Site Visit: New Cooper Union Science and Art Building

One of the most eagerly awaited architectural projects in New York City was opened this week. The new Cooper Union School for the Advancement of...

Dave Pinter
Dave Pinter on September 18, 2009. @DavePinter

cooper_union_morphosis_03One of the most eagerly awaited architectural projects in New York City was opened this week. The new Cooper Union School for the Advancement of Science and Art was dedicated and PSFK was on hand for the ceremony and a full walk thru of the building. School president George Campbell Jr said that the project was ten years in the making and two of those years involved selecting the right architect alone. Eventually the School contracted the Pritzker-Prize winning firm Morphosis of California. Firm founder Thom Mayne talked about his desire to use the opportunity to produce a building that really challenged the existing NYC architecture.

The nine story, 175,000 square foot structure is instantly recognizable from its sweeping perforated metal skin. But beyond developing a striking piece of architecture, the school also wanted the building at 41 Cooper Square to be as green as possible.  The resulting design is on track to achieve Gold level LEED certification but the school is actually targeting the difficult Platinum level which can be achieved after several long term surveys are completed. The school will be New York CIty’s first LEED certified academic laboratory building.

One of the most prominent green features of the building is the metal skin which is offset from the exterior building glass. Many of the metal panels are connected to an articulation system that can adjust to offer more shade, cooling the interior in the summer, or open to the sun, warming the spaces in the winter. While from the street the windows may look fairly opaque, from inside they provide fairly unobstructed views of the city beyond.


The real signature design feature is the atrium and central stairway. This is where Mayne and his design team really made a bold statement. From the ground floor and ascending nine floors, the central stair winds upward like a crystal helix. The base stairway is very wide and expansive but as you go up the sections compress giving you the feeling that you have climbed a long way. For NYC, long stairways are usually looked upon as a negative feature, but here the journey is made so interesting – reminiscent of the experience at the Guggenheim – that you can hardly imagine taking the elevator. The stairwell is wrapped in a sculptural lattice that twists its way up to the roof, while the stairs themselves are clad with illuminated acrylic panels that bring a lot of light into the central interior spaces.

The labs and classrooms are designed to be flexible and make extensive use of eco freindly materials like bamboo. The art studios located on the top floor are a painters dream, each having skylights and perimeter windows that let lots of natural light in.

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is one of the nation’s top ranked private colleges, offering degree programs in art, architecture, and engineering. Founded by industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper, the college has provided a full-tuition scholarship, now valued at $35,000 per year, to every accepted student since 1859.

TOPICS: Design & Architecture
Dave Pinter

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Dave Pinter is a senior editor at PSFK and focuses on automotive, design and retail news plus NYC culture. Dave is also a New York based concept designer.