The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art / Morphosis Architects

© Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

Location: , USA
Architecture: Morphosis Architects
Thom Mayne, Principal / Design Director
Silvia Kuhle, Project Manager
Pavel Getov, Project Architect
Jean Oei, Job Captain/ Project Designer
Chandler Ahrens / Lead Designer

Project Designers: Natalia Traverso Caruana, Go-Woon Seo
Project Team: Irena Bedenikovic, Salvador Hidalgo, Debbie Lin, Kristina Loock,
IT Co-ordinator: Marty Doscher
Project Assistants: Ben Damron, Graham Ferrier
Model Team: Reinhard Schmoelzer with Patrick Dunn-Baker, Charles Austin, Sean Anderson, Domenique Cheng, Soohyun Cheng, Eui Yeob Jeong, Amy Kwok, Shannon Loew, Brock Hinze, Hugo Martinez, Greg Neudorf
Associated Architect: Gruzen Samton
Owner’s Representative: Jonathan Rose Companies
General Contractor: FJ Sciame
Client: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Program: Academic and laboratory building with exhibition gallery, auditorium, lounge and multi-purpose space, and retail space
Constructed Area: 16,258 sqm
Design Year: 2004-2006
Construction Year: 2006-2009
Photographs: Iwan Baan

© Iwan Baan © Iwan Baan © Iwan Baan © Iwan Baan

41 Cooper Square, the new academic building for The Cooper Union, aspires to manifest the character, culture and vibrancy of both the 150 year-old institution and of the city in which it was founded. The institution remains committed to Peter Cooper’s radically optimistic intention to provide an education “as free as water and air” and has subsequently grown to become a renowned intellectual and cultural center for the City of New York. 41 Cooper Square aspires to reflect the institution’s stated goal to create an iconic building – one that reflects its values and aspirations as a center for advanced and innovative education in Art, Architecture and Engineering.

location diagram
location diagram

Internally, the building is conceived as a vehicle to foster collaboration and cross-disciplinary dialogue among the college’s three schools, previously housed in separate buildings. A vertical piazza—the central space for informal social, intellectual and creative exchange—forms the heart of the new academic building. An undulating lattice envelopes a 20-foot wide grand stair which ascends four stories from the ground level through the sky-lit central atrium, which itself reaches to the full height of the building. This vertical piazza is the social heart of the building, providing a place for impromptu and planned meetings, student gatherings, lectures, and for the intellectual debate that defines the academic environment.

From the double-high entry lobby, the grand stair ascends four stories to terminate in a glazed double-high student lounge overlooking the city. On the fifth through ninth floors, sky lobbies and meeting places—including a student lounge, seminar rooms, lockers, and seating areas overlooking the cityscape—are organized around the central atrium. Sky bridges span the atrium to create connections between these informal spaces. Further reinforcement of the strategy to create a vibrant intellectual space is provided by the “skip-stop” circulation strategy which allows for both increased physical activity and for more impromptu meeting opportunities. The primary skip-stop elevators, which make stops at the first, fifth and eighth floors, encourage occupants to use the grand stairs and sky bridges. Secondary elevators stop at each floor, both for ADA compliance and for the practical tasks of moving materials, artworks, and equipment.

© Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

In the spirit of the institution’s dedication to free, open and accessible education, the building itself is symbolically open to the city. Visual transparencies and accessible public spaces connect the institution to the physical, social and cultural fabric of its urban context. At street level, the transparent facade invites the neighborhood to observe and to take part in the intensity of activity contained within. Many of the public functions – an exhibition gallery, board room and a two-hundred-seat auditorium – are easily accessible one level below grade.

The building reverberates with light, shadow and transparency via a high performance exterior double skin whose semi-transparent layer of perforated stainless wraps the building’s glazed envelope to provide critical interior environmental control, while also allowing for transparencies to reveal the creative activity occurring within. Responding to its urban context, the sculpted facade establishes a distinctive identity for Cooper Square. The building’s corner entry lifts up to draw people into the lobby in a deferential gesture towards the institution’s historic Foundation Building. The façade registers the iconic, curving profile of the central atrium as a glazed figure that appears to be carved out of the Third Avenue façade, connecting the creative and social heart of the building to the street.

section A
section A
© Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

Built to LEED Gold standards and likely to achieve a Platinum rating, 41 Cooper Square will be the first LEED-certified academic laboratory building in New York City. Advanced green building initiatives include:

  • An operable building skin made of perforated stainless steel panels offset from a glass and aluminum window wall. The panels reduce the impact of heat radiation during the summer and insulate interior spaces during the winter.
  • Radiant heating and cooling ceiling panels introduce innovative HVAC technology that will boost energy efficiency. This contributes to making the new building 40 percent more energy efficient than a standard building of its type.
  • A full-height atrium enables unique circulation for building occupants, improves the flow of air and provides increased interior day lighting.
  • Seventy-five percent of the building’s regularly occupied spaces are lit by natural daylight.
  • A green roof insulates the building, reduces city “heat island” effect, storm water runoff and pollutants; harvested water is reused.
  • A cogeneration plant provides additional power to the building, recovers waste heat and effectively cuts energy costs.
  • Flexible state-of-the-art laboratories, studios and classrooms are specifically designed to accommodate pedagogical objectives, as well as current and future research activities.

This aggregation of progressive green building initiatives combines with the building’s social spaces and urban connectivity to support Cooper Union in advancing its legacy of innovative ideas, cross-disciplinary knowledge, and creative practices well into the future.

Cite: "The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art / Morphosis Architects" 12 Nov 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
  • dados

    In before “It’s just a normal buildling with a fancy skin”

    I like the vertical plaza idea and I think the geometry is better than what most architects do when they try to copy something like this. I’d like a picture of the street entrance stairway though.

    • jimmydesigner

      Does anyone know which softwares Morphosis uses to “design” their buildings?
      I have heard they use Rhino but then how do you transfer the model to another production software (Construction Documents) like Autocad, Microstation?

  • asd


  • B.m.eid

    What a wonderfull building!
    clean plan, amazing faace, and stunning vertical plaza!

  • furqiii

    this is indeed an amazin piece of architecture!!!!!

  • carlos


    • jg

      callate, carlos!

  • A Sphere

    Because I’m worth it
    Cooper Union and Morphosis
    like a famous Slogan

  • N!CK

    I would rather take the stairs in stead of the elevator

  • archimedialab

    …. and finally decent photographs of it.

    • ygogolak

      The only new one is from the water tower. All the others have been released before. The diagrams are new though, but they are probably on morpohpedia.

  • ygogolak

    Here’s a good article on the design process:

    • Mike Bloomberg

      Thanks for the link. Archdaily was pretty late to post this project. Very late I would say. The link you posted above enlighten me.

  • cmk

    As someone who looks out my office window at this building every day, I assert it is the most refreshing piece of architecture in New York in years! The building makes me smile every day and that’s not easy to do.

  • Glazed

    Would like to know what generated the form of the vertical “piazza”. Was program laid out which created the void? Was the void designed as a form, with program laid out around it?

    Here’s my quib – the distorted grid/trellis that follows the stairs appears purely cosmetic and non-structural. I don’t see its purpose other than to scream “distorted and cool.” Contrast this to the Diamond Ranch High School that seems more restrained – and quite successful because of that.

  • cad

    the pigeons gonna love this place

  • ness


  • Marcus Des

    Can’t judge from photo’s, but I love looking at them, there’s something very mesmerizing about those unexpected shapes. Hope Morphosis is going to do more in Europe! Great coverage.

  • L dog

    the definition of a “double skin”

  • Henry

    Its proportions and alienation from the grid of the city reminds me of the original Cooper building–with the clock. The building is conflicted. The plan is made of right angles square-traditional rooms and mundane halls (besides the vertical piece that’s cut through this). The building is essentially a box with some decorations and cuts. The architect should decide between a rigid square form or one that is free or somewhat chaotic.

  • SB

    He is the mayne!

  • Leonizzy

    My sister studies there. The students hate it, because they lost so much square footage, as well as their only informal collaborative space (that doubled as a game room/resting place). There are a few classrooms in the basement, with no windows at all, at the expense of a few study lounges with corner windows. The classrooms themselves are smaller than they used to be, and there are some really awkward leftover spaces (the result of the geometrical conflict pointed out by Henry). The main staircase ha a break between the 6th and 7th floors, where students have to take the fire stairs between floors.
    This building has an amazing street presence, and definitely is a welcome addition to the streets of New York. But these public gestures and formal acrobatics were made at the expense of the users and their primary needs.

  • kagayakitecture

    Wow… In a sea of contextual buildings, come this accent… I would say it’s pretty nice.. Thom Mayne really can make those vertical plaza… and LEED certified… I would say I’m proud..

  • Scott

    Morphosis’s excels at creating spaces that are very well connected and overlapped to create some great experiences. It seems like they had to hold back for some reason on this project with the fairly basic stacked floors and the straight corridors. The central stair looks like its quite nice though and works well with the facade.

  • @

    This is a perfect example of the great schism that Koolhaas speaks of in Delirious New York. What makes the project interesting is its conflicted nature. The tension animates the building which allows it to match the energy of its population as well as the city.

    On another note, morphosis has had issues with aligning the detailing for cladding in the past (University of Cincinnati Rec Center) I cant tell from the pictures but it seems as though this building may have some similar issues(where the exterior scrim meets the siding of the gash). Its unfortunate that such an interesting project falls victim to economical detailing.

  • hungdang

    i can not say anythings. it is very wonderful

  • Andrew Geber

    i wanna see MORE of this type of dynamic architecture!

  • jGo

    Disappointing! The space looks pretty unusable as there are columns awkwardly located in nearly every room. Seems like form making at the detriment of function (and bad form making at that). It’s all far too arbitrary. The only nice part is the internal stair, but I still have no idea why.

  • snuffaluffagus

    what do the studios even look like?!?! I can’t seem to find images of them anywhere. Are they that bad?

  • Fernando

    Looks post-apocalyptic! No need to fly airplanes into buildings to get that nice ‘lived-in’ feel that they desperately seek in NYC… haha

  • preetty sandhu

    i like it.

  • { kat }

    i cannot speak to the interior of the architecture from experience, but i walk by this about once a week and it is always a refreshing sight. from a bird’s eye photograph it looks rather intimidating and as some have said feels like it does not belong, but from a street view it is stellar! a great building that reflects the younger crowds in the area.