Letter from the Acting Dean | Elizabeth O'Donnell

Cooper Union Stock Photo

It is an honor and pleasure for me to once again introduce the work of the faculty and students of the School of Architecture through this publication that coincides with The Cooper Union’s End of Year Show for the 2014-2015 academic year. The End of Year Show provides a visible structure for the design curriculum as a whole, while elucidating the conceptual emphasis of each individual studio and teaching team.

The Master of Architecture II program concluded its fifth year with an exhibition in September of the thesis projects of the class of 2014. Nine projects were presented that examined and revealed the potential for architecture to elucidate a breadth of physical and conceptual conditions. The degree program, no longer “new,” is continually evolving, having now brought 40 young architects and scholars from around the world to the school to clarify and challenge the disciplinary boundaries of architecture through an emphasis on its fundamental tools: rigorous observation and research, drawing and model making (of all kinds), photography and film.

The Cooper Union Institute of Sustainable Design also formally marks its fifth year of work. The CUISD has become a vital resource for all Cooper Union faculty and students, as well as the broader academic and professional communities, sponsoring lectures, partnering with other New York City institutions on major symposia, and this year hosting its first invited educators’ workshop. Following a competitive process, the CUISD will award its first summer fellowships to three student teams who will address “Visualizing Climate Change.”

The School of Architecture Archive installed an exceptional sequence of exhibitions this year that each addressed teaching and making architecture. Following the Master of Architecture II thesis exhibition, the School of Architecture Archive presented its first exhibition in the planned series Drawing from the Archive. Two years in the making, Drawing from the Archive: Analysis as Design presented 47 student projects produced at the school between 1967 and 2014, as well as a 45 year timeline of images drawn from the Archive that demonstrated the evolution of “analysis” as a fundamental part of the school’s pedagogy: a didactic, structural and abstract discipline in itself. This historic exhibition included over 100 original drawings and almost fifty models; works in all media presented analysis as a creative, synthetic process, as well as a dissection and close reading of an existing work of architecture. The Kyrgyz cemeteries as photographed by School of Art professor Margaret Morton in the exhibition Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan, are constructions of an almost evanescent physical quality. Bearing witness to memory, history and culture, they are works of architecture in the most essential sense. Three Views of Oman: the Photography of Wilfred Thesiger, Charles Butt and Edward Grazda, 1945-2006 revealed a young nation through the eyes of the West as its contours and identity emerged in the last 60 years. Architecture students, who in the future will likely seek and find work in unfamiliar cultures and geographies, must learn the importance of patient study and observation, and understand the relationship between maker and subject, if they are to create works of beauty and meaning.

The faculty of the School of Architecture continues as one of the school’s greatest strengths and assets. While fostering the intellectual and creative life of the school with focus and dedication, resident and adjunct faculty alike shared scholarship and engaged in discourse on myriad issues affecting architecture today both nationally and internationally. Faculty participated in conferences, symposia and exhibitions at Columbia University, the ETH Zurich, Harvard, Kabul University Afghanistan, Texas A&M University, The New School, Yale University, Alvar Aalto Academy, the Bard Graduate Center, MIT, Princeton University, the Center for Architecture New York, annual meetings of the ACSA, the History of Science Society, the Society of Architectural Historians, NYC Media Lab, the Austrian Cultural Institute, the CUNY Graduate Center, the Goethe-Universitat Frankfurt, the Storefront for Art
and Architecture, the Van Alen Institute, Busan Chapter of the Architectural Institute of Korea, the Contemporary Art Center, Bedminster NJ, The Design Museum, London, the MoMA, the Graham Foundation, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, among many others and were recognized in design competitions hosted by the Istanbul Modern and Blank Space Projects. This in addition to many published articles in journals and periodicals as well as chapters in scholarly books. The film The Making of an Avant Garde: The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, 1967-1984 continued a second year of screenings nationally and abroad in London and Paris. And Open City: Existential Urbanity, an anthology spanning fourteen years of architecture created by students of the fourth year design studio with essays by architects, artists and historians has been published by Charta and will be available at bookstores in August. A formal launch is planned for early fall.

After over 50 years of teaching at the School of Architecture, Professor Tony Candido retires following the end of this academic year. He has had an enormous impact on the school as a place for imagining and making bold, even heroic works of architecture, at the scale of the body and the scale of the megastructure through a lifelong study of line and plasticity. A celebration of his work and teaching is planned for early fall 2015.

This has been a consequential year in the history of The Cooper Union. Even as structural change has come to the institution, debate continues on its impact, both to the historic mission and values of the school, and to the question of higher education as a public good. In this year, as we anticipate the successful conclusion of the Dean Search, the School has recommitted itself to architecture as a social, intellectual and creative project. The historic ethos of The Cooper Union informs the school at every level, and the design studio is, more than ever, a place of community and debate, of analysis, experimentation, precision, hard work and risk-taking. Projects seek to clarify what is fundament to the discipline of architecture while drawing in questions of urgency and consequence for the individual and humanity.

It has been my great honor to be a part of this noble, optimistic and joyful venture.

  • 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.