steel spaceship that has planted itself in the downtown New York
skyline, Cooper Union’s new Academic Building makes a marvelously
dramatic statement, helping to rejuvenate a neighborhood—the East
Village—long on history and short on recent architectural gems.
Designed by Thom Mayne of the L.A.-based firm Morphosis, it
is already being bandied about as one of the great New York
buildings of recent years, along with Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s
renovation of Alice Tully Hall.
industrial feeling, in keeping with something of the gritty
quality of the neighborhood—V-shaped concrete columns, metal
screens, steel beams—but the rawness is transformed into something
brilliantly majestic, with hints of elegance and sensuousness.
The armor-like metal sheathing—a dynamic perforated screen shimmering in the
light, panels that let in sunlight and keep heat out, the skin of
the building of which Mayne says:“...is a sunscreen that takes
out 50% of the heat load.” So sunscreen, and a green
roof with plantings, academically correct. There’s a
vertical perforation cut into the side, like some chink in the
armor, revelation here strength not weakness.
chunkiness in some ways a nod to the solidity of the original
Cooper Union Foundation Building diagonally across the street, but
the new building also acknowledges the Foundation Building’s
innovation in its own time—its use of rolled wrought iron beams, the first
elevator shaft, that it was a structural precursor to the
so conducive to socializing; we gather like pigeons to birdseed. Thom Mayne,
on his stairs that are the building’s heart and major artery: “....something like the
main outdoor stairway at Columbia University or in front of the
Metropolitan Museum or the New York Public Library. It's an
idea that goes back to the Renaissance or to the Spanish Steps, a
stairway in which the main purpose isn't just movement up and down
but it's used for gathering, sitting, waiting. I was at
Cooper Union the day after it opened and it was filled with people
sitting on the stairs, talking, waiting for people—it's a social
Huxtable, writing in the
called the stairs: “...some wildly updated, indoor version of
Rome's Spanish steps or a more rational and cheerful Piranesian
invention, it is a knockout, an überstair for the 21st century."
gambit, moving the conversation forward....
Huxtable writing in the Wall Street Journal
Buildings & Projects, Thom Mayne
new york buildings