COURTESY MINSKOFF PROPERTIES
The spinning cube at Astor Place is about to get upstaged. Fumihiko Maki’s new building for developer Edward Minskoff, a spare diamond of glass and granite, will give the modest steel sculpture a run for its money. Maki’s project will replace the Cooper Union’s Albert Nerken School of Engineering building at 51 Astor, across the street from the school’s landmark 1859 home. It’s a big step for the school: The New York Observer reported that Cooper Union recently updated a 50-year-old agreement with the city to allow for a mixed-use building on the site to help the school capitalize on its prime real estate and continue to maintain free tuition for its 1,000 students. Minskoff signed a 99-year lease on the 51 Astor Place property, and he’s convinced that Maki’s design will draw tenants like moths to a giant, jagged lightbulb.
“It’s hard to describe in words,” Minskoff said of the design. “It’s like a unique architectural jewel box.” Maki divided the building’s 440,000 square feet across two sections: a 13-story obsidian tower and an 11-story chunk of glass. According to the amended contract with the city, at least 40,000 square feet of the project will be devoted to education.
Before Maki’s building goes in, of course, the current engineering building—a ho-hum study in beige brick—has to come down. And it will, as soon as the students there have a place to move their PCs and protractors. In 2003, Cooper Union hired Morphosis to design a new, purely educational building for the school. It’s an academic ant farm, a clear box coated in movable metal screens that expose its hallways and atriums to the street. When it’s done within the year, work will start at 51 Astor Place. Minskoff hopes to open the building in 2010.