is an ongoing photography project by architect/artist Rafael Herrin-Ferri looking at the themes of identity, differentiation, and adaptation as expressed in the low-rise housing stock of the New York City borough of Queens. This includes row-housing, semi-detached two-family houses, detached single-family houses of the early twentieth century, and more contemporary three to five-story apartment buildings on small lots. It is an attempt to reflect the incredible diversity of the borough’s population through its built environment.
What prompted the project?
The “comic” character of the Queens. Not in a LOL manner, but one that seemed to reflect a broad spectrum of the “human experience”. While the other iconic boroughs of New York (Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx) are contained by more rigid forms of urban planning, and filled with imposing and elegant residential buildings, Queens is a jumble of housing types, architectural styles, and creative alterations that boggle the mind. All the Queens Houses was born out of a desire to discover all these wonderfully idiosyncratic structures—hence the title—and put them together in a way that would reveal the distinctive vernaculars.
What informed the choice of Instagram and website as as outlets for this?
I created the website for more archival/academic reasons. To be able to classify, categorize, and sort the vast amounts of photos I was accumulating and to get some perspective on the project. The photos are organized in grids so as to compare typologies and encourage analysis. The Instagram account reflects more the “experience of Queens” in the way that one is surprised by the built environment on a daily basis.
How do these two operate? are they interdependent?
Not really, they are two different animals. As described in the previous question, one is systematic and the other is more freewheeling.
What is your take on social media platforms as Instagram?
It’s great for following interesting accounts and getting feedback on my own but I worry sometimes it’s a bit too much like snacking, forced snacking. And the snacks are so different in flavor that it can be hard to digest. I guess people have different accounts for different interests but if everything is together then it is hard to walk away with something meaningful sometimes. Nevertheless, I do appreciate how democratic it is and that people are enthusiastic about sharing their opinions
How and to what extent have they had an effect on the way we perceive and consume the built environment?
On the positive side, I think we are exposed to more of the built environment than we were previously. That is largely what my account is about—appreciating the unique moments of the everyday built environment that surrounds us. But I do worry that too much exposure could make us numb to it and therefore lose interest. With important works of architecture this is particularly dangerous because we can consume the same few images of the project and not get a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts driving the design by since they are usually not accompanied by analytical drawings. If I think of how we used to casually “consume” architecture, it was through books and magazines lying around the office, or at school, or at home, that you would sit down with for an extended period of time and truly absorb. Now I feel like we are watching it go by on a fast-moving train.
What informs your selection of images?
Buildings that offer a unique interpretation or transformation of traditional architectural typologies.
Where are these sourced?
All the photographs are from my personal surveys. (Since 2013)
What role does the caption hold?
First, to provide some basic info (neighborhood and date taken). Second, to state my central focus behind the photo. And third, to highlight the humorous aspect of the structure, if one exists in my opinion.
How important is this in relation to the image?
I never thought it was that important but for a lot of people it seems to complete the picture. Some people even appreciate it as much as the image. One of my favorite comments was: “captions as good as the photos” (thanks @johannagoodman).
What was your most popular image? And why?
A small condo from Whitestone titled “Red Panel Banners and Fieldstone Spandrels”. I am not sure why this was the most popular, but I assume it is the quasi-abstrast/graphic nature of the façade. I do believe that people enjoy these “cross-over” moments when architecture looks like other media—abstract painting in this case.
Is there a curatorial strategy which unfolds through time?
To represent the tremendous variety of housing styles in Queens, I like to alternate typologies, scales, materials, and colors across the posts. This is an amplified version of the experience one has walking the streets in Queens.
Where do you see this developing within the next 10 years?
I like to think of this phase of the project as the “data collection” phase. My goal is to complete all of my field surveys in the coming year and then begin a formal analysis of the houses and research the demographic component. Hopefully, I will be able to find enough home owners willing to share their experiences—I have had a few very kind ones so far—that I can include biographic and cultural info as well.