Monday, January 17, 2011

Cooper Union to Cooper Square Hotel - pt 1

This is part one of a two part post about my piece  "Cooper Union to Cooper Square Hotel". 

The Abraham S. Hewitt Building, part of The Cooper Union, was built in 1905 on the site of a former Armory. It was originally meant to grow to six stories, but it only made it to two.  I've heard various reasons why, one is that Cooper ran out of money before it was completed, another is that the building was so heavy it started to sink.  The building consisted of a grandiose lobby with wide stairs flanking its sides, yet it only rose 2 floors.  It had two levels of basements, and the bottom-most had a gigantic furnace that for years pumped out steam heat for both itself and the Foundation Building.  I thought the building always felt kind of melancholy, in that it knew it was meant to be more but could never live up to its potential as it was.

Some students (Natsuko Uchino and Alex Haring and others I believe) started a project documenting the building before it was demolished but it never came to fruition.  There are a bunch of photos out there somewhere of the interior of the building.  I have some.  Maybe someday they'll see the light of day again.

I got to go on a tour when they were demolishing the building, and our guide told us that the steel beams used in the structure were military grade (post WWI) and very heavy.  The demo crew had a very hard job.  When I was a student the building was used mostly for administrative purposes, but before the Engineering building was built in the 1950's it housed the Engineering school.   In the mid 1990's it was converted to classrooms and studio spaces for the Art and Architecture school.  It's demolition displaced many students and while the new building was being built they were shipped out to temporary studios in Long Island City.  Once the Hewitt building was leveled a massive hole was dug, and a rectangular form sprung forth, which was later clothed in a sort of bunched mesh.  The whole process took two and a half years.  This new building was designed by Morphosis Architects, lead by Thom Mayne.   

extensive wirednewyork forum thread with lots of info about the project

Time lapse video of the Hewitt Building being torn down and the new building being built. "This is two and a half years of construction at about 4 frames per day up until May 24, 2009".  I've often wondered how many times I might be in this video, walking to work.

Cooper Union, Hewitt Building
picture from Flickr user maayanpearl of the interior right before demolition

Here is my collage:

And the images it is made up of (+ a few extras)

Image I found of the Hewitt Building from 1992.  The big black constructivist looking thing in front is a sculpture I made sophomore year of college (!), this was documentation taken right before it went into the dumpster.  Note the blinds and plants in the windows.

2003 - the day of the blackout.  I remember staying at work for a while after it happened, since no one knew quite what was going on.  I grabbed some expired film and a camera and took some shots around the area.

2004.  Note "Forever Tall", a CITYarts sponsored mural created in response to 9/11 by lead artists Hope Gangloff and Jason Search (both Cooper Union alums) in collaboration with students from the community and across the city, is still there.  It was painted over in 2004, and an explanation of why can be found in this The Villager article.

2006 - as the building was being cleared.

2006 - demolition starts.


2006 - Note: The Cooper Square Hotel is in its beginning stages, and the wall where "Forever Tall" was is now orange.


2006 - from inside the fence.

2006 - from inside the fence.  Imprint of stairs were the ones leading to the basement from the front of the lobby.




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