After Cooper: Jean Brownhill Lauer, Our Buildings, and the Spaces within Them

September 13, 2012

A project recently completed through Jean Brownhill Lauer's (AR'00) theSweeten.com. A project recently completed through Jean Brownhill Lauer's (AR'00) theSweeten.com.
A project recently completed through Jean Brownhill Lauer's (AR'00) theSweeten.com.

After Cooper is a new series about Cooper alumni using their talents and education to create innovative businesses and careers


“The ability to study with leading architectural thinkers, to live in New York City, and to be part of a small, intimate class made attending The Cooper Union an easy decision for me,” says Jean Brownhill Lauer (AR'00), who graduated from Cooper’s Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture in 2000. Brownhill Lauer, who went on to attend Harvard University’s prestigious Graduate School of Design as a Loeb Fellow, is the CEO of theSweeten.com, which she founded in June 2011 “to help New Yorkers realize their renovation dreams and to make informed choices about hiring architects, contractors, and interior designers.” She describes theSweeten as a matchmaking service and talent management agency that connects potential remodeling and renovation clients (for whom use of the web site is completely free) to a network of design and construction professionals. The successful new Internet business has already received positive attention from online media like DailyCandy and was named “Best Contractor Locator” in New York magazine’s “Best of New York 2012” issue.

Brownhill Lauer, who currently resides in Brooklyn, credits much of her success to her time at Cooper. “Cooper taught me how to think, to ask critical questions, and to not be satisfied with easy answers,” she remarks. “The highlight of school, for me, was the interaction I had with the other academic programs. I was really able to explore the disciplines of art and engineering.” She credits her professors, among them George Chaikin, with helping her to develop interests that spanned Cooper’s three disciplines. “I believe architects, urban planners, and other professionals tasted with shaping the build world should work to creative, develop, and use Internet-based solutions on a practical and conceptual level,” she comments. “There is no way I would have known anything about the inner workings of the Internet if I hadn’t worked in the Engineering School’s computer center my second year. I learned about networks and systems in a tangible way from the engineers, who explained things to me as only people with mastery of a topic can.” Similarly, Brownhill Lauer adds, “I learned about color, contrast, and framing of prints from the time I spent in the dark room with my Art school friends. Today, these are all things I think about for the user interface of theSweeten.”

Brownhill Lauer also praises Cooper’s emphasis on innovation. “There are many types of entrepreneurship, whether you’re working inside a large institution or starting your own company,” she explains. “The one thing that doesn’t change is that you have to be able to embrace failure. Cooper provided me with an early model of experimentation where failure was an expected byproduct of trying.”

In her daily professional life, Brownhill Lauer finds it rewarding to “watch an idea grow, develop, and flourish. My team and I get to ask big questions, run tactical experiments, and ponder possible solutions.” What’s most challenging about her career these days, she explains, is recruiting for theSweeten. “I’m always looking for smart, thoughtful, fun people to come join our team.”

As she looks to the future, Brownhill Lauer’s goals include “the creation, construction, and maintenance of spaces that celebrate the lives of all people, from diverse backgrounds, with diverse experiences. Our buildings, and the spaces within them, are a concrete reflection of our society’s priorities.” She is particularly interested in the continuing impact of the Internet on the shaping of the built world. “We are dominated by a new paradigm, where the concept of place is an abstraction,” she explains. “I’m curious to see if architecture can continue to occupy the role of important places and thus reflect the priorities of society when the current cultural revolution occupies no concrete place.” She strongly believes that the Internet can be a valuable “building tool” used to “enable, strengthen, promote, and expand the importance of place, so that architecture can continue to be historically specific and reflective of society’s current needs.”

Brownhill Lauer advises the new generation of architects and entrepreneurs to “be curious about the world around you, and read as much as you can.” She also encourages current hardworking Cooper students to “go ahead and sleep! It will help you to think more clearly.”

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.