This bird's-eye perspective of the Rockefeller Apartments was executed by America's foremost architectural delineator of the twentieth century. Hugh Ferriss was born in St. Louis and trained there as an architect before moving to New York in 1912 to work as a draftsman for Cass Gilbert. In 1915 Ferriss became a freelance architectural illustrator, developing a dramatic, chiaroscuro style of rendering using the unusual medium of crayon. His reputation rose with the increasing demand for sky-scrapers throughout the 1920s, and some of his finest renderings appeared in The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1929), Ferriss's book on the ideal city.
After working as a delineator and design consultant on Rockefeller Center (1929-33), Ferriss, along with another veteran of that project, Wallace K. Harrison, and Harrison's new partner, J. André Fouilhoux, participated in the Rockefeller Apartments project, the first construction enterprise of the Rockefeller interests to expand beyond the Center. The apartments, completed in 1936, consist of twin twelve-story cream-colored brick buildings fronting 54th and 55th Streets (between 5th Avenue and Avenue of the Americas) and separated by a private garden.
In this rendering, Ferriss used the nineteenth-century brownstone row houses in the foreground as a dramatic foil for the new buildings adjacent to them. He also subtly highlighted their curved bays, which were the immediate source of inspiration for the new towers' most arresting feature, the semicircular dining alcoves. The theatrical effect of Ferriss's rendering no doubt contributed to the enthusiastic response that the apartments received. Ninety percent of the 120 units were rented before construction even began.