HUGH FERRISS MEMORIAL PRIZE 2020

January 31, 2021

Author: Frank Costantino

During the week of January 24, 2021, and after some months of delays in preparation and completion of the award, ASAI co-founder Frank Costantino, arranged for the presentation of the Architecture in Perspective 35 Hugh Ferriss Memorial Prize to Dennis Allain, here in Massachusetts. This Prize, unique to ASAI is not only the top award for the Society’s annual international competition, but is also the world’s most prestigious prize for architectural drawing. This Prize is typically given to a jury-selected recipient as the culmination of the Society’s annual conference, which for 2020 was to have been held in Berlin, Germany in October. However, this fourth, exciting international trip and event for ASAI members was reluctantly cancelled at the latest date, given the ongoing pandemic; and was presented in a virtual format.

Dennis’s extraordinary image, “Alone”, produced with his proprietary blend of digital programs, furthered the visionary works that have brought Dennis his second Ferriss Prize. He had previously won the Society’s top prize back for Architecture in Perspective 21, with a ground-breaking elevational perspective image, above. Dennis now joins a very select group of four other ASAI members, whose extraordinary works have been twice-selected for the Ferriss Prize. These members include Lee Dunnette, first double winner, Thomas Schaller of NYC & LA, Gilbert Gorski of Chicago, and Jon Kletzien of AMD, Providence. These esteemed, highly accomplished members represent a very small club, among the 2100+ selected winners in Architecture in Perspective competitions over the past 35 years. The competition stipulation also is that a member cannot be selected for a second Ferriss Prize until a five year period after the first. And the fact that every competition invites three different jurors each year, makes a repeat selection a very rare occurrence indeed.

However, Dennis’ imagery is so powerful, imaginative and symbolic, that among his generally annual selections, his illustrations have also been distinguished with Member Choice awards, as well as many Juror Choice or Category Awards. In other words, his excellent work has received a stellar string of recognition. Dennis’s objective for his work is “to tell a good story, and with an arresting image – wow! factors”.

The AIP 35 Juror Christoph Sattler found that Dennis’s image “reveals an incredibly dramatic, almost surreal urban scenario. Is it a catastrophe that is just happening, or is it the view of a city in decay? The artist brings together architectural imaginations from the turn of the century, futuristic skyscrapers and destructive structures where one does not know whether they will fall from the sky or emerge from the underground. A mysterious train passes the scenery. The representation shows a very differentiated color palette, ranging from an eerie and dangerous to a light and aggressive atmosphere. It is highly emotional, and it develops a dramatic lighting of great quality. The picture is also convincing because it is completely free of marketing or advertising graphics, but belongs to a purely artistic field.”

So, with my studio being quite close to Dennis’, I brought the finished framed Prize to his place during a gentle snowfall. It seemed appropriate for me to present the Architecture in Perspective 35 Hugh Ferriss Memorial Prize in person, since I have been fortunate to do so for nearly all the Winners of the Competitions & during our Prize presentations – from the beginning of our Society in 1986, with my Co-Founder Steve Oles.

In addition to my ASAI connections with Dennis, I have also had a personal history with him over a period of some thirty years. Dennis was a former student in one of my watercolor seminars, when his interest in illustration was first developing. He subsequently became employed by a long-time client of mine, the late Howard Elkus FAIA, of Elkus Manfredi Architects in Boston and David Manfredi FAIA (r.) of Elkus Manfredi Architects in Boston. It was at this firm that Dennis developed his illustration and digital skills under Howard’s keen eye and drawing guidance. ; as well as David’s encouraging support for furthering Dennis’ in-house opportunities with illustration experimentation and development. After some years with both Howard’s & David’s personal support and sponsorship, Dennis started his own illustration studio and has never looked back being busy with commissions from all over the country.

The Ferriss Prize is a hefty double-imprinted medallion, pewter-cast, and featuring an iconic Hugh Ferriss image (taken from his work for NYC’s zoning and building guideline studies from the 1950’s), with an edge-surround of the Society’s name. (see photo below) This cast medal, the last of the original imprints, still shows the originally conceived name of the Society – as “Perspectivists”. The obverse wording, as here, provides ASAI’s hallmark phrasing for superior achievement in drawing – “For Excellence In The Graphic Representation Of Architecture” – together with the engraved name of the Winner. The Award itself is a custom double-facing framed piece, showing both sides of the Hugh Ferriss Memorial Prize medal, together with a small reprint of the winning image – a rather weighty award.

So while I was making the presentation to Dennis on behalf of the Board and all ASAI members, and for the Society’s record, I reiterated the above facts to him. Kerri-Ann, Dennis’ wife and avid photographer, not only took a video of the member-less presentation for the Society, she also took some candid pictures of both of masked-us after the exchange. Kerri-Ann also sent ASAI another picture of the beaming Dennis with his double Ferriss Prizes (See Below: AIP 35 on the left, with AIP 21 on the right).

ASAI has long been the touchstone for this level of illustration excellence for its entire existence; and with its upcoming Architecture in Perspective 36 competition, again continues its mission for encouraging outstanding work from all its members, and the profession worldwide.