Two weeks ago, The Cooper Union’s Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture launched its new online Student Work Collection database, an archive of student projects from the 1930s through today. Spanning over eight decades, the database aims to illustrate how The Cooper Union’s experimental approach to architectural education has evolved over time and influenced architectural pedagogy at large. The collection is free and open to the public. The database's release was organized into two phases. To celebrate the project's initial launch on November 13, the school hosted a two-part discussion between former and current faculty members. The first phase provides access to approximately 20,000 analog records dating from 1930-2000, including almost 1,600 design studio projects completed at the school. The collection “highlights the singular inclusion of humanities in architectural pedagogy that distinguishes The Cooper Union from other schools of architecture,” the school wrote on their website. Accordingly, the first discussion was centered around the school’s pedagogy up until 2000 and John Hejduk’s legacy as teacher and dean. Participants included Diana Agrest, Peter Eisenman, Michael Sorkin, Sue Ferguson Gussow, and Michael Webb. The second discussion was centered on “the impact the pedagogy has had on the teaching and discipline of architecture” and was comprised of former graduates including Peggy Deamer, Laurie Hawkinson, Stan Allen, David Gersten, Bradley Horn, Kyna Leski, and Toshiko Mori. Phase II began earlier this month and is expected to continue through 2022. “Once complete, the Collection will become the first comprehensive, public, digital resource for historical and contemporary architectural pedagogy and student work,” said the school. The second phase will broaden the collection’s material by including 32,000 images, text, and audiovisual records from 2001 through today. You can browse the database according to courses, projects, locations, and people organized in alphabetical order. Users can also filter the collection of photos, drawings, and models by role, semester, or problem being addressed. A selection of this material was on view at the school’s 2018 exhibition, Archive and Artifact: The Virtual and the Physical, which presented 50 years of the school’s undergraduate thesis projects. “We are excited to share this rich body of work digitally and are certain it will help provide an integral reference point for any student, educator, or researcher of architecture about the radical changes in architectural education and practice of our last century,” said Steven Hillyer, director of the Architecture Archive.
As architects further blur the lines between science and design, lab and studio, and academia and practice, the experiments that arise from architect’s labs are changing the way the profession operates. With new digital fabrication and design tools and the university-fueled facilities to play with them, architects are able to reach in and engage with the physical construction process of their buildings more than ever before, altering a professional cultural divide that has been occupied by stonemasons, engineers, and contractors for millennia. “Really, this is an opportunity for architects to get back a lot of power they’ve lost over the last century,” said Fabio Gramazio, “We finally have the tools to take these risks.” Gramazio is a cofounder of Gramazio Kohler Architects, along with partner Matthias Kohler. But in 2000, the firm expanded into Gramazio Kohler Research (GKR) with the support of ETH Zurich, where the two both teach. The duo started tinkering with industrial robots, like those found in automobile factories, in the early aughts when they adapted the programmable arms for specific, repeatable building tasks like stacking bricks. However, they’ve come a long way since 2000.How to Build a House, an exhibition on the future of digital architectural fabrication, opened at the Cooper Union last Thursday and showcases a body of research at GKR and their partners from the renowned DFAB House, Benjamin Dillenburger and Mania Aghaei Meibodi. The four architects walked me through the exhibition space, where pieces of their experiments on architectural robots, large-scale 3D printers, and VR visualizations were curated by Hannes Mayer. Displaying a sensuality through its intense realism, the exhibition breaks new ground and questions the role of the architect in the profession of architecture as well as in the traditional context of a construction site. The technologies on display were adapted by these architects and tested for the first time in the real world with the construction of DFAB house, which was built on the third tier of the NEST building in Zurich. The inhabitable three-story structure is the first to be built almost exclusively with robots and digital technologies, designed from the computer screen up. “But there’s no repetitiveness anywhere—except for maybe the screws,” said Dillenburger. For the designers, the process of building the house itself was also a process of changing perspective and expectation. The new opportunities for digitizing age-old building methods like pouring concrete slabs, assembling timber structures, and shaping formwork further an already pressing question the profession is facing. As Kohler asks of his colleagues, “Is research the future of architecture, the core of the profession?” But the technologies themselves, and their presentation, reinforce their reality and existence in the "now"—this is not a futuristic exhibition. Mayer has adroitly positioned standout pieces of text, like “Architect” and “A Robot” amidst 1:1 models of digitally fabricated, full-size mullions, real-time process videos, and even a complete piece of a detailed, 3D-printed concrete slab. “It evokes an attractive industrial logic, as well as suggests a recipe,” says curator Mayer, gesturing to the thick black text that accompanies the eye as visitors travel around the non-linear exhibition floor, including the larger-than-life title type of How to Build a House. And this recipe is still being tinkered with. “Concrete, like architecture, is only limited by convention,” Dillenburger told AN as he gestured to 3D-printed concrete details. “It can be freed if we change our ideas about what it should look like.”
On September 10, the Architectural League of New York kicked off its fall 2019 lecture series with a talk by Pezo Von Ellrichshausen moderated by Michael Meredith. Speaking to a large audience in The Cooper Union’s Great Hall, the young Chilean firm presented a body of work ranging from art performance pieces, to an island villa looking toward the Andes, to a cultural center on the cliffs over the Pacific Ocean. The work, in short, is gorgeous, and Mauricio Pezo and Sofia Von Ellrichshausen spoke about it in a way that checked off every box for a formalist architectural project: considering the promenade, the corner, weight, material, color, seriality, etcetera—the stuff of architecture.
In response to a question by Meredith about the notion of progress, Pezo evoked the paintings of Mark Rothko. The evocation is apt; in fact, the paintings the office produces as part of their design process resonate with Rothko’s murky blocks of color. Like a Rothko painting, their architecture is transcendental—in a way, utopian. They are modern, but not in the sense of a modernist social agenda, like painters from the mid-20th century: the crisp silence of Edward Hopper, the figural alliteration of Paul Klee, the obsessive geometry of Frank Stella. The architects described their work as an exploration of format rather than form and showed diagrams similar to Sol LeWitt’s 122 Incomplete Open Cubes (1974), exploring every possible permutation of a formal operation. Engulfed in images of this transcendental, modern, utopian work, one could easily forget the last 50 or so years of architecture as it has struggled to adapt to changing construction techniques, global/neoliberal economies, digital workflows, and new social and environmental responsibilities.
An audience member questioned the architects about the role of context in shaping what was presented as largely autonomous work. Pezo said that built architecture is by definition contextual, but when he went on to bemoan the difficulty of addressing building codes for a project they are working on in the US, the audience chuckled—a tacit recognition by the crowd that the stunning work presented exists in the unique economic, construction, and environmental bubble in which the architects operate. It is a context of long staircases without landings, inaccessible doorways buried in acute corners, affordable skilled craftsmanship, and available commissions for small one-bedroom chalets. Meredith furthered the question of context, asking what the firm would do in an urban setting. Von Ellrichshausen responded that they don’t know, but they “will do it wonderfully.” Another audience member stepped up to the microphone not to ask a question but to congratulate the young firm on achieving the “perfect balance of Aldo Rossi and Alvar Aalto.” One could certainly discuss the work in relation to Rossi and Aalto or draw parallels between their explorations of the piano nobile and Le Corbusier or of columns and Giuseppe Terragni. But to do so, only, overlooks what their work eschews.
In New York, in a progressive school of architecture, on a warm September night following the Earth’s hottest summer ever recorded, the omission of any acknowledgment of the environmental, urban, social, and economic realities of architecture in the 21st century was glaring. Is treating architecture solely as an artistic, formal pursuit useful or even an option for anyone sitting in that auditorium? How much longer can the architecture community afford to do so? An audience member in the row in front of me noted in her phone “look up pve echo pavilion Milan.” Certainly, as with all of the project the architects showed, the pavilion at the 2019 Milan Design Week, a mirrored cube distorting the courtyard of a baroque palazzo, is worthy of our attention; it’s beautiful in both concept and execution. Pezo Von Ellrichshausen should, indeed, be admired, but not emulated.
Patrick Templeton is a Brooklyn-based architectural designer and managing editor of Log.
On April 4 and 5, Facades+ is returning to New York for the eighth year in a row. Organized by The Architect's Newspaper, the New York conference brings together leading AEC practitioners for a robust full-day symposium with a second day of intensive workshops led by manufacturers, architects, and engineers.
Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, and Toshiko Mori are respectively leading the morning and afternoon keynote addresses for the symposium. In between the keynote addresses, representatives from Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Permasteelisa, Cooper Union, Gensler, Heintges, Atelier 10, Transsolar, Walter P. Moore, Schüco, Frener & Reifer, and Behnisch Architekten, will be on hand to discuss recently completed innovative projects.
New York-and-Frankfurt based practice 1100 Architect is co-chairing the conference. In anticipation of the conference, 1100 Architect's Juergen Riehm sat down with AN to discuss the firm's ongoing work, the conference's program, and trends reshaping New York City's built environment.
The Architect's Newspaper: It is safe to say that New York City is undergoing a tremendous period of growth. What do you perceive to be the most exciting trends within the city?Juergen Riehm: You’re right; New York City is undergoing big change and growth. I would say that one of the big drivers of that change—and one of the exciting trends—is the investment in the city’s public spaces. There has been such transformation along the waterfronts and in parks across all five boroughs, and that has really catalyzed growth. We have worked with several city agencies for many years and in different ways, including with the Department of Parks & Recreation, which has been an exciting partnership, contributing to these changes. One of the projects we currently have in design for NYC Parks is a new community center in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. There, we are designing a 33,000-square-foot community center. The facade will perform in a number of ways. Since it is a community center, we want it to be as open and transparent as possible, and it also needs to be robust and durable. The building is on track to meet the city’s new sustainability standards LL31/32 and LEED Gold.
There has been so much attention on new large-scale developments like Hudson Yards or the supertall towers in Midtown, but one of the other exciting trends right now is the renewed attention on optimizing the performance of existing buildings. It is something we will address during Facades+ NYC, but there is great work happening now on restorations of historic buildings—at the Ford Foundation or the United Nations, for example—that not only addresses decades of wear and tear, but that also brings these structures up to full 21st-century performance standards.
AN: 1100 Architect is based in both New York and Frankfurt. What are the greatest benefits of operating a trans-Atlantic practice?JR: Our practice has always been deeply rooted in New York—just as it has also always had an international footprint. From our earliest days, we delivered projects overseas, so it seems like part of 1100 Architect’s DNA to have an ongoing dialogue with other geographies. We launched our Frankfurt office about 15 years ago, and, as you suggest, it does bring benefits. In general, we find that it has a reciprocal sharpening effect, with each location informing the other with different materials, technologies, and delivery methods.
AN: Which projects are 1100 Architect currently working on, or recently completed, that demonstrate the firm's longstanding demonstration of sustainable enclosures?JR: Well, the NYC Parks community center in East Flatbush is a good example. It’s an exciting project in many ways—including the fact that we are designing it to the City’s new LL31/32 sustainability standards. In every way, we are really pushing for optimal performance, and the high-performance envelope plays an integral role toward that end. We were recently awarded a contract with the U.S. Department of State, so we are poised to begin working on diplomatic facilities around the world, so the safety and security of facade systems will be a paramount consideration. In Germany, we are renovating a 19,000-seat soccer stadium and adding a new training facility, using an innovative and high-performance channel-glass facade. We recently completed a Passive House–certified kindergarten there, too, which involved a high-performance facade.
AN:Are there any techniques and materials used in Germany or the EU that should be adopted in the United States?JR: In Germany, I find that there is a more closely integrated relationship between government, the building industry, and the architectural profession. With environmental standards, for example, the goals set by the government are quite ambitious, and it has resulted in a closely integrated process of meeting those goals. In this moment of deregulation in the U.S., it seems like a good time to consider the value of the government’s role in moving toward energy efficiency.
AN: Where do you see the industry heading in the coming years?JR: By necessity, I see it moving toward higher standards of energy performance. Climate science is calling for it and the marketplace is increasingly looking for it, so the architecture and building industry will need to deliver. And as I mentioned at the start of this conversation, I also think there will be a lot of focus on updating existing buildings to enhance performance.
Further information regarding the conference can be found here.
Upon entering Drawing Codes, you might be struck by a sense of familiarity, as though everything looks somehow as it should. It’s comforting to be surrounded by beautiful drawings hung neatly in well-spaced, black-framed squares, little perfect windows into a collection of works by a close-knit circle of designers. But there’s also something unsettling in the comfort and familiarity of the exhibition—closing at the Cooper Union on February 23 and formally titled Drawing Codes: Experimental Protocols of Architectural Representation, Volume II—as though we are being sold something too slick, too friendly, too complete, as though everything’s been face-tuned, flattened into a collection that articulates a narrative without agonism or a predetermined history without contestation.The show’s brief itself leaves its subject quite open. In their introductory text, curators Andrew Kudless and Adam Marcus outline four prompts to consider the theme: code as generative constraint, code as language, code as cipher, and code as script. “Code” might encompass building regulations and energy standards, syntax and encryption, recipes and typologies. But an assumption underlies the brief that the project is really about computational code; the curators’ text opens with a comment explaining that emergent technologies have changed how we practice. This internal conflict of the theme—between its presumed meaning and purported openness—produces a collection that commits to neither.And while the curators’ prompt cleaves “code” open, Kudless and Marcus restrict the content through their own rules: square format, black and white drawings, only orthographic projection. These rules reference early digital aesthetics and we need look no further than to the Whitney’s concurrent show Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965-2018 to see evidence of that history. There, works like Joan Truckenbrod’s 1975 Coded Algorithmic Drawing (#45), Manfred Mohr’s Band Structures studies from the 1960s-’70s, and Frederick Hammersley’s No Title (1969) lay out a coding style that persists in contemporary practice, as seen in that same show in works by Tauba Auerbach, Casey Reas, and Alex Dodge among others.By and large, the drawings in Drawing Codes are individually impressive and conceptually rich. They are beautiful and obtuse, like Projectors by MILLIØNS or Anomalous Corner by Studio Sean Canty or DoubleVision by IwamotoScott Architecture; they are funny and smart, like Another Circle GPS Plan by Aranda\Lasch or Twisted Concrete Codes by Tsz Yan Ng with Mehrdad Hadighi; they are unexpected, like Stephanie Lin’s Accumulated Error No. 41, which uses coding to explore the blurry boundaries between rendering and drawing through visual effect. Each of the drawings could be described individually, and each has a novel take on the brief—they display a range of talented designers who should be lauded for their work—but together, they become muddled into a quasi-similar set of too-tasteful objects that don’t illustrate the potential of the topic. They seem forced into a mold rather than freed to explore new territories.The show’s restrictions put the content into a curious double-bind: individual artist statements offer a posteriori rationalizations designed to satisfy the brief, while the brief itself seems built around a priori ideas about what a show about code (or drawing) might look like. For example, that the curators eradicated perspective (in order to ensure participants wouldn’t send renderings) precludes a reading of “perspective” as itself coded, rule-based, and programmable. It also means that some of the most exciting work in computation around deep learning, neural networks, and artificial intelligence, built around interrogating and constructing perspective,are off the table here. The rules of the exhibition are curiously conservative given the topic and are too aligned with a trend towards early computer graphics popular across schools and young offices today.The statements also draw attention to how responding to the brief becomes more rhetorical than generative. Together, the works read as a compilation of exceptions that demonstrate how adept we all are at bending a brief to our work. This makes it more difficult to identify dominant narratives or sub-narratives across drawings, less compelling as a portrait of code, and privileges the individuality of the authors over the ethos of the collective.And this collective is producing a tremendous amount right now. Many, if not most of the participants in the show (and in its first volume, which debuted at the California College of Arts in January, 2017) are part of an emerging generation of practices (in which my own studio is often a part) that often cohabitate in exhibitions, publications, biennials, and conferences. These platforms should be pushing us all to do better, to produce more critically, to learn from each other. The idea of this show is great. Its constraints, however, produce a condition where expectation limits the possibility of discovery or invention across the work. The show seems dedicated to reiterating things we already know about drawing, code, and each other, and rejects the ugliness of experimentation.Which made it nice to see V. Mitch McEwen’s Arduino Bot Print and Maria Yablonina’s The perpetual spline machine, both of which foregrounded haptic process over graphic order. The former, through producing a map of avoidance as the penguinbot tried to avoid retracing its steps on paper; the latter, through the creation of a solar-powered bending machine that produces splines as it collects whatever energy it can, like some tragic figure of a near-future Greek myth. In these cases, the format enabled and helped frame the works, which indicates the productive potential latent in the project. Ultimately the comfort of the show—its sanctioned and familiar take on the aesthetics of code, its politeness over an inclusive brief—is its greatest limitation. In the exhibition press release, the curators say that they want to explore the impact of “computation and code-based processes” on “conventions of architectural representation,” a clear, straightforward proposal for an exhibition that would be great to see. Without the exceptions, without the rules, and with a more open and inclusive attitude towards aesthetics not bound by known tropes but encouraged through expansive definitions of generative practice. Comfort, for all its comfort, is too safe to compel.
Emerging technologies of design and production have opened up new ways to engage with traditional practices of architectural drawing. This exhibition, the second volume in a series organized by the CCA Digital Craft Lab, features experimental drawings by architects who explore the impact of new technologies on the relationship between code and drawing: how rules and constraints inform the ways we document, analyze, represent, and design the built environment.
Gallery Roundtable & Reception: Tuesday, January 29, 2019, 6:00pm
with Dean Nader Tehrani, Curators Andrew Kudless and Adam Marcus, Sean Anderson, Michael Young, and contributors to the exhibition.
At Cooper Square, the act of architectural drawing is bring re-analyzed in the context of a new era of computations and code-based processes. An exhibition, Drawing Codes: Experimental Protocols of Architectural Representation Volume II, presented by the Cooper Union School of Architecture, in conjunction with the California College of the Arts' Design Lab, questions how rapid innovations in design and production technologies impact the ways architects engage with traditional drafting techniques.Participants, such as firms Aranda\Lasch, MILLIØNS, and T+E+A+M, among many others, investigated the act of drawing with a nod to certain prompts laid out by curators Andrew Kudless and Adam Marcus. These prompts were: the psychology of rules, and whether they create room for design opportunity, or are factors which constrain; language, and theorizing whether writing and drawing engage with each other in architecture; and cipher, or the exploration of how drawings engage with and portray hidden messages.All of the 24 entries on display were held to strict rules: they use consistent dimensions, the same black and white palette, and are all two-dimensional, and relate to at least one of the prompts written above. And yet, even with such strong guidelines, the differences and creativity in each piece are astonishing. Curator Andrew Kudless stated, “Even when there are constraints and guidelines, there are loopholes and variances that open up new potentials for architectural design and representation.”The exhibition runs from January 23 to February 23, 2019.
Archive and Artifact: The Virtual and the Physical, an exhibition opening at the Cooper Union in New York City later this month, will showcase work from undergraduate architecture theses from the school's past 50 years. Visitors to the show will have the chance to check out the professional beginnings of bold-face names like Elizabeth Diller, Stanley Allen, and Daniel Libeskind.
“The thesis year is a pivotal point in Cooper Union’s five-year architectural program, as it showcases the imagination and maturity of our students,” said Nader Tehrani, dean of The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture in a statement. “Thesis is a culmination of an emerging architect’s learning and the launchpad between life as a student and their future as a professional. It allows students to become self-driven and often serves as a touchstone for long-term research throughout their career.”
The show is going up in anticipation of the school's launching of a digital archive of past student work in October 2019.
The Cooper Union has been one of the New York City's top architecture schools for decades and was particularly important in the 1980s and '90s as a center of activity for architects like Peter Eisenman and John Hejduk.
A symposium, Thesis Now: Pedagogies, Research, and Agency of the Architectural Thesis, will accompany the exhibition on December 1, and the show is being presented in tandem with this year's Archtober festival.
Archive and Artifact
Wednesday, October 24–Saturday, December 1, 2018
Tuesday–Friday 2 p.m.–7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 12 p.m.–7 p.m.
The Cooper Union, Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Gallery, 2nd Floor
7 East 7th Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues
New York, New York 10003
The Swiss Institute for Contemporary Art has opened its new 7,500 square foot Selldorf Architects-designed location on St. Marks Place in New York City. Taking over four levels of a former bank built in 1954 and designed by Alfred Hopkins and Associates, the renovation is, in the words of Swiss Institute director Simon Castets, a “counter narrative” to the building’s former financial, low-occupancy use.The Selldorf redesign uses a seemingly minimal touch. Though there have been significant changes—full stairwells and elevators have been added along with a total plan rework—the overall architectural sensibility feels light and unimposing. White walls remain unadorned. Flooring is understated. On all ceilings, ductwork, lighting, and structural elements remain exposed—a departure from many recent galleries in the city that have instead focused on hiding every functional detail, even the lighting, as much as possible.Curators generally aren’t keen on losing space to the workaday trappings of administrative necessity. Swiss Institute has filled every corner, wall, stairwell, and even the elevator with art to allow “artists to reclaim the space lost to New York City building code” as part of the SI ONSITE program. Stairwells feature sculptures and frescoes by Shahryar Nashat and Latifa Echakhch. The elevator has been turned into an artwork, skinned in a welcoming pink from Sherwin Williams called “Memorable Rose,” which is taken from the color of a tongue by artist Pamela Rosenkranz for an installation appropriately titled Color of a Tongue (Director) (2018). A cellar gallery remains honest about what it really is with layers of gray paint applied by Dusty Baker.
Like the building itself, the current exhibition, Readymades Belong to Everyone (open through August 19), is packed with art. The first floor, which features ceilings that soar over 17 feet, is dense with all variety of sculpture and 2D work. Despite lower ceilings, the new location's upper level is airy, wrapped in windows with exposed wood shining on the ceiling. There is a reading room, currently taken over by a project from Heman Chong in collaboration with Ken Liu. Chong and Liu’s Legal Books (Shanghai) features hundreds of books selected by Liu, a sci-fi writer and attorney, inspired by thinking on the Chinese legal system. The art instillation-cum-reading room features painted curtains by Jill Mulleady, another way in which the Institute is packing in the art.
One enters from Second Avenue to find a visitor welcome desk and a bookshop from Printed Matter. The entire space is decked out in the clean lines of USM’s furniture, and behind the visitor information desk is John Armleder’s Royal Flush (2018) installation of mirrored tiles reminiscent of a disco ball.
The Swiss Institute also takes the art outdoors with a terrace that places visitors in the midst of the city. The current plein air setup includes work by Valentin Carron, Nancy Lupo, and Michael Wang. In Wang's Extinct in the Wild series, the artist references Peter Stuyvesant's original orchard, composed of native plants that now only grow with human care and populated what is now the East Village. Signage on the building is multilingual, not merely with the four official languages of Switzerland, but also with the most spoken languages in the Swiss Institute's new surrounding area: English, Spanish, and Chinese. The Swiss Institute, which has free admission, has also been collaborating with local community organizations for artist-led workshops and is actively celebrating the artistic history and present of their new East Village location.The Swiss Institute’s new 38 St. Marks location opens with the exhibition Readymades Belong to Everyone, on view now, curated by Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen. In addition to the artists described above, the show features many architects and designers including OFFICE, Rem Koolhaas, MOS Architects, and Sauter von Moos in collaboration with Herzog and de Meuron.
Over the past four decades, Spanish architect Josep Lluís Mateo has made significant contributions to the field through publishing and teaching as well as design.
Early in his career, Mateo spent nine years as the editor of Quaderns d’Arquitectura i Urbanisme, the journal of the Architects’ Association of Catalonia. He has since contributed to numerous books and magazines; in 2007 a compilation of his essays was published as Textos Instrumentales. In 2015 he launched BCN Architecture Guide, a mobile app dedicated to design in Barcelona.
A professor emeritus at ETH Zurich, he has taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and the Barcelona School of Architecture.
Mateo’s built work ranges from multifamily housing in France to office buildings in Germany and the Netherlands. His Barcelona-based firm is now working on several urban development projects, including:
Nice Grand Arenas, Nice, France
Montpellier Cité Créative, Montpellier, France
Draga district, Sibenik, Croatia
His Current Work lecture will include:
Cultural Center of Castelo Branco, a dramatic form cantilevered over an ice skating rink in a small Portuguese city
Film Theatre of Catalonia, whose simple concrete facade was designed to fit into a gentrifying Barcelona neighborhood
Prague National Gallery Entrance Hall, a sensitive design for a museum entry in a historic Prague complex.
On March 15, Cooper Union announced its intention to return to a tuition-free model for all undergraduates in the next ten years. The prestigious design and engineering school has been mired in controversy since 2012, when the discussion to introduce student fees began. In 2014, after two years of debate and student protests (including a lock-in of the school’s Foundation Building), the school’s board of trustees had announced it would begin charging tuition, with some students responsible for as much as 50 percent of the tuition, estimated at $38,500 a year at that time.
In a statement reported by the New York Times, Laura Sparks, Cooper Union’s president, stated that the return to tuition-free education could be accelerated if the institution exceeds its financial targets in any given year. Strengthening the school’s financial health relies on greater fundraising outreach and what are for now unspecified cuts in expenses. The precarious financial health of the educational institution primarily derives from a non-diversified endowment and an insufficiently developed donor network.
While the industrialist Peter Cooper founded the institution in 1858 to provide first-rate, higher education for the working class of New York City, the establishment of an endowment in 1902 by Cooper's heirs insured that the school remained tuition-free for over a century. The reversal towards this former model will bring to a close a contentious and tumultuous period in Cooper Union’s history.
To walk the streets of a city with Diane meant to be move slowly and with focus, and to often come to a complete standstill when the discussion at hand was primary over all else. This immersion was in striking contrast to her gait and quickness in the halls of Cooper Union and her brisk efficiency in the orchestration of a construction site. She lived in accord with the tenets of her practice and her teaching, and her intellectual rigor and intensity were applied to all endeavors. She believed deeply in the necessary confrontation of the existing with the ideal. The rub of dueling conditions as the source of artistic inspiration was a concept for Diane that spanned from Dante’s Divine Comedy (the introduction to our course at Pratt) to how she engaged the eccentricities of building within a given condition. To work alongside Diane on the job site was a demonstration of architecture as both an art in form and a theater piece with a unique casting call and stage directions in a whirlwind toward exquisite results. In the center was Diane, always a cutting sight in her effortless, yet careful wardrobe and its accents; the most important were her eyeglasses. She had wanted glasses since an early age and was thrilled when they became a necessity.
Diane’s ability to enjoy life was to make the best possible conditions for living, eating, thinking—whatever happened to be the pursuit of the moment. She had a gusto for food and ate with the same enjoyment and abandon as when she watered the garden at one of her many 9th street studio locations, a bit messy but with pure joy, flinging water so that it hit not only the plants but also the table she designed and the chairs and cushions. She was a talented cook and brought recipes from all over the world back to the studio, where she would regret that we did not have a dedicated chef on staff as Scarpa had when she visited his Venetian studio in the ’70s. Decades later when we visited Venice she insisted the first act must be to go immediately to Harry’s Bar, which was filled with Carnival revelers.
Wherever Diane lived it was always in a work of architecture, whether by her own hand or by selection. She would spend the summers in Long Island renting the guesthouse from Charles Gwathmey’s mother, and she lived for many years on a floor in William Lescaze’s townhouse on 48th street, where she was later married. In a metropolitan style, she had simply stopped by and made an inquiry to his widow if there were rooms for rent; Diane later designed an addition to her D.C. residence. Diane would note that she saw the principals of Hejduk’s Wall House in the Lescaze townhouse. Her intrinsic ability to see the lineages of work and continuity of thought allowed her to absorb, project, and hypothesize. She created a literary a-chronological world of architecture that is both deeply engaging and spectacularly liberating.
As a professor she preserved the sanctity and dignity of the students and adhered to the highest aspirations of academic sovereignty. She treated us with respect and demanded a critical forum for the discussion of work, investing in each student close readings as well as the independence to shape our studio projects. Under her teaching team, our class, and many others, created spectacular work from both expected and unexpected sources. Her gravitational field pulled people from near and afar: My friend and classmate Jack immediately applied to Cooper after having Diane during her tenure in the Hyde Chair at the University of Nebraska. Diane herself applied to Cooper as an art student at the recommendation of George Segal, whom she met in Syracuse in a high school summer program. Pei Cobb Freed & Partners’ Everson Museum of Art was in construction nearby; they would be second firm she would work for after initiating her professional career in the office of Richard Meier.
Most striking about Diane was her precise language, her careful articulation and her prescience to the gulf between thought and speech. Her unrelenting attention to meaning and complete absorption in structure were a means to penetrate through the contrived and conventional. Diane demanded that we engage the world not as it is, but as it should be. She entitled an unfinished book, Mind Over Matter.