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Bold Architect Selected to Define New Tech Campus

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Model of 41 Cooper Square, a building designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis that CornellNYC Tech dean and provost Dan Huttenlocher says was one of the reasons he was chosen.

Thom Mayne, the architect behind Cooper Union’s perforated metal building at 41 Cooper Square, has been selected to design the first academic building of the coming applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island.

It will set the tone for the $2 billion CornellNYC Tech campus, which seeks to train engineers and entrepreneurs to staff the city’s start-ups.

According to founding dean and provost Dan Huttenlocher, Mayne’s Cooper Union building in the Village is an instructive example, because it faced some of the same challenges the new CornellNYC Tech campus will. “That building has engineers and scientists and artists and designers brought together into a common space,” he explained. “Therefore, it really has to respect the different cultures of some different communities and bring them together in some interesting ways.”

Talking to WNYC, Mayne said that this interdisciplinary mode of education has implications for architecture. “You’re thinking of teaching no longer as within the limits of a classroom,” Mayne explained. “The dialogue, student-student, student-faculty etc., takes place in a public space, on a stair… It really changes the notion of the spatial idea of [rooms].”

In addition to its function, Mayne said he sees two questions to consider in the building’s design. The first is its site, across the East River from Manhattan, taking up most of the south side of Roosevelt Island. The second is its sustainability; it is supposed to be net-energy neutral.

How those questions impact appearance remains to be seen, Mayne said. The wait is not expected to be too long.

“We’re going to be moving at the speed of light,” he said. “Within three to four months we’ll have an idea down.”

The building is scheduled to be open and housing all of the new campus’s academic programs in fall of 2017.

CornellNYC Tech’s founding dean and provost Dan Huttenlocher cited the Cooper Union building as an important example. “That is a building that makes a statement from the outside as well, but where a lot of attention was paid to the program and the occupants,” Huttenlocher said.

( Iwan Baan )

The interior of 41 Cooper Square is instructive. “That building has engineers and scientists and artists and designers brought together in a common space, and therefore it has to really respect the different culture of different communities,” Huttenlocher said.

( Iwan Baan )

Thom Mayne cited the San Francisco Federal Building in discussing his experience with sustainable design. Above the fifth floor, instead of using air conditioners it uses a window system. “The window system creates a ‘living skin’ that allows the building to breathe,” according to the Morphosis website.

( Iwan Baan )

The Dr. Theodore Alexander Science Center School was intended to “dissolve the boundaries between the building systems and the ground,” according to the Morphosis website. “It’s very much about sustainability but also didactic,” Mayne said. “It talks about the relationship of nature and building.”


( Pavel Getov )

Mayne’s design of the NOAA Satellite Operation Facility is “a field of iconic antennae crowns a bar building conceived as the brain, the mission control center, while a disk-shaped building coneived as the body, containing offices and support services slips beneath a landscape of lofted ground,” according to the Morphosis website. Mayne said “If you look at that site, you’ll see all kinds of clues of interests we’ve had that connect to campus."

( Roland Halbe )

For the University of Cincinatti Campus Recreation Center, Mayne had to incorporate existing buildings with 350,000 square feet of classrooms, housing and recreational facilities. “It’s not about object building it’s about buildings that make connective tissue and actually glue the campus together,” he said.

( Roland Halbe )