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Research: Cooper Union’s New Academic Building

The summer of 2009 marked the completion of Cooper Union’s New Academic Building, 41 Cooper Square. Designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architecture, a Los Angelos-based architecture firm, the goal of the new building was to create a modern and environmentally “Green” space for the students. He wanted a unique learning space since the students at Cooper Union are known for their indescribable creativity. The New Academic Building contrasts the Foundation Building of Cooper Union greatly due to its modern aspects and unconventional features, but does not take away from Cooper Union’s ideals and values.

The New Academic Building consists of nine above ground floors and two basements. The first eight above ground floors are made up of classrooms, engineering laboratories, lounges, art studios, and offices. The ninth floor is designated to School of Art studios. The lowest basement level consists of large machine shops and design laboratories. A modern alternative to the Great Hall in the Foundation Building is found on the first basement level where a smaller, contemporary auditorium is present. Linear and circular staircases, as well as elevators, are means of transportation in the building. The linear Grand Staircase connects the first four floors, and a circular staircase connects the rest. The primary elevators are interesting in that they only stop at the first, fifth, and eighth floor to encourage walking and use of the stairs, as well as hopes to run into people for socializing purposes. Secondary elevators are available for the purposes of transporting art, equipment, and materials to any floor. At the top of the Grand Staircase is the fourth floor lounge where students can relax, study, or socialize. There is another lobby on the seventh floor as well. Both of these overlook New York City.

41 Cooper Square, known solely by its address, contains many unconventional features created by Mayne. The linear Grand Staircase connects four floors and the architects had the goal that the staircase would be for transportation and a main recreational space. The stairs being 20 feet wide would allow for this. Along with the fourth and seventh floor lounges, other lounges are connected to each other by floating sky bridges. These sky bridges are open spaces that overlook the atrium and circular staircase and also have the goal of being a social space.

One of Thom Mayne’s primary goals was to create a “green” space for Cooper Union. The entire building is designed to ensure energy efficiency and promote air quality as well as overall sustainability of the structure. In 2010, the New Academic Building became the first laboratory and academic structure in New York City to meet Platinum-level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards for energy efficiency. The outside of the building is made of perforated stainless steel panels that can open and close to regulate light and temperature. These panels reduce the impact of heat radiation during the summer and insulate the indoor spaces during the winter. Motorized drapes on all exterior windows are also a feature that helps with this goal. Inside, the full-height atrium allows for improved air circulation as well as provides much day lighting. The building’s glass, steel, and openness allows for up to 75% natural lighting, which reduces energy costs. 41 Cooper Square’s roof insulates the building, reduces pollutants, and reuses storm runoff water for energy. The roof contains heating and cooling panels that makes the building 40% more energy efficient. The input of low-flow plumbing combined with the roof will result in the building saving more than 600,000 gallons of water a year. Carbon dioxide detectors are spread throughout the building and automatically dim power and ventilation when rooms are unoccupied. This innovation saves immensely on energy and costs.

Thom Mayne understood that when he was taking on the job of creating a building for Cooper Union, he had a large responsibility on his shoulders. He was able to grasp the idea that the Foundation Building was historically meaningful, and he supplemented its presence by creating a building that combined Cooper’s traditional values with its innovative goals. I would say the result accomplishes his intentions and is a successful representation of Cooper Union.

Nicole Lennon

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