Legendary critic Ada Louise Huxtable weighs in on the new Cooper Union building in The Wall Street Journal. And she likes what Thom Mayne has done... Take it away, Ada!
[I]ts futuristic façade is strikingly different in style and unlike anything else around it. The East Village is an area in transition, best known for its disappearing Bowery flophouses and restaurant supply stores. The wave of development moving along the Bowery in the wake of Sanaa's New Museum with its offhand infusion of sophisticated Japanese design already contains the marks of Meatpacking-District gentrification. With its uneven mix of scales and textures and juxtapositions that have more to do with unpredictable change than reliable constants, this is a place that upends any conventional or stable idea of "contextual" harmony.
It is not surprising that the school would commission an equally advanced design for its new construction, not only for the latest in technology and sustainability, but also as an appropriate learning environment for those engaged in creative disciplines. Applying a tough sensibility to a tough assignment revitalized an amorphous status quo. To this native New Yorker who has watched the city evolve over decades and treasures its unrelenting diversity, Mr. Mayne has got it just right.
And she likes the staircase!
The stair is meant to be the interactive heart of the building and it appears to be working, although reality doesn't always follow architects' plans. Students move between classes, sit on the steps with their computers or lunches, and peel off to adjacent study lounges. Daylight pours down from a skylight at the top. This is high architectural drama, a luminous and exhilarating invitation into the structure's life and use. It is not building as bling. It is how architecture turns program and purpose into art. And it perfectly expresses the creative energy of New York.