Feed of

Saint Mark’s Place – Politics and Style

The architecture of St. Mark’s Place comprises a variety of both modern and classical styles. This diversity is a large part of what makes the neighborhood so popular and successful.  When the buildings all come from different styles, they will attract people from different styles of life.  In this manner, the contrasts between the buildings bring different people together.  Throughout history, certain parts of St. Mark’s have also been used as platforms for political figures.

A good example of a dichotomy in St. Mark’s is the pair of Cooper Union buildings on Cooper Square.  The first of the two is the Foundation Building, established in 1859, which has a classical, 19th century style of architecture. This style obviously fits in with a lot of the older buildings in the neighborhood, and is appreciated by the more traditional critics. But although the foundation building resembles many of St. Mark’s other buildings, it still has unique features.  For example, it was one of the first buildings in New York to be supported by rolled wrought iron beams, which were developed by Peter Cooper himself.  This idea of using light, sturdy iron beams laid the foundation for many of New York’s first skyscrapers.  The Foundation Building also won awards of recognition for its round elevator shafts, impressive great hall, and imaginative ventilation system.  So although the building may appear to be traditional now, it is actually considered to be one of the more innovative designs and structures in American history.

In September 2009, a new building was constructed under the name of Cooper Union.  This building is now called 41 Cooper Square.  Designed by Thomas Mayne, this building lives up to the engineering school’s name by boasting one of the most revolutionary architectural styles New York has ever seen.  Built in the interest of energy conservation and innovation, the building gives St. Mark’s Place a modern edge, which provides a welcome contrast to some of the older buildings in the neighborhood, including the Foundation Building.  The building’s concrete frame, covered by a curtain of stainless steel, is considered a masterpiece.  There is a façade in the middle of the building, which exposes the interior to the rest of Cooper Square; from the inside, the Foundation Building is the focus of the view. The interior has also been praised for its staircases, which skip floors and connect to either other via bridges, as well as the radiant heating and cooling thermal roof panels. A green roof helps insulate the building and collects storm water, and a cogeneration plant provides additional power but recovers waste heat. The full-height atrium provides interior day lighting to the building core and the semi-transparent nature of the façade has allowed for seventy-five percent of the occupied spaces to be naturally lit. The architectural style of the building uses its innovative materials to make the building as green as possible.  But although this building seems perfect, many critics dislike having such a modern building built among all of the traditional buildings.  They feel that it lacks the scale, material, and uniformity of its neighbors.  However, 41 Cooper Square has the same dimensions as the Foundation building, which also has a steel infrastructure.  Critics also seem to neglect that the Foundation Building was first made famous for its innovation and deviation from the norm, so 41 Cooper is in fact upholding the values of not only Cooper Union, but of Saint Mark’s itself.

Another great example of Saint Mark’s diversity in architectural styles is The Alamo, also known as the Saint Mark’s Cube.  The Alamo was installed on Astor Place in 1967 as a temporary art exhibit, but because of a petition signed by the residents of St. Mark’s Place, it became a permanent landmark.  For a sculpture done in the 60’s, The Alamo was surprisingly constructed in a modern style.  The six faces are all distinguished, each comprising its own variety of indentations, protrusions, and ledges. The adjacent sides all have different styles that come together much like the different types of people that come together and live in Saint Mark’s.  The abstract design makes the cube seem ahead of its time, and it brings the other areas of the neighborhood together, much like the actual Alamo.  The most identifying feature of the Alamo is that itcan spin on its axis.  This requires a couple of people, but many people who move into New York City spin the cube as a ritual to signify that they are now a part of the city.  Among buildings both large and small, this sculpture again brings a different style to Saint Mark’s, making it one of the most diverse areas in New York City.

In addition to diverse styles of architecture, St. Mark’s Place has also been the site of several political addresses.  Many of The United States of America’s most prominent senators, governors, and presidents have spoken in the Cooper Union Foundation Building’s Great Hall.  The Hall is located in the basement, and is now considered one of the country’s most famous auditoriums.  Presidents such as Taft, Grant, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Abraham Lincoln have all spoken and addressed the country from the Great Hall.  The most memorable speech given in the Hall was Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Speech.  In this address, Lincoln opposed the federal regulation of the spread of slavery.  The speech galvanized support for Lincoln and helped him clinch his presidential election.

The many different buildings of St. Mark’s have their own styles, their own histories, and their own distinguishing features.  The styles of architecture often conflict with each other, but they also work together to create a diverse neighborhood.  St. Mark’s place has also cemented its place in history by housing several of the country’s most famous national addresses.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.