Zahner engineers and fabricators have worked with Morphosis on a number of projects, and in 2006 began working on a building for the architects which would require innovations in perforated metal, facade systems, and an experiment in operable windows. This project, a new academic building for Cooper Union, would take three years to complete.
In December 2009, shortly after the building's opening, Thom Mayne of Morphosis was profiled in an article by Time Magazine architecture critic Richard Lacayo. The piece discusses Thom Mayne's history with architecture, and how his past works have influenced the Cooper Union New Academic Building in New York City:
The building was designed by Morphosis, the Santa Monica-based firm of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne, and represents Mayne's first move into New York or for that matter the East Coast. He makes buildings like no one else's, with complex orchestrations of space and form and a tough luster that's unmistakably his.
The folded and perforated metal skin of his project for Cooper Union stands out strongly in its neighborhood of mostly brick and masonry buildings, but it also speaks to the local heritage of loft industry — and of thinking outside the box. "As a design and engineering school, Cooper Union is a place that's about creative capital," says Mayne. "So we wanted something that had energy."
Mayne, 65, started his career in 1971 teaching at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, Cal., but in short order he was fired with six other faculty whose ideas didn't fit the institutional mold. The ousted teachers decided to start their own school, which became the Southern California Institute of Architecture, SCI-Arc, a school with an emphasis on experimental approaches. That was in 1972, the same year Mayne started Morphosis with another architect, Jim Stafford. There was a long lean period. But in 1999 Mayne produced his breakthrough building, the Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, Cal., an ensemble of angular forms that put him on the map. It led to other widely seen projects like the Los Angeles district headquarters of CalTrans, the California Department of Transportation; a federal courthouse in Eugene, Oregon; and a forthcoming office tower in Paris that will be the tallest building in the city.
At Cooper Union the screen creates a concave facade that bows in many directions. Depending on the light, that steel skin, which has a low, semi-matte luster, can project either cheese-grater roughness or elegant shimmer — or, oddly, both. And the way it slopes forward in its upper and lower portions gives the building's principal façade an elastic thrust that's both graceful and forceful. At street level, steel trusses appear from beneath the lower hem of the screen like sturdy legs beneath a swelling skirt, a gesture that calls to mind the "Fred and Ginger" building in Prague that was completed in 1995 by Frank Gehry, an L.A. architect Mayne admires.
Cooper Union's 175,000-square-foot, $111.6 million addition, known simply by its street address, 41 Cooper Square, covers the full block on Third Avenue from East 6th to East 7th in downtown Manhattan, bordering the East Village. Designed by Morphosis and engineered and installed by Zahner, the building's futuristic facade is strikingly different and unlike anything else around it.
As he did in his San Francisco federal office, Mayne has also provided his Cooper Union building with elevators that don't stop on every floor. His hope is that this will encourage people to take the stairs for at least a floor to increase their chances of bumping into each other. (For the handicapped a conventional elevator hits every floor.) And anyway, compared to a standard elevator, the stairs are a joyride.
Excerpts from an article by Time Magazine architecture critic Richard Lacayo. To read the article in its original context, visit www.time.com