Hugh Ferriss (1889 – 1962) was an American delineator (one who creates perspective drawings of buildings) and architect. According to Daniel Okrent, Ferriss never designed a single noteworthy building, but after his death a colleague said he 'influenced my generation of architects' more than any other man. Ferriss also influenced popular culture, for example Gotham City (the setting for Batman) and Kerry Conran's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
Ferriss was trained as an architect at Washington University in his native St. Louis, Missouri, but, early in his career, began to specialize in creating architectural renderings for other architects' work rather than designing buildings himself. As a delineator, his task was to create a perspective drawing of a building or project. This was done either as part of the sales process for a project, or, more commonly, to advertise or promote the project to a wider audience. Thus, his drawings frequently were destined for annual shows or advertisements. As a result of this his works were often published (rather than just given to the architect’s client) and Ferriss acquired a reputation. After he had set up as a free-lance artist he found himself much sought after.
In 1912, Ferriss arrived in New York City and was soon employed as a delineator for Cass Gilbert. Some of his earliest drawings are of Gilbert’s Woolworth Building; they reveal that Ferriss’s illustrations had not yet developed his signature dark, moody appearance. In 1915, with Gilbert’s blessing, he left the firm and set up shop as an independent architectural delineator. In 1914, Ferriss married Dorothy Laphan, an editor and artist for Vanity Fair.
By 1920, Ferriss had begun to develop his own style, frequently presenting the building at night, lit up by spotlights, or in a fog, as if photographed with a soft focus. The shadows cast by and on the building became almost as important as the revealed surfaces. He had somehow managed to develop a style that would elicit emotional responses from the viewer. His drawings were being regularly featured by such diverse publications as Century, the Christian Science Monitor, Harper's Magazine and Vanity Fair. His writings began to also appear in various publications. He executed the 1922 drawing for the Chicago Tribune Competition that won the event for Howells and Hood.
In 1916, New York City had passed landmark zoning laws that regulated and limited the mass of buildings according to a formula. The reason was to counteract the tendency for buildings to occupy the whole of their lot and go straight up as far as was possible. Since many architects were not sure exactly what these laws meant for their designs, in 1922 the skyscraper architect Harvey Wiley Corbett commissioned Ferriss to draw a series of four step-by-step perspectives demonstrating the architectural consequences of the zoning law. These four drawings would later be used in his 1929 book "The Metropolis of Tomorrow".
Hugh Ferriss' archive, including drawings and papers, is held by the Drawings & Archives Department of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University. Every year the American Society of Architectural Illustrators gives out the Hugh Ferriss Memorial Prize for architectural rendering excellence. The medal features Ferriss’s original "Fourth Stage" drawing, executed in bronze.