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Image via The New York Times


 

       

Architectural Gambit

 
 

Knight in Armor!

   

 

Like some 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.

 


Image via sensescape

 

A certain 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.

 

The 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 skyscraper.

 


Image via dandeluca

 

Staircases, 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 gathering space.”

 

Ada Louise Huxtable, writing in the Wall Street Journal, 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." 

 

Mayne's gambit, moving the conversation forward....

 

 

Read: Ada Louise Huxtable writing in the Wall Street Journal

 

Read: Morphosis: Buildings & Projects, Thom Mayne

 

Tags: new york buildings

 

 


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