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The New Cooper Union Building

The New Cooper Union Building

We’ve had some really bold additions to the Manhattan skyline in the past few years, and it’s been a welcome change. Growing up in and around New York, I was always impressed by the scale and density of the city, but I was seldom knocked over by the language of the forms. The famous towers that define New York were almost exclusively rectilinear (slavishly adhering to the grid) and practically all of them were clad in stone or glass. But New York has lately been taking risks. Architects like Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry, Sir Norman Foster, Sejima, Rem Koolhaas, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, and Santiago Calatrava have all built (or are building) their first projects in the city. And for me, one of the most impressive new residents of downtown is, appropriately, a new headquarters for an architecture school—Cooper Union—which is designed by Thom Maine of the LA firm Morphosis. The firm has done some great and provocative work over the years (check out the Caltrans buildings in LA and the Federal Courthouse in San Francisco), but this project feels explosive and utterly surprising. The building is tough, gritty, and raw—perfect for the neighborhood. The façade facing Bowery is torn open and that tear rips from the large window that illuminates the atrium all along the façade. You feel as though something was DONE to the buildings, and not a very nice thing either. The metal screen that wraps the façade allows the different orientations to take on different characters, whether on Bowery, the more public side, or on the more intimate back street. (Unfortunately I can’t go into too much detail about the mind-bending central stairwell, as the guards at the front desk seem to have been recruited from the Secret Service. I’ve yet to get past front door.) Sometimes private buildings transcend their function and become a matter of public interest just because they are so damn good. This is one of those buildings.

The building is located, appropriately, at 41 Cooper Square, between E 6th and E 6th streets in the East Village.

Here is Morphosis’ site

And the site for Cooper Union