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Architecture Research Paper on 41 Cooper Square

Cooper Union’s new building, named simply after it’s address, 41 Cooper Square, is a paragon of architectural and environmental innovation. At 175,000 square feet the building is a block long and is sure to become a landmark for the area in years to come. An unorthodox shape with a shining, sculpted façade, 41 Cooper Square that is forty percent more energy efficient than other buildings of it’s size, making it a stand-out both visually and environmentally. Succeeding where it’s ideological predecessors failed (take MIT’s Stata Center for example), 41 Cooper Square blends environmental consideration, socialization, and education, channeling Cooper Union’s dedication to creativity to create a physical space that fosters academic brilliance while capturing the eye of anyone who sees it.

The design was conceived after Cooper Union became a “PlaNYC Challenge Partner”, being one of numerous pre-eminent city institutions agreeing to rise to Mayor Bloomberg’s challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from building operations by 30 percent by the year 2017.[1] Originally intended to be certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver, the additions of various technologies throughout the design and construction process led the project to supersede itself twice, being projected as qualifying for LEED Gold certification and being awarded, when all was said and done, a certification of LEED Platinum.[2] Platinum is the highest certification administered by the Green Buildings council, and Cooper Union’s new building is the first to be awarded the status in New York City.[3] On a global level, it is one of only thirty-eight campuses and/or academic facilities to be rated as LEED Platinum in the world. [4]It is the first academic building in New York City to receive LEED certification of any kind.[5]

The building qualified for LEED status thanks to a plethora of technologies geared towards being environmentally thoughtful. The Green Building Council determines LEED certification through what is meant to be a holistic form of ratings by category; the Cooper Union building excelled in the categories of water quality, sustainable sites, energy and atmosphere, and indoor environmental quality, it’s only weakness being in the materials and resources category.[6]

One of the energy-saving features is the green roof. The planting of the rooftop with low-maintenance vegetation helps by both fighting the “heat island” effect that plagues most city buildings as well as facilitating “rain harvesting”, or the gathering and capturing of rain that would normally either run off the building and become dirty water or sit and stagnate on the top of a building and using it for practical purposes at a later time. The water retained by the green roof in 41 Cooper Square’s case will be channeled to the low-flow plumbing devices that have been installed throughout the building. This will save an approximate 600,000 gallons of water per year.[7]

The building’s ceiling is also equipped with radiant heating and cooling panels, which showcase the newest in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) technology. The incorporation of cutting-edge mechanical engineering contributes greatly to the energy efficiency of the building. The recovery of energy waste and reduction of energy costs is supplemented by the inclusion of a cogeneration plant.

The foundation of 41 Cooper Square is constructed in the traditional box build; it is the custom rectangular model made from reinforced concrete and the wall spaces left for windows are standard. A look at the floor plans reveal that they are not dissimilar from a conventional academic facility with office spaces, engineering labs and classrooms occupying either side of the building.[8] This however, is where 41 Cooper Square’s ties with conventionality end. The building is centered around an atrium which extends through to the top. This atrium is the focal point of the building and serves a multitude of purposes in regards to visual aesthetic, environmental-friendliness and the buildings function as a space for learning. The atrium improves air flow and circulation throughout the building as well as making it so that seventy five percent of occupied spaces within the building are lit naturally during the daytime.[9] The atrium acts as both a giant skylight and as a facilitator of social interaction, a common area meant for usage by any of the building’s inhabitants.

Social interaction and physical movement are further encouraged by the buildings grandiose stairs, skip-stop elevators and flexible glass partition-walls. The elevators stop only on the 3rd , 5th and 8th floors, leaving the other six floors accessible only by stairway.[10] Translucent and transparent walls emphasize the openness of the space and allow building occupiers to witness goings-on in the rooms surrounding them. These walls can also be moved to modify the rooms to accommodate the needs of the building’s occupants.

To outsiders, the most obvious and striking feature of the new building is it’s exterior. The façade is made of perforated stainless steel panels and features an aluminum and glass window wall, all of which are offset from the inside walls by a perimeter of one to 8 feet. The panels reduce the impact of heat radiation during the summer and provide insulation in the winter.[11]The operable skin and meshed windows are a highlight to this project and one of the more visually tangible manifestations of architectural and environmental innovation.

Built to house Cooper Union’s Albert Nerken School of Engineering and Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as additional studios for the School of Art, the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture and the public[12], 41 Cooper Square has not only replaced 40% of the space used in the old Cooper Union building but has been erected as a testament to cutting-edge architecture and environmental design and the intersections between the two disciplines.

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