A Manifesto and Call to Action to Build a Cooper Union Free of Racial and Social Injustice

POSTED ON: August 31, 2020


As Architects, we hold a precious and critical space for how social imaginaries evolve, are reflected and contested. This delicate space ideally seeks to balance the poetic and the pragmatic, intangible virtues and tangible deliverables of “dwelling,” and requires an ongoing dialogue with society and the multiplicities and particular roles of architecture. We are collectively seized with the matter of contributing toward true social justice, through the vehicle of architecture, architectural thought, empathy and a profound belief in the power of creativity to unlock and lubricate the stymied wheels of social progress.

As architects we are not the sole arbiters of the built environment, but we are complicit in the perpetuation of the structural injustices when we give credence and expressive agency to power configurations that exist at the expense of others and when we are uncritical of the injustices which allow certain architectures to thrive in the real or imagined world.

The Black Lives Matter movement and its associated articulations are not a new cry for social justice; they are one of many waves of struggle, extending back centuries, but it is our wave, it is our struggle. The baton is firmly in our hands. Racism is a wicked problem, interwoven with capital, political structures and the very founding material of the Republic. As much as democracy is not an event, but a lived practice of diligence, oversight and rigor, so too must our fight against Racism be, in all its deceptive and surreptitious forms, and in so doing we may build a new edifice on the ashes of the old.

We seek a world beyond the narrow confines of racism, but one which celebrates our diversity as critical ingredients for the social imaginary of a progressive world. We are anti-racist, but unashamedly and even more so, pro-humanist—but to achieve that we must measure, frame and understand the ways in which racism conceals itself through our pedagogy, our canon, what we celebrate as virtuous and what we condemn.

We embrace the unfamiliar path that lies ahead. Our struggle is as much institutional as it is personal. We are modest about our capability to change the world, but we are bold enough to assert our right to attempt to do so. We are cautious about our certainty in this moment, but we are determined to discover a better way of being. This is why we are architects.

Context: In July 2020, students, faculty and alumni of the School of Architecture of The Cooper Union formed an ad hoc task force to propose positive actions to dismantle structures of racism and injustice in our institution. We were inspired by the “Collective Student Letter on Fostering an Actively Anti-Racist Institution” and the Zoom Town Hall following the collective grief and outrage over the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. Taking into consideration the distinct authority and spheres of influence of four tiers of institutional power at The Cooper Union, this Task Force presents a Framework for Partnership and action items at each of those levels: 1. Individuals and Small Groups; 2. Formal Committees and other Institutional Entities; 3. Deans; and 4. The Administration and Board of Trustees.

To view the full document—A Manifesto and Call to Action to Build a Cooper Union Free of Racial and Social Injustice—please click here.

Two Dogs on a Leash: Work by Ezekiel Binns, AR’23 & Juan Cardona, AR’21

POSTED ON: August 6, 2020

Architecture students Ezekiel Binns and Juan Cardona recently spoke with Maya Kotomori of Serving the People™ (stp)—an online platform for creative inquiry and experimentation—about their collaborative practice, Two Dogs on a Leash.

Binns and Cardona, who began collaborating roughly five years ago while attending the same magnet design high school in Miami, discussed their work, interests, and their recent submission to stp’s 2020 BFA Show, noting:

Seesaw, Two Dogs on a Leash
Every time we make a new project, we try to do something that we haven't done before, so there's this large learning curve where we actually have to learn a new software or a new method of working…We're not in the art program at Cooper, we're actually in the architecture program but we don't necessarily segregate ourselves to just working in architecture. We're really interested in the fine line between architecture and art, or the point in even having a line there.”

As noted in a recent Cooper news article, both Serving the People and the BFA Show, which was initiated to showcase student artwork during the pandemic, are the work of School of Art graduates. 

For the BFA Show, Two Dogs on a Leash submitted Untitled 2018 from a previous project addressing communal living, which they describe as akin to a “Christian kibbutz idea of multiple pods that aggregate together, each with an individual function, with a kind of hillside topography.” As an expression of their interest in the blurred distinctions between art and architecture, the project prompted the question: “How do you take architectural representation and push it more towards a scenographic experience? In a way, even though this isn't really a painting, we've always called it that. If you zoom in close enough, you can actually see a figure entering a home, and what entering that home would be like, pushing the walls in together.”



Anders Abraham—In Memoriam

POSTED ON: May 19, 2020

Anders Abraham, AR’91 and faculty member from 2000-03, died on May 1, 2020 after a long period of illness.

Anders studied at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen (now KADK) before transferring to The Cooper Union, where he graduated in 1991. He was a visiting scholar at Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1995-97 and defended his PhD dissertation at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen in 2004. For many years, he worked between New York and Copenhagen, before settling with his family in Copenhagen, where his practice, Anders Abraham Architects, is based. He founded the M.Arch program in Art and Architecture at the KADK, where he had been professor of architecture theory, design and artistic research since 2010. He served on the board of the KADK until his illness prevented it, and, together with his colleague Peter Bertram and his wife Christina Capetillo, he established the Works+Words Biennale for Artistic Research.

Anders believed in teaching, in thinking deeply and in architecture—in the deepest sense. As anyone who has been his student will know, he was an exceptionally sharp and generous teacher. With a scrutinizing, direct approach, Anders’ comments, suggestions and critiques could not be ignored. They etched themselves into the work and one was often left with an equal amount of gratitude and urgency to produce work that would justify his observations. Clarity, precision and the highest expectations on behalf of architecture made Anders one of the best teachers all of us who knew him had met. In that sense, he was the true successor of his friend and mentor, Raimund Abraham.

Anders made a lasting impression within minutes. His view on architecture as an artistic and constructive discipline was visionary and his willingness to defend it was significant. One had to be prepared to hear the truth, at any time and cost, with Anders in the room. At the same time, he had an eye for the important things in life. He insisted that teaching a theory course with my then 3-month-old baby on my arm was a wonderful idea, because it would be an encouragement for the students to see that children are no hindrance to being deeply invested in architecture.

A New Nature

While Anders was an important figure in the academic communities he belonged to, his legacy is first and foremost defined by his own practice. His highly original work on architecture and urbanity might have its early origin in the run-down neighborhoods around the automobile factories in Detroit, but soon developed into reflections on the architectural condition more broadly. He believed that the complex urban condition is our new nature. “Architecture is a condition that builds on relations, because that which matters one day either loses its significance or means something else the next. The city is created in the moment and it has to be central to our deliberations about urban development that we cannot retain the form, but that we can create spatial and social conditions instead,” he said at the release of his book, A New Nature. Anders’ work inspires many and will continue to inform our discipline. We must all act within architectural conditions between solid and liquid.

It is very hard to accept that Anders’ critical practice, thinking, making and teaching have ended much too soon. It was an honor to have known and worked with him, and to be inspired by his special intelligence, talent and great, profound integrity.

Anders is survived by his wife, Christina Capetillo, an architect and photographer, and by his daughter, Nora.

Anne Romme, AR’05

Hansted, 2018

The hallucinatory effect derives from the extraordinary clarity and not from mystery or mist. Nothing is more fantastic ultimately than precision.” – Alain Robbe-Grillet on Kafka

There are certain figures, who through their life and work, create a new horizon, re-imagine and re-articulate the aspirations of a discipline and, in doing so, become the hope of a generation. Anders Abraham is just such a figure; he set the bar for all of us through his deep intellect, ethos of precision, exploratory mind and generosity of spirit. I can think of no one whose life, work and teaching are more perfectly captured in the above words of Robbe-Grillet; they offer a glimpse of Anders’ immense depth and extraordinary clarity.

Architecture has lost a giant, a shining Cooper Union alumnus, and many, myself included, have lost a great teacher and dear friend. All of us are the recipients of the enormous contributions that Anders created while he was with us, gifts for current and future generations. We must celebrate and honor the extraordinary works and teaching of this extraordinary human being, and do so in the hope of absorbing the remarkable lessons that he created.

Anders and I were classmates in Architecture, at The Cooper Union, in the late 1980’s, both graduating in 1991. We taught together at the school from 2000-2003. Some of his student and teaching work is featured in the Student Work Collection database. Below is something that I shared during a lecture, in 2011, when Anders invited me to speak at the Academy in Copenhagen:

“One day when we were students in the fourth year, I was sitting at my desk in the studio looking across, watching Anders at his desk. He was immersed in drawing: he was bent down with his head very close to the drawing and clearly in such deep concentration. He was holding a compass in his hand, and with an intense calm and focus, he was slowly rotating the compass back and forth on its point, watching the circle it made in the air. You see, the point was planted in the paper, but the carbon side of the compass was not touching, it was drawing a circle in the air just above the paper. This back and forth rotation went on for a quite a while; honestly, it was stunning to witness this. Then, after some time, during one of the rotations something incredible happened. With no perceptible change in Anders’ movement, a circle appeared on the paper. The carbon side of the compass had made a silent transference, leaving a trace of its arc on the paper. Anders continued to rotate the compass in the air for a bit longer, until he stopped and raised it, leaving the drawn circle in the paper. Something occurred in that moment, an exchange between Anders, the compass and the paper, drawing out an arc in time. I have never seen anything like it, before or since. In some way, it opened a gate for me as to what drawing is all about. I will never forget that moment and I thank him for it today."

Anders Abraham, 1989

Anders Abraham, Projections of an Imaginary Landscape, Design IV, 1989-90

From that early moment of silent exchange between compass and paper over 30 years ago, Anders pursued the deeply human exchanges of life and space. At once archaic and radically new, Anders’ drawings are some of the most stunning manifestations of what is possible in any form or discipline. Through countless marks, moments and movements, Anders explored the incomplete nature of being and the fundamental communications between an architect, his work and the world.

Through the precision of his language, his drawing, his making, Anders manifests the promise of architecture and its social contract, revealing the possibility that space is the other half of us, that space completes us, allowing us to understand ourselves and others. Yes, the social contract is a form of participation and contribution among our fellow citizens, but it is also a contract with space itself, as the other half of us. A contract to embody the widest, most nuanced spectrum of what it is to be human in our reciprocal spaces. To the extent that our spaces embody who we are, our humanity, we are all elevated and find ourselves ‘at home’ in the world.

The works of Anders Abraham breathe life into the fibers of this contract, they embrace architecture as a life-sustaining discipline, an empathetic discipline with a life of its own, reciprocal to ours. Heard in its  own proper beat and measure, the entire body of Anders’ work offers a deeply human sonnet, revealing great mysteries of our being, announcing, as he did with his magnum opus A New Nature:

Where is the architect of this new nature? Where is the architecture with a life of its own, reciprocal to ours? Where do we search for this empathetic architecture with the capacity to embody our humanity? Where are the spaces that complete us, allowing us to understand ourselves and others? Where are the architectures that bring us pause to feel our mortality? I believe these architectures are found within the works and teachings of Anders Abraham. Found in the pages of the book A New Nature, in the questions and works of the students who received the gifts of Anders’ teaching, found in the depth and largeness of being that touched all who knew Anders, found in the light rising over the waters of the North Sea, at sundown.

Good night, sweet prince.

David Gersten, AR’91

One, Two, Few—Architectonics Final Reviews

POSTED ON: May 4, 2020

On Thursday, April 30th the first year Architectonics studio held the School of Architecture’s first final review of the spring semester, led by Professors Ted Baab, Nima Javidi, and Tamar Zinguer. Review guests included Michael Abel, Behnaz Assadi, Ben Aranda, Zach Cohen, Nile Greenberg, James Lowder, Elizabeth O'Donnell, Julian Palacio, Nader Tehrani, and Mersiha Veledar.

Thumb 01RThe guiding principles of the studio were driven by the theme One, Two, Few. How many parts are required to make one? Is two a pair, or two parts of a whole? Does few mean there are too many or not enough? When does a group start behaving like a single? One, Two, Few is a series, a progression of increasing number and complexity. But it is also One Too Few: not enough, or a test of economy and precision.

What characterizes logics of one, two, or few? What architectural potencies are native to each? Through the organization of plan and section, these logics paradoxically produce multiple, simultaneous, and often irreconcilable organizations and behaviors. These are not accidents to avoid, but the properties of geometric precision to harness.

Thumb 03R2

This semester the Architectonics studio investigated what happens when individuals double and multiply, when pairs must cooperate, when two becomes three, and when three is also one. The studio used an explicit set of abstract geometric rules and their behaviors. The world of design was structured by the forms the students learned to generate and control with precision. Geometry was understood not as primitives (cones, pyramids, spheres) to be composed, but as parameters to be manipulated.

Thumb 02The abstraction of geometry (and its demand for rules) contended with architectural agency and scale through its transformation of the seemingly mundane problem of stairs. Stairs were examined in precedents to become experts in their anatomy and power to organize spaces around them. Confronted by the predicament of the stair, geometry must become architectural.

  • 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.