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Cooper Union

Morphosis | Thom Mayne

Cooper Union
By Raymund Ryan -
Agrob Buchtal, Zumtobel Group have participated in the project

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...

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