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Ouroussoff: Cooper Union is 'Great Art' with Bad Elevators

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Though it's still a little ways out from being completed, the new Thom Mayne-designed Cooper Union academic building gets the review treatment from New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ourossoff today, and right off the bat Big Nic trumpets the metal and glass Bowery curiosity as "more proof that some great art was produced in those self-indulgent times." It's a "bold architectural statement of genuine civic value," Ouroussoff writes, thanks in part to some exciting public spaces (for, uh, Cooper Union students) such as the vast atrium's grand staircase, rendered above and seen in its early form right here. The building has a magnetic attraction, Ouroussoff says, but it also has some faults, like the wacky elevator scheme:

The building's flaws, though, lie not in a failure of vision but in questions about its execution. The most serious of these have to do with circulation. I expect there will be complaints, for example, about the main elevators, which only go up to the fifth and eighth floors. The system is based on a design by Le Corbusier, who used it in his 1952 Unité d’Habitation housing block in Marseilles. Since it eliminated the need for corridors on every other floor, he could create big, floor-through duplex apartments with windows on both sides. But here it doesn’t make much sense, because the building is made up of standard, single-story offices and classrooms. Most students will have to walk an extra flight up or down to get to their classes.And, finally, what would an architecture review on the Upper Bowery be without a potshot at Charles Gwathmey's oft-loathed Sculpture for Living in Astor Place? Here's the latest dagger: "The area has experienced a particularly painful process of gentrification in the past decade. First, generic glass boxes began popping up along the Bowery. Then CBGB closed. For me the final straw was the opening in 2005 of Gwathmey Siegel’s undulating glass luxury apartment tower at Astor Place, a vulgar knockoff of Mies van der Rohe’s unbuilt Glass Skyscraper project and a symbol of the era’s me-first mentality." Now, if only the 'soff would weigh in on the Cooper Square Hotel to complete the neighborhood newbies trifecta.
· The Civic Value of a Bold Statement [NYT]
· Cooper Union coverage [Curbed]