Oneness in Manyness, or Unity in Plurality, is a longstanding aspiration in architectural culture. It’s a slogan uttered, as it happens, by the Dutch architect H. P. Berlage a century ago. Yet this difficult ambition resonates today in the work of Morphosis and with the principal of that experimental, Los Angeles-based practice, Thom Mayne. Early projects from the 1980s - the Crawford House in Santa Barbara, for instance - combine a multiplicity of exposed elements, literally the nuts and bolts of construction, with some major, quasi-topological, figural manipulation. Morphosis proposals thus tend to be both figure and ground. This is an architecture that, like the new delicate behemoth at 41 Cooper Square in New York City, evokes both narrative and infrastructure, that creates places for incident within a complex whole. Morphosis’s first building in New York occupies an unusual site, an entire block of Manhattan between East 6th and 7th Streets that is surprisingly slim in cross-axis. It faces a Ukrainian Orthodox church to the east and triangular Cooper Square to the west where the diagonal Bowery extends north to the neo-Classical façade of the Foundation Building. This elongated plaza, a kind of scruffy urban garden, is pinned by a statue of Peter Cooper, founder of this historic institution, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. 41 Cooper Square capitalizes on its context, drawing students in from the Foundation Building to the northwest and enticing them up through the new nine-storey structure by means of a sculptural void, a communal hallway that switches in emphasis between horizontal and vertical to offer a surprising set of views out (to the plaza; to the church; across neighborhood roofs) and reorient the building’s users to their position within the city. The design can be understood as a monolith eroded by an irregular void - the communal staircase as volumetric parasite. Alternatively the building might be read as a matrix of floor plates and bridges jostling for optional relationships vis-à-vis each other and vis-à-vis air and light and the roofscapes that surround them. 41 Cooper Square faces west as a shimmering drape of perforated metal, a giant screen of shallow compound curves cut into by a central window that drops down from the parapet line and loops to the south as a kind of skybound loggia. This sheath hovers above the sidewalk so that the primary structure is revealed below as a family of slanted columns, and tilts out to the northwest to signal the building’s main entrance. The stainless steel is affected of course by sunlight and by the artificial light of the city. Within this taut curtain of vertical units are a few opaque panels, arranged seemingly at random, that replicate the scale of windows in neighboring buildings; indeed the north-facing facade even reflects the brown tint of Victorian row houses across East 7th Street. To the east a low, diamond-shape vitrine reflects almost perfectly the dome of the Ukrainian church opposite whereas the south-facing façade has a single rectilinear cut-out that frames a student lounge half-way up inside the building. The monolith, therefore, is incised and its innards exposed in specifically tailored ways on all four elevations. To the north and east, upper stories are recessed in keeping with neighborhood zoning requirements. At street level the interior, including one retail unit, is clearly visible beneath the steel skirt and behind the jaunty colonnade. This irregular structure allows for fewer columns obstructing the sidewalk and mitigates the static effect of orthogonal piers. Thus the perforated steel sheath gives 41 Cooper Square a singular character yet works to accommodate external and internal particularities - oneness and manyness! When illuminated, or when operable panels in the sheath are opened outward, the behemoth appears almost porous. If the building’s wrapper constitutes one essential zone of investigation, another is the dramatic interior void. If the skin is visually porous, this void - reminiscent in places of both a canyon and a cyclone - instigates a physical porosity, drawing the plaza and surrounding streets into and up through the building. Visitors enter 41 Cooper Square to discover a theatrical flight of steel stairs ascending to the double-storey student lounge that pierces the south facade. In this vortex, any normative sense of ceiling and wall is confounded by a swirling cocoon (a giant windsock?) of exposed steel pipes. This exhilarating element turns outs to function as an animated light monitor (The Building as Periscope) suggesting simultaneously the swirling lines of the Baroque, the vertigo of industrial silos and the glamour of science fiction. Balustrades are made from white translucent resin illuminated from within. The integration, or at least the positive coexistence, of the arts and sciences is something of a shibboleth for universities. Here at 41 Cooper Square, laboratories are stacked to the east, overlooking the church, whereas offices overlook the plaza and studios occupy both north-facing sectors and the penthouse - it’s a mix. To encourage circulation and thus interaction, the main elevators stop every third floor, as in Le Corbusier projects of the 1950s, such that the able-bodied must use and share the communal stairs. On upper levels, bridges swell out to serve as informal lounges. Down on East 7th Street, passers-by can glimpse both a subterranean gallery and a mezzanine above, suspended from an upper floor slab. Divisible by partitions secreted in the ceiling, this meeting area floats above the city streets, like the gondola of an airship, with immediate views to such Lower East Side fixtures as McSorley’s Old Ale House, established 1854. The users of 41 Cooper Square are thus afforded a rich daily experience. They’re naturally a sophisticated lot, used to strolling out to local Apple stores or fashion boutiques and to fully inhabit the city. Their new habitation is certainly a sleek building, one unafraid of provocation and one that takes pleasure in its many components. A key aspect of its realization, in order to achieve its kind of complex unity, was the juggling of trades operating within the New York system. There’s also an ecological sensitivity with natural ventilation, copious natural light, and radiant ceiling panels for heating and cooling. The interior void of this highly social structure descends below street level to end in a unique auditorium, seating 200 and wrapped in hand-woven steel mesh like an ephemeral cave. Down there, you may well feel that 41 Cooper Square is a force of nature, an unexpected life-force rising up into the city.