Ominous black spikes point skywards in Cooper Square Park–it’s impossible to miss the new additions to the Cooper skyline: The House of the Suicide and the House of the Mother of the Suicide, also known as the Jan Palach Memorial. Based on the designs of John Hejduk, a Czech-American architect who served as Cooper Union’s founding Dean of Architecture from 1975 to 2000, the two installations blend sculpture and architecture, with the black structure–the Mother–containing a tiny room with a tiny window that forever watches over her Son.
By: Matthew Grattan (ChE ‘19) | Kavya Udupa (BSE ‘19)
The Glimmering Wing, an art show by Emma Faith Hill (Art ‘17), Mary Wichmann (Art ‘19), and Page Page, was held in the gallery of 41 Cooper Square, February 28 to March 4. The show’s title is a reference to a library wing, one of few private spaces for public use. Emma Faith Hill approached Wichmann and Page with the idea of “making work under the frame of a haptic library—haptic meaning learning through feel and touch. Physicalizing the visceral was the main approach of the show.
For a university established “for the Advancement of Science and Art,” students from the different schools have very little opportunity for interaction. They are confined to different buildings and workspaces with almost entirely separate curriculums. There’s no good reason for this, especially considering that there are some important skills that all first-year students would benefit from: physical prototyping using hand tools and other equipment available in Cooper Union’s’ machine shops.
Recognizing this common ground between disciplines, a group of students working with Professor Lima drafted a proposal for a new class. This class would allow students from all three schools to work together in a shared environment to learn fundamentals of working with metal and wood using common tools, a skill set important to each of their majors.
Shop Class Now
Currently, all students are required to attend a machine shop “class” of sorts, where the different tools and machines are introduced and demonstrated. However, this tutorial amounts to little more than a general shop-safety orientation: students never get a hands-on experience and merely watch the operators describe and use the machines.
In reality, first-year engineering students have few opportunities to get their hands dirty—there just aren’t many 100-level classes that necessitate physical prototyping. EID101 is the only mandatory project-based class, and even then, the amount of hands-on work that you do varies pretty widely between sections: an engineering student can easily go their entire freshman year without ever returning to the machine shop.
In my experience, it’s definitely true that many engineering students are woefully inexperienced when it comes to building; in Design and Prototyping, a 200-level mechanical engineering course, many of the students in the class had zero prior experience, with at least a few admitting that this class was the first time they’d actually used a drill.
On the contrary, first-year art students have way more experience actually making things: 3D Design gets them familiar with tools and machines, with turning abstract concepts into physical prototypes. Engineers have no analogous class, and this proposed course seeks to rectify this issue, simultaneously opening up avenues for interdisciplinary cooperation.
Pranav Joneja (ME ‘18), one of the students who drafted the proposal, notes that “a class like EID101 doesn’t need to be limited to only engineers. Wouldn’t it be great if that class was cross-disciplinary? There’s no real reason it can’t be; the only limitation is the separated structures of the three schools.” This encapsulates the inspiration behind the proposal, whose main goals include the creation of a shared machine shop and a new class where artists, architects and engineers can work together to create installations for Cooper Square Park, turning it into a functional, student-built community space.
Another group of students has proposed a winter intensive with similar goals of fostering collaboration between the three schools. Students would work in small groups—mixed between schools—and use their differing areas of expertise to solve real-world problems similar to those encountered in EID101. Working together with other students with different skillsets and perspectives is an invaluable experience; it’s a shame that such interactions are so uncommon. These two proposals aim to break down the imaginary walls by promoting cooperation, collaboration and respect among the three schools. ◊
In his day, Peter Cooper was known as a humanitarian who gave back to his community of New York City. One of his most significant and lasting acts of philanthropy was, as one can guess, the founding of a little college known as The Cooper Union. One hundred and fifty years later, the institution is still giving back to its community in more ways than just producing artists, architects, and engineers. Unknown to most of the student body, Cooper proudly hosts the Retraining Program for Immigrant Engineers, which is a program that allows immigrants with backgrounds in science or engineering in their home countries to use their education to serve their new country. The program not only provides classes and educational resources to the students, but also aims to help them find work once their retraining is complete.
The Retraining Program for Immigrant Engineers has been in action for the past twenty years. It was originally started in 1987 by Bnai Zion inspired by the number of engineers emigrating to the United States from the Soviet Union at the time. The program was held in the Bnai Zion Scientists Division in Midtown who shortly formed a partnership with Cooper in 1991, as both institutions had a common aim of giving back to the community. In 2015, Cooper Union began hosting the entire program by holding the classes and career counseling for members of the program found through the Bnai Zion Foundation. Although the program is very accommodating, it still has important limits—those enrolling in the program must be legal immigrants who hold degrees in science or engineering from an institution in their home country.
The Cooper Union provides the program with classrooms, academic curricula, and professors to teach a variety of classes ranging from classes specialized in technology and other branches of science to business tactics. The program not only gives immigrant engineers another education but also works very hard in providing jobs for them. Around 60% of participants in the program find work through the program as well. These jobs are acquired through networking—something Cooper students are familar with. Like our own Career Development Center, the Retraining Program helps the participants find jobs through exercises such as resume preparation and mock interviews as well as finding jobs through professional networking.
This program is significant in present day, especially in places like New York City where over a third of the population are foreign-born immigrants. For centuries, people from all over the world have emigrated to the United States, especially to cities like New York City, in hopes of attaining a better life for themselves and their families. Many of them would be educated in very specialized fields, but would have to give up their education because they didn’t have access to something like the Retraining Program. Thus, the stereotype of immigrants working menial jobs despite having been surgeons in their home countries persist. Access to the Retraining Program allows immigrants to not only lead better lives themselves in their new home, but to also serve the country in a positive way. ◊
Just ten blocks south of Cooper’s Foundation Building, the six-story building at 190 Bowery St. is a mystery. It contrasts the high-tech mid-rise buildings adjoining it with an air of regal Renaissance Revival architecture similar to the likes of Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Club.
But in its state today, to say the lower floors are covered in graffiti would be an understatement. It features overlapping affiches advertising scene music, a large announcement that “COST was here” and off-skilter block letters “NEKST” as tall as a person. It has been called Manhattan’s Graffiti Mecca because even when the exterior is power-washed, it only serves to create a blank canvas for famous street artists like Keith Haring, Sean Griffin and others. In fact, when the building was designated a New York City Landmark in 2005 the street art was even approved to remain on the ground floor during the restoration process. The mix of graffiti on Renaissance Revival architecture is conspicuous, but it feels like the graffiti has always been there because it really has constantly been there—changing and renewing itself for decades.
The main entrance occupies the chamfered northwest corner of Spring Street and Bowery, projecting its stately presence down the whole block. Together with the second entrance, the building is barred forebodingly—one entrance with a heavy wrought-iron gate while the other shut firmly with a stout, solid oak door. And therein lies the mystery of this manor—almost no one has been inside in the last 50 years (except for a single, three-hour art show last year).
The building was built in 1899 and designed by Robert Maynicke, an alumnus of Cooper Union’s School of Architecture, for use as Germania Bank’s headquarters. At the time, Lower East Manhattan was known as Kleindeutschland or Little Germany and was home to nearly 25,000 German immigrants. As a bank building, it was fitted with all the fanciful fixtures of the time: a golden elevator (now encased in glass), multiple skylights, numerous atria and of course a bank vault—claimed to be the most secure in New York at the time. There was a spree of bank acquisitions and mergers in the ‘30s and so the building gladly continued to be operated by one bank after another… until 1966 when it was bought for around $100,000 by Jay Maisel to become his private residence and studio.
Jay Maisel is an alumnus of Cooper Union’s School of Art and has a prominent career in photography, capturing photos of Marilyn Monroe and Miles Davis though he is even more famous for his photography of “light, color and gesture found in everyday life”. He lived and worked at 190 Bowery with his wife (and daughter) for 48 years. According to an interview in New York Magazine, “the first, second, and third floors were gallery spaces for his photography and art projects. The fourth floor, which Maisel once rented out to Roy Lichtenstein, is a work-in-progress. The fifth has various workshops” and the sixth was for his family.
When he sold the building in February 2015, the real estate headlines screamed of numbers never-before-imagined in the crowded Manhattan real estate market: 35,000 square feet, 72 rooms, $55 million! Still, it was sold to real estate magnate Aby Rosen, who has since leased it out to become high-tech office space for a creative firm, Great Bowery. ◊
In 2016, it can become easy for some students to distance themselves from Cooper’s financial crisis, administrative mismanagement, and lack of communication that resulted in votes of no confidence, and the resignations of former President Jamshed Bharucha and former Dean of Engineering Teresa Dahlberg. This year, with the arrival of President-elect Laura Sparks, comes a new format for a class called “Projects: Cooper Union.”
Co-taught by artist and Professor Walid Raad, Cooper alumna Victoria Sobel (Art ’13) and former student Casey Gollan, the course provides a space in which a wide variety of conversations can be held, with guest speakers often participating in the class. The topics and material in the course range from the history of The Cooper Union, documents regarding student governance in the schools of art and architecture, all the way to lectures and talks about the metaphysics of the spaces of the Foundation Building, and visits to the architectural archive of the school.
“We engage in chronologies that may not settle;
numbers that may not add up;
bodies that come and go.”
The course description reads:
“Unfolding events in The Cooper Union are generating expected and unexpected sounds, images, forms, volumes, gestures, feelings, and concepts. In this class, we will attend (as in wait for and stretch toward) some of these.
As such we misunderstand The Cooper Union as a proposition constituted by and constituting missions, properties, bodies, languages, figures, among others. We engage chronologies that may not settle; numbers that may not add up; bodies that come and go.”
In her guest lecture, Professor of architecture Diane Lewis (Arch ‘76) took the class on a tour of areas of the Foundation Building that may sound commonplace and nondescript to a lot of us. Professor Lewis spoke about the attentive care with which each space was thought, and how people experience these nuances in the physical and metaphorical architecture of The Cooper Union.
After the lecture, Sobel spoke to The Pioneer about the change in student-faculty-administration dynamics at Cooper in recent years, and the need to acknowledge these changes as part of the meta-conversations about the interactions that happen within the school. Sobel sees “Projects: Cooper Union” as an important continuation of the think tanks that formed around that time, while still trying to keep the class open and interdisciplinary. Part of the course was motivated not only by the issues that were happening here at Cooper, but also by the “possibility that the history of this institution may spark the imagination of other communities and student-related struggles.”
Projects: Cooper Union is motivated by the
“possibility that the history of the institution may
spark the imagination of other
communities and student-related struggles.”
To her, many of the conflicts borne out of the frustrations of the crisis and the eventual move to tuition were rooted in a lack of dialogue and communication, since “you can be told that you are being consulted, but you are really being informed.” Although Sobel wishes that this kind of feedback existed around her time at Cooper, she recognizes how such as a course could become really important since the time of the protests. “This type of work, investigations, projects, integration into personal and collective practice [should] be legitimized and integrated into curriculum via credit granting classes because we are ultimately a degree granting accredited institution.”
Despite all the legal negotiations and working groups, she feels that there is still work to be done. “This interstitial moment is actually what was being proposed,” she says, perhaps referring to the previous interactions as cyclical arguments at Cooper that yielded little productive dialogue. In terms of the conversations that are significant to these issues and how they relate to the school, she says, “you want there to be a support system in place that we weren’t able to sustain in the past, because again there was so much duress.”
According to Jacob Jackmauh (Art ‘18), a student in the course, one of the most interesting things of Projects: Cooper Union is that it is not based on requirements, as much as it is on options, “the possibility to do or not to do. Yes, we’re studying different aspects of the school but we’re also beginning to discuss what each of us wants to do and what that might look like.” He says, “it started with this whole idea of truth, and the discrepancies and biases behind a story. So it opens a lot of uncomfortable doors, because we look at the history of Cooper, the rise of New York and art institutions, but in the course you see where those things can go wrong.” For him, “it’s like having all the history without all the glorification.” ◊