Cooper Union Academic Building Helps Blur the Lines Between Art and Funtionality
Iconic Design On the Leading Edge of Creativity
Change is tough and sometimes controversial. When change has the prospect of deviating from the norm with a new artistic expression at the expense of losing some history, it can create some tension and anxiety about the outcome. This was not more evident than in the case of a new building for The Cooper Union in New York City. The 150-year old institution’s new academic building, named the the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, is proof that buildings themselves can represent functional art while inspiring creativity; a testament on which the school was founded on. Designed by Thom Mayne of the Los Angeles and New York firm Morphosis, the Cooper Union Science and Art building was conceived as a more radical design that many had not seen in New York up to that point; a bold architectural statement of genuine civic value. Its lively public spaces reaffirm that enlightenment comes from the free exchange of ideas, not just inward contemplation. Nicolai Ouroussoff, architectural critic of The New York Times, praised the building as being an “example of how to create powerful architecture that is not afraid to engage its urban surroundings.”
The building, originally known as the New Academic Building, stands on the site where the School of Art Abram Hewitt Building was previously located. Construction of the building began in 2006 and was completed in September 2009. It is a nine-story, 175,000-square-foot academic center that houses the Albert Nerken School of Engineering with additional spaces for the humanities, art, and architecture departments in the newest addition to Cooper Union’s campus at 41 Cooper Square. There is also an exhibition gallery and auditorium for public programs and retail space on the ground level.
The renovation project had a controversial start in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. The area around the site consists mostly of low to mid-rise buildings with small commercial businesses on ground level and residential spaces above. Mixed into the scene are various buildings belonging to New York University. The neighborhood was once the scene of early twentieth-century tenements and warehouses and an experimental art and cultural scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Recent projects, most of which are part of the Cooper Union expansion plan, have started to change the modest physical profile of the neighborhood to something much more progressive. Another integral piece of modern architecture introduced into this neighborhood, prior to the New Academic Building, is the Sculpture for Living building (aka Astor Place Tower), a high-rise luxury condo tower, designed by the former strachitect Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects at 26 Astor Place. The site is serviced by two subway lines and many bus routes, which makes it a desirable location for developers. The building does not shy away from this debate by trying to fade into the background.
Morphosis Architects invited Zahner to join the project team early on in a design assist process. Zahner collaborated with the team to provide engineering, design, and manufacturing for the metal screen building facade. Working very closely with The Cooper Union, Morphosis, and general contractor Sciame, W&W Glass, LLC was chosen as the facade installer for this complex project. W&W Glass was selected based upon their expertise on custom, intricate projects like this.
Seen from the old Cooper Union Foundation building across the street, the new building has a flexed, concave facade that is veiled in a glittering perforated metal screen like armor. It’s hard at first to get a grip on the building’s scale from the outside in the day until you see its interior glowing at night with many levels of transparency inside and out. A large vertical slot is cut out of the facade’s center, as if the building’s “armor” had been ripped open.
W&W Glass decided to use a custom Moduline (Oldcastle) window wall system to marry up behind the customized-perforated metal panel scrim system. From afar, small windows appear to be scattered across the building’s surface. Drawing closer, it becomes clear that these windows are actually sheets of punched stainless steel with many building automated operable panel areas for ventilation. Perforated sheets, surfaced in a mechanically-applied “Angel Hair” finish, encompass the entire facade and offer a sustainable, energy saving solution. By controlling sunlight penetration during warm weather and acting as an insulating barrier in cold weather, the skin system promises a 50% reduction in heat load. The video below describes the architect’s vision and the building system functionality in depth.
Prior to Cooper Union’s expansion plan, the campus consisted of three academic buildings, one for each of the disciplines of art, architecture, and engineering, as well as a seventeen-story dormitory. There have recently been more changes to the campus with a new office tower, designed by Fumihiko Maki, that has replaced the former Cooper Union engineering building on 51 Astor place. Times they are a changin’.
W&W Glass LLC is a family owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry, one of the largest metal and glass companies in the New York metropolitan area and the largest supplier of structural glass systems in the country. We have over two decades of experience in the design and installation of various building enclosure systems, including stick-built curtain walls, pre-glazed unitized curtain walls, Pilkington Planar™ structural glass facades, and custom metal and glass enclosure systems. We install all of our work with our own dedicated union labor force. W&W is consistently the largest employer of glaziers in the NY metropolitan area.
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