the new cooper union building on 7th street and bowery has been well documented in the new york architecture scene since its opening in the summer of 2009. the structure was granted leed-platinum status because of its green design initiatives such as 75% natural lighting, which reduces electrical costs. in addition, there is a high-tech hvac system which uses servo-mechanics to automatically open and close the corrugated steel panels that make up the facade. there are countless sustainable design initiatives that have been taken into consideration, and it is admirable to see that this building has achieved them with such fine attention to detail as well. it was a treat to visit it last night.
upon entering, one is greeted with a steep staircase to the third floor. a distorted web-like grid wraps the stairs and provides a visual vortex toward the criss-crossed underside of stairwells and passageways hovering above. the structural and non-structural apparatus of the web and angular staircase warp your perception of space and puncture your perception of depth. most architects would create a celestial atrium space, but morphosis does not try to recreate, in fact, its aim is to reinvent and rework, thus fostering a much more masculine and crude mix, softened only by the white light of the railing’s frame.
having never experienced a space like that before, it is easy for me to identify what is new to me and study why certain choices were better than others. for example, since the atrium space is so enjoyable, it would be nice to see functions of the building make use of the long, wide space. assuming the goal of the skip-stop elevator is to encourage people to use the stairs and thus interact with others while using them, it would seem like a perfect place to foster social activities by making it possible to stop, sit down and talk. but, there is no room to do that, instead they seemed quite narrow. in addition, the railings on the staircase are attached to the white plexi tomb of light that makes the atrium space glow. this encasement of light is 5’ high on the staircase and nearly a foot wide - making it an impossibility to see the ground floor. furthermore, the stairs are not continuous from bottom to top - on the third floor you are re-routed to a large fire escape staircase (which is unlike most, and actually nice).
the goal of the atrium space is to bring natural light into a place in the building that would normally not get natural light, as well as reduce heating and lighting costs. the visual affect of the atrium space is incredibly impressive. i use the term visual affect here instead of decoration because i believe that morphosis is not concerned with decoration. i think the firm strives to achieve uniquely designed spaces, which expose viewers to new forms and new circulation opportunities which are fostered via the vast array of materials, patterns and orientations throughout the building. the building is most successful at executing a reanalysis and rethinking of space, form, and movement. though traditional programatic typologies such as classrooms and tiered floor plans are present, the angular passageways and luminescence of the internal space show how artistry and attention to detail rear positive visual and subconscious impacts.