Letter from Dean Nader Tehrani

The Education of an Architect has been The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture’s central preoccupation since its inception in the 1960’s. With an eye on the historical depth of the discipline, the School’s focus has always been to look into the mechanisms of representation as a vehicle for invention. To draw is to project, and to project forward to worlds yet unknown. In recognition of the challenges to our disciplinary autonomy over the decades, the School’s philosophy has been to engage in a dialogue with the Arts, Engineering, and Humanities, if only to reinforce the unique makeup of The Cooper Union as a place of learning—to building an environment that challenges insularity in the process of invention. I look forward to reinforcing this culture, to demonstrate the agency of the architect’s métier in their conversation with the world at large.

Today, the discipline of architecture continues to expand its areas of potency, drawing from vast areas of knowledge—from biology to computational sciences, and from data visualization to interactive technologies, among other areas—and this has helped us to re-envision our way of working. For decades, our School has been dedicated to the process of making as a central part of the production of knowledge. Architecture is perceived everywhere: in the act of drawing, in the development of a system, and in the evaluation of material behavior. The construction of a model is not only a means, but also an end unto itself. In light of the evolving challenges of the construction industry, I look forward to enabling the program to look deep into the means and methods of fabrication, if only to imagine new ways in which we can communicate with and instigate change in the world of construction from within the academy. The Cooper Union Shop has served as the heart and soul of the Foundation Building for many decades, uniting Art with Architecture, but also in underscoring the idea that making and building are not merely the confirmation of ideas, but a speculative act that is a key part of the research and exploration of ideas yet to form. Looking forward, we will be reinvigorating a culture of research as a critical part of the formation of the architect.

The Cooper Union’s history is marked by a deep commitment to the social contract of education. We believe that learning is not just preparatory act for practice, but rather a commitment to the regeneration of thinking, scholarship, and the transmission of learning for new generations to come. Witnessing the obsolescence of many types of practices in the past decades, ours is a commitment to engaging the very question of learning itself, if only that it prepares us for a future yet unknown. If the world’s economy, environmental challenges, and social migrations of recent years do not offer enough predicaments, they are a reminder that the techniques of analysis of some twenty years ago would not suffice to understand the complexities we face today. For this reason, at The Cooper Union, we learn to become students in perpetuity, in certain instances to ‘unlearn’ myopic habits, if only to turn the workplace of the future into a place where analytical tools may be invented for the production of new forms of knowledge. We teach to challenge the conventions in which we work, to invent new tools for seeing, and to develop a critical encounter with the forms of knowledge we have received. In this light, we also look beyond the autonomy of the architect’s expertise to imagine other spaces of speculation—in the Humanities, Arts, and Engineering—as a way of expanding the limits of the architectural discipline. With each discipline bringing to Architecture a different set of values, criteria, and mentalities, we try to build bridges with them in joint projects, courses, and partnerships; if these provide new forms of reconciliation, they also create productive spaces of dissonance.

As we look to the future, we look forward to reinforcing the School’s historic position as an important place of debate, both within New York City and the world beyond. The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture thrives from its key location in the heart of Manhattan, and we look forward to advancing its position through collaborating with other institutions and engaging its key protagonists. With a dedication to education, we also look forward to reaffirming The Cooper Union as a space of polemics, discussions and intellectual friction. As a central part of our social contract, we also look forward to contributing our work and research back to the City of New York, working with local neighborhoods and communities to bring to them the vitality of what our creative imagination can unleash. As an important destination for many international students, we must also open up the world to our students: to use the entire globe as space of inquiry, and to collaborate with cities around the world to broaden our knowledge as well as our contributions.

Most of all, as the new Dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, I am looking forward to working closely with the students and faculty to reinvest in the project of pedagogy. The scale of our program offers an unparalleled relationship between professors and students, and this produces a collaborative context for the rethinking of education. It is my great honor and pleasure to continue to advance a mission that was set forth by Peter Cooper over 150 years ago, but most importantly to translate this mission into terms of relevance for the many and urgent challenges and opportunities of today.

Nader Tehrani, 2016


  • 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.