The Cooper Union’ s new building at 41 Cooper Square—a technologically advanced academic facility—is located on the east side of Third Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets. In September 2009, 41 Cooper Square will house the college’s Albert Nerken School of Engineering and Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences along with additional facilities for the School of Art and the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. Designed by 2005 Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis, the nine-story, 175,000 square foot, full-block building will replace more than 40 percent of the academic space at the college with reconfigurable, state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, studios and public spaces. Built with stringent sustainability goals, it is likely to achieve LEED platinum. 41 Cooper Square will be the first LEED certified academic laboratory building in New York City.
41 Cooper Square, the new academic building for The Cooper Union, aspires to manifest the character, culture and vibrancy of both the 150 year-old institution and of the city in which it was founded. The institution remains committed to Peter Cooper’s radically optimistic intention to provide an education “as free as water and air” and has subsequently grown to become a renowned intellectual and cultural center for the City of New York. 41 Cooper Square aspires to reflect the institution’s stated goal to create an iconic building – one that reflects its values and aspirations as a center for advanced and innovative education in Art, Architecture and Engineering.
Internally, the building is conceived as a vehicle to foster collaboration and cross-disciplinary dialogue among the college’s three schools, previously housed in separate buildings. A vertical piazza—the central space for informal social, intellectual and creative exchange—forms the heart of the new academic building. An undulating lattice envelopes a 20-foot wide grand stair which ascends four stories from the ground level through the sky-lit central atrium, which itself reaches to the full height of the building. This vertical piazza is the social heart of the building, providing a place for impromptu and planned meetings, student gatherings, lectures, and for the intellectual debate that defines the academic environment.
From the double-high entry lobby, the grand stair ascends four stories to terminate in a glazed double-high student lounge overlooking the city. On the fifth through ninth floors, sky lobbies and meeting places—including a student lounge, seminar rooms, lockers, and seating areas overlooking the cityscape—are organized around the central atrium. Sky bridges span the atrium to create connections between these informal spaces. Further reinforcement of the strategy to create a vibrant intellectual space is provided by the “skip-stop” circulation strategy which allows for both increased physical activity and for more impromptu meeting opportunities. The primary skip-stop elevators, which make stops at the first, fifth and eighth floors, encourage occupants to use the grand stairs and sky bridges. Secondary elevators stop at each floor, both for ADA compliance and for the practical tasks of moving materials, artworks, and equipment.
In the spirit of the institution’s dedication to free, open and accessible education, the building itself is symbolically open to the city. Visual transparencies and accessible public spaces connect the institution to the physical, social and cultural fabric of its urban context. At street level, the transparent facade invites the neighborhood to observe and to take part in the intensity of activity contained within. Many of the public functions – an exhibition gallery, board room and a two-hundred-seat auditorium – are easily accessible one level below grade.
The building reverberates with light, shadow and transparency via a high performance exterior double skin whose semi-transparent layer of perforated stainless steel wraps the building’s glazed envelope to provide critical interior environmental control, while also allowing for transparencies to reveal the creative activity occurring within. Responding to its urban context, the sculpted facade establishes a distinctive identity for Cooper Square. The building’s corner entry lifts up to draw people into the lobby in a deferential gesture towards the institution’s historic Foundation Building. The façade registers the iconic, curving profile of the central atrium as a glazed figure that appears to be carved out of the Third Avenue façade, connecting the creative and social heart of the building to the street.