Selected Undergraduate Design Studio Projects--Design II Spring 2015

The Distributed Urban Zoo - An Architectural Menagerie in the West Village

Professors James Lowder, Dorit Aviv, Will Shapiro, Lydia Zynogala

First conceived as “cabinets of curiosity,” the earliest notions of the zoo could be found in the collection of small pavilions or pagodas, strategically placed within the expansive and picturesque gardens of royalty. While perhaps the contemporary zoo has evolved past these cultural models of mere spectacle and object fascination, architecture has had a limited role in redefining this evolving relationship. Under the pretense of designing a menagerie of individual animal houses, which in turn will produce a larger distributed “zoo” network throughout the urban context of the West Village, the students were asked to locate a site from which they would cultivate their proposals.

Not defined by the normative parceling of land, property lines or zoning envelopes, students chose liminal urban spaces for their latent qualities and potentialities that were then, in turn, developed, with equal amounts of conceptual rigor and imagination, into highly abstracted landscapes, transcending their origins in order to achieve a new conceptual and spatial status.  Each student then had to introduce an intervention that responded to and engaged with the constellation of forces, vectors, and elements of the site. In tandem with this exercise, the students chose an animal to study in relation to the human body: comparative analysis of their morphology, studies of their range of movement and locomotion, research on various mediums/phases of matter in which the animal moves not only in relation to abstracted notions of their natural habitats but also to the surface areas and volumes equivalent to those found on the site.  This information was then put into conflict with the site intervention in order to structure and mediate the relationship between the two subjects. Due to the vast array of non-anthropomorphic criteria put into conflict with the architectonic elements, many of the assumptions upon which the discipline of architecture is predicated are now forced to be reimagined. The stable relationships that architecture has with human bodies, due to the human body’s relationship towards matter, geometry, gravity and scale, has unmoored the underlying principles that govern architectural form and necessitate a radical re-engagement with the motivations of an architectural language.


  • 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.