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Could This Be the Coolest Building in New York City? Architect Thom Mayne on 41 Cooper Square

01/13/2014 12:21 pm ET | Updated Mar 15, 2014

In 2009 a spaceship landed in the middle of old New York. At 41 Cooper Square, Thom Mayne's iconic building shines like a diamond in the rough, transparent, light and extremely cool. In this interview, Mayne explains this building "located at the end of the 20th century."

As an architect, Thom Mayne (born: 1944) is fascinated with imperfection, he says: "I have a preference for rough architecture, real, inexpensive, unfinished." Initially the local community was skeptical of the new project in the middle of their neighborhood, objecting by posting notes such as: "Please take this spaceship to another site." But after a while most people seem to have embraced the newcomer, accepted it as one of their own. Architecture is not meant to be a popularity contest though, as Mayne puts it: "We'e failed if the response is that it's OK, if it seems neutral. Everybody can't like it."

Thom Mayne received the Pritzker Architecture Prize in March 2005. Mayne graduated from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1978, and has since held teaching positions at various renowned Universities. Mayne is principal of Morphosis, an architectural firm in Santa Monica, California. In this interview, Mayne talks of the Cooper building, but also more generally about architecture: "Architecture is a result of a process of asking questions, and testing them, and re-interrogating, and changing in a repetitive way." To Thom Mayne, architecture is "a way of thinking and exploring, inventing and making and participating in the world," he says.

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is a privately funded college located in Cooper Square in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Cooper Union was established in 1859 on a radical new model of American higher education based on founder Peter Cooper's fundamental belief that the best education should be "free and open to all" who qualify, regardless of race, religion, social status. The building at 41 Cooper Square was built as a new classroom, laboratory and studio facility -- designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architecture with associate architect Gruzen Samton. In contrast to the Foundation Building, it is a modern, environmentally "green" design, housing nine above-ground floors and two basements.

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