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Thread: New Cooper Union Campus - Third Ave @ East 7th Street - by Thomas Mayne of Morphosis

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    Default New Cooper Union Campus - Third Ave @ East 7th Street - by Thomas Mayne of Morphosis

    NY Times

    September 14, 2004
    ARCHITECTURE REVIEW

    Cooper Union Engages the Neighborhood
    By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF

    Tucked away on a triangular island at the edge of Astor Place, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art seems the very picture of academic isolation. Its hulking brown Foundation Building, completed in 1859, is as forbidding as a monastery.

    That hermetic aura is about to change. A proposal unveiled yesterday for a new $105 million building for the school's engineering school and art studios seeks to break down the psychological barriers. With a shimmering metal facade punctured by the swollen form of an atrium, the design bursts with communal energy.

    The project, by Thom Mayne of the Los Angeles-based firm Morphosis, will not merely reinvigorate the campus; it is an example of how to create powerful architecture that is not afraid to engage its urban surroundings.

    The new building will rise on Third Avenue between Sixth and Seventh Streets on the site of the 1912 Hewitt Building, currently home to the school's art studios, public programs and architecture archives. Part of a broader master plan, it is intended to both consolidate the school's Astor Place campus and provide for its future financial stability.

    Cooper Union eventually plans to demolish the existing engineering building, a banal 1950's yellow brick structure just to the north, and lease the property to a commercial developer.

    In some sense, Mr. Mayne's nine-story design takes its cues from the 19th-century Foundation Building. Both are similarly scaled, solid, blocklike forms that rise 130 feet into the air. And like the original Foundation Building, Mr. Mayne's building will rest on a base of retail stores. (The Foundation Building's shopping arcades were closed off at the turn of the 20th century and now house part of the school's library.)

    In an effort to relate to the older structure, Mr. Mayne has situated the lobby of the new building at the corner of Third Avenue and Seventh Street, so that their entrances will face each other across Peter Cooper Park.

    But the similarities end there. If the Foundation Building is somber and weighty, the new building evokes a delicately calibrated machine. The ground-level lobby and retail spaces will be entirely sheathed in glass and set slightly back from the street. Above, the lab and studio floors are supported by V-shaped concrete columns that give the structure a more tenuous relationship to the ground. The screenlike facade, meanwhile, is composed as a series of horizontal metal bands that will open and close to control the flow of light into the building.

    The screening system will be familiar to anyone who has followed the firm's recent work. It is a virtual copy of the facade of Morphosis's Caltrans District 7 headquarters, a state building currently under construction in Los Angeles, yet the differences are meaningful.

    At Caltrans, the huge mechanical screens have a belligerent quality. Set on a computerized timer, they open and close in unison according to the position of the sun. Mr. Mayne says that the Cooper building's screens will be more delicate, like a woman's nylon stocking. What is more, students will be able to control the screens from inside their studios. The effect will be more varied and unpredictable - less a vision of bureaucratic conformity than of a vertical hive buzzing with activity.

    That notion of a communal hive becomes explicit on the Third Avenue facade, where a large section is cut away to reveal a curved section of the interior atrium. A series of slender glass-enclosed walkways extend along the atrium's surface, where students will be seen crossing back and forth between the various labs and studios.

    The view of the atrium is reminiscent of the 1950's "Soap Bubble Sets'' by the artist Joseph Cornell, a series of ephemeral glass balls trapped inside their little boxes, as fragile as childhood memories. The Cooper Union facade has a similar dreamlike quality. It is a voyeuristic fantasy, a window into the school's emotional core. Within the rigid frame of the studio floors, it serves as a metaphor for the inevitable tension between individual and collective life.

    It also hints at the drawn-out architectural narrative inside. The lobby entry is framed by the concrete form of a fire stairway that slices diagonally through the building's glass facade, blurring the distinction between inside and out.

    Inside, a large opening carved out of the back of the lobby floor allows visitors to peer down into a gallery and student lounge on the building's lower level. Just beyond this opening, a large glass window offers a view of St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on Seventh Street. To the right, a broad asymmetrical grand stair shoots up through the atrium to engineering labs, classrooms and art studios above.

    As you approach the top, a view opens of the sky and the city to the south. From there, more passages cut back on either side of the atrium, with additional views opening up to Third Avenue below. Mr. Mayne concentrates all of the student activities - lounges, bathrooms, meeting areas - on the fourth and seventh floors. The elevators, too, stop only on those two floors, requiring students to pass through the collective areas before they filter back into their labs and studios. Communal interaction is the goal.

    The atrium is the core of the design. Like the building's exterior, the atrium's walls will be clad in a series of delicate perforated metal screens. Yet here the forms are more sensuous; their undulating surfaces create a womblike void. More stairs crisscross the void, connecting the various lab and studio floors. As the atrium curves upward, the horizontal screens begin to separate, creating narrow, slotlike views to the lobby below. When viewed through the screens, the forms of passing students will have an ephemeral, cinematic quality, creating a perpetual state of motion within the building.

    Conceptually, the atrium recalls the public reading rooms in the unbuilt 1989 design by Rem Koolhaas for France's national library in Paris, where the architect envisioned a series of amorphous voids carved out of a Platonic glass cube. It also harks back to the primitive caves so admired by architectural historians like Vincent Scully.

    This is not new territory for Mr. Mayne, who has completed other new school buildings centered on elaborate communal spaces in recent years. In one of his most important works, the Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, Calif., completed in 1999, the faceted forms of the classroom buildings break apart to allow the surrounding hillside landscape to flow through an internal courtyard. The Science Center School at Exposition Park in Los Angeles, which just opened, includes a long, narrow play area that was carved out of the earth alongside the classrooms. Bridges and walkways are suspended over the play space, which becomes the school's communal spine. The classrooms seem almost secondary.

    All of these works share a spirit of social optimism. Mr. Mayne is no utopian dreamer, but like the early Modernists, he retains a faith in the transformative powers of technology. At Cooper Union, that faith is coupled with an enthusiasm for the congestion and dynamism on which cities thrive. Taut with energy, the building is a blunt critique of the often insular world of academia.

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    images from nyt.com...






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    Does anyone have a photo of what's there now? I would imagine that a building from 1912 is quite nice. I hope that they're not tearing down a gem.

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    Plans for the new Cooper Union unveiled

    BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON
    Staff Writer

    September 15, 2004

    It takes only a stroll around Astor Place in early September, as NYU and the Cooper Union rev up the academic year, to notice that the East Village fashion sense consists of ever more strategic piercings, a deliberate confusion of outerwear and lingerie, and plenty of peekaboo. The tide may have turned toward demureness by the time the Cooper Union opens its new academic center in three years, but the boldly ravishing building will be flaunting plenty of skin beneath a gauzy swath of steel.

    For the small block on the east side of Third Avenue between East Sixth and Seventh streets, Thom Mayne, the principal of the Los Angeles-based firm Morphosis, has designed a $120-million wrapped box that reveals glimpses of concrete, expanses of naked glass and the perpetual coursing of students inside the highly regarded school of architecture, art and engineering.

    Rather than wear an armature of masonry or a sheer curtain of windows, the new Cooper Union will be clothed like a body in a translucent veil. A second skin of perforated steel panels will sheath the building, fluttering open and closed like a silk robe in a breeze. At one corner, a swatch of the outer layer pulls away from the structure as if plucked by an unseen hand.

    The most dramatic gesture comes where the metal jacket falls away to reveal a transparent core reaching from the third floor to a great skylight. This is a building that shows as much as it hides, and Mayne lifts the solid structure off the street by a series of V-shaped struts, then slices the schoolhouse open, creating a glassy center visible from the street. Between the see-through lobby and the crystal-palace atrium, a curving grand staircase rises through the belly of the building, wide and long enough to accommodate a Broadway finale, an impromptu lecture or a flock of students lounging on the steps.

    The labs and classrooms have yet to be worked out, but it's already clear how the students will use the space for seeing and being seen. It's as theatrical in its way as the Metropolitan Opera, even to the lofty vantage points it offers on those gliding from tier to tier. A series of luminous, translucent bridges slice through the upper levels of the atrium, connecting floors and acting as lanterns, broadcasting the ferment and traffic inside to the city beyond.

    Mayne has literalized the notion of education as a way of learning to see below the surface. But transparency is an all-purpose architectural metaphor these days. Renzo Piano uses it in the New York Times tower, which announces the ideal of journalistic transparency and Santiago Calatrava proposes to have commuters emerge from the PATH tunnels to the streets of lower Manhattan through a glass cathedral.

    What these projects have in common is the fusion of architecture and spectacle. The new Cooper Union aspires to be a star. It will have to compete for attention with another, taller, more luxuriant diva across Astor Place, an apartment building designed by Charles Gwathmey, with an amoeba-shaped plan and undulating walls.

    Mayne has responded to Gwathmey's future waves with a restless, rippling high-gloss exterior. In the new Cooper Union, a computer will control the perforated steel panels over every window: As the sun swings around to a particular facade, the shiny louvers will batten down, letting in pinpoints of light that merge into a soft, pixilated glow. As more light is needed, the panels will automatically admit unfiltered sunshine.

    Gwathmey's tower, under construction, will certainly be more appealing than the brutal boxes and glowering high-rises in this 19th-century neighborhood. The apartments are geared to the moneyed, but revenue from them will flow to the owner: Cooper Union. So the school's new building must contend with its own cash cow. For anyone wondering how a small school can afford to provide all students with full scholarships, the answer is real estate: Cooper Union owns the Chrysler Building, too.

    Copyright 2004, Newsday, Inc.

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    Why couldn't they just demolish the ugly yellow brick building and build the new campus building there?

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    Quote Originally Posted by londonlawyer
    Does anyone have a photo of what's there now? I would imagine that a building from 1912 is quite nice. I hope that they're not tearing down a gem.
    Probably not a gem, but the current Engineering Building would be a better demolition target.

    Peter Hewitt Building

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    Which yellow brick building are you referring to? I can't picture it.

    My boyfriend graduated from Cooper and still speaks with reverence about the greatness of the Foundation Building. I'm interested to see his take on this design.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Schadenfrau
    Which yellow brick building are you referring to? I can't picture it.

    My boyfriend graduated from Cooper and still speaks with reverence about the greatness of the Foundation Building. I'm interested to see his take on this design.
    It's on the left, across Astor Place from the Foundation Building


    Another view:

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    They should put those subway kiosks back up all over the City.

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    I agree. The Peter Hewitt Building is nothing special.

    While the rendering of the new building looks great, I initially thought that it will be all glass. It seems that it's all metal (but for the ground floor). That could be a monstrosity. Then again, it could be a masterpiece like Ghery's titanium structures. I'll reserve judgment until I see it in person.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TLOZ Link5
    They should put those subway kiosks back up all over the City.
    Never saw one of those before!

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    Yikes, now I remember.

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