The Cooper Union - New York's Death Star . New York City / NYC
Architect : Morphosis / Thom Mayne . New York / Los Angeles
Photos : Adrian WM Jones
About The Architecture
The Cooper Union at 41 Cooper Square NYC was completed in 2009. It took two years to design and 3 years to build, with a budget totaling $175 million, architect Thom Mayne (Morphosis) created this building self described as a 'stacked vertical piazza organized around a central atrium'.
Designed in order to inspire intellectual debate and social unions between the colleges three schools which were formally in sepearte buildings, the structure strives to nourish impromptu engagement with this 'vertical piazza' as the 'social heart' of the school. Spending two days shooting at this location here I can certainly attest to how this design navigates your movements, the elevators use a skip stop strategy where by you may have to complete your journey to your destination via a combination of skywalks, elevators and regular orange stairways.
Uniquely this structural format does in fact promote atomic collision between classes, students are pushed past classrooms in areas they would not otherwise frequent and social gathering is encouraged by Manhattans very own Spanish Steps which are wide enough to seat groups of chatting students at the same time as allowing plenty of room for foot traffic to flow from the lobby to the second floor. Sky lobbies on the 5th to the 9th floor and two meeting lounges again dictate the flow and mixing of students from different Cooper Union schools while not in class.
The Cooper Union Building also has many sustainable attributes built into it's design and architecture, for more information on that please visit the Morphosis website at the bottom of this page.
About This Shoot
This building was shot over two days during January 2020, I photographed it as a personal project while undertaking more routine work covering renovations to the atrium and stairs. Having researched the building beforehand I was fully aware of the human interaction and social element to it's design.
However, in contrast I decided to keep the quirky human element to a minimum, plenty has already been documented of this relationship and my intention was to give the futuristic elements of this structure the center stage. I broke the laws of architectural photography not paying too much attention as to whether the building was completely upright in certain shots (if one line was level that would be enough) and similarly when it came to composition, I wanted a rougher touch so pretty much where I first set the tripod is where I shot from .
I had forgotten my lens cloth and heavy rain smeared the lens, so whatever my sweater would clear and smudge would be the effect on the final frame. I tend take a lot of visual inspiration from cinematography, I wanted to create a Sci-Fi architectural documentary, a hybrid of Inception, Blade runner, Star Wars cut with the cold documentary isolation of Shame. The exterior shots came together very quickly and what discovered after two days of shooting was that this building photographed in a much more dynamic way under these heavily overcast conditions, the curves and the way it appears to cave in on itself are much less apparent in the sun.
For the staircase and atrium I had a stack of lights with me but used none of them, the logistics for one were impossible with so much ground to cover and secondly there is plenty of natural and ambient light to bring into harmony as long as you are careful. Photographically this structure can be the dark imperial death star that I set out to capture or it can be light footed and optimistic. Personally, I'm drawn towards it's dark side :)
Adrian WM Jones
Adrian Jones is a Connecticut based architectural photographer & documentary photographer. With over 20 years in the field he has worked in many areas of the film and photography industry and now uses his vast experience to focus on photographing architecture for architects and personal documentary projects.