The Cooper Union School of Architecture Student Work Collection
Scope and Contents
This hybrid collection consists of photographic documentation of coursework produced by students in the School of Architecture between 1939 and 2020. From 1939 to 2001, the material is primarily analog. After 2001, the collection is mostly comprised of born-digital photographs, digital drawings, and text documents. The coursework itself, grounded in design studio work across the five years of the undergraduate program, relates to a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, architectural history and analysis, structural analysis, drawing, housing, scale, biology, physiology, linguistics, light and shadow, global history, local history, religion, music, conflict, political science, inhabitation, adaptive reuse, urban redevelopment, city planning, and building typology.
The collection also includes course-related documents produced by faculty members between 1981 and 2020, such as course descriptions, project briefs, memoranda, schedules, and syllabi.
The material is largely image-based, depicting student drawings, sketches, models, reference images, and site photos. A small amount of textual material is also available, including project descriptions, abstracts, and transcripts of thesis reviews. These are complimented by faculty documents that include design studio prompts, course syllabi, reading lists, and related materials.
Physically, the material exists in the form of silver gelatin prints, negatives and positives in 120mm, 35mm, 4 x 5 in and 8 x 10 in formats, as well as 35mm slides, polaroids, and line negatives in a range of sizes. Born-digital material exists in pdf, jpeg, mov, and tiff formats. The collection also includes a limited number of audio recordings of Thesis reviews made between 1991 and 2006. The audio is stored on cassettes.
- 1939 - 2020
- Majority of material found within 1975 - 2020
Language of Materials
Collection material is predominantly in English. There are a very small number of text documents in Arabic, Mandarin, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Farsi, Portuguese, and Romanian.
Conditions Governing Access
These records are held at 7 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003, Room 235. On-site research can be conducted by appointment only. For information on research access please visit our research information page.
Administrative History Note
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was founded in 1859 by philanthropist Peter Cooper to promote social justice, foster civic engagement, and offer a free and academically rigorous course of study in art, architecture, and engineering to New York City’s working class. Architectural education has existed at The Cooper Union since its founding, but the program began to formalize in 1960, when The Cooper Union School of Art formally became The Cooper Union School of Art and Architecture. Between 1960 and 1975 the architectural curriculum developed alongside the art program, until the architecture department formed its own school in 1975. In 1981, the school was named The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture through a gift from Irwin S. Chanin, a Cooper Union graduate and practicing New York Architect.
Cooper Union’s unique approach to educating architects began in the mid-1960s with the appointment of architect John Hejduk, a former graduate of the school, as head of The Cooper Union’s Department of Architecture. At that time, most schools of architecture focused on traditional models of design education that emphasized pragmatic technical and analytical skills required for standard professional practice. Cooper Union chose instead to cultivate an alternate approach to developing a student’s understanding of space, the human body, and the disciplines and constructed environments that unite them. This new way of teaching architecture embraced cross-disciplinary study and novel approaches to analysis and design that attracted prominent faculty and design critics who continued to shape the School’s curriculum between 1975 and 2000, under Hejduk’s tenure as Dean.
The School’s curriculum remained innovative under the leadership of subsequent deans whose guidance is reflected in the Collection’s born-digital works from 2001 forward. Anthony Vidler, who served as Dean from 2001-2013, expanded the curriculum’s ethical dimensions with projects that engage the global and environmental challenges facing contemporary architects. The School’s current Dean Nader Tehrani, appointed in 2014, has affirmed Cooper Union’s investment in “the process of making as a central part of the production of knowledge,” and its commitment to the social contract of education. To that end, the school has enhanced digital fabrication technologies in alignment with the existing culture of making at the institution, inclusive of outward facing programs that expose Cooper students to research and construction on a global level.
Throughout the school’s history and under each of its three deans, the school has sought to prepare students to enter professional architecture through training in drawing, structures, and professional practice. At present, the school aims to “provide for its students the finest professional education available within an intellectual environment that fosters and expands their creative capacities and sensibilities and establishes the foundation for a creative professional life.”
65.25 Cubic Feet
This collection consists of materials documenting coursework produced by Cooper Union School of Architecture students between 1939 and 2020. The collection also includes course-related materials produced by School of Architecture faculty.
The Student Work Collection is arranged into eight series based on either the course for which the material was produced or the document type. Within each series, staff archivists arranged materials alphabetically by the project author’s surname, numerically by course number or chronologically by academic year. Please see arrangement notes on the series level to determine which arrangement scheme is used.
Series I: Architectonics, 1964 – 2020, undated
Series II: Design II, 1966 – 2020, undated
Series III: Design III, 1964 – 2020, undated
Series IV: Design IV, 1965 – 2020, undated
Series V: Thesis, 1964 – 2020
Series VI: Non-Studio Courses, 1967 – 2020, undated
Series VII: Pre-1963–64 Coursework, 1939 –1964, undated
Series VIII: Faculty Course Documents, 1970 – 2020, undated
Series IX: Final Review Audio Recordings, 1991 – 2020
Other Finding Aids
Digital collection access is available at archswc.cooper.edu
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Initially, the School of Architecture solicited student projects produced between 1964 and 1971 for documentation in Education of an Architect: A Point of View, a compendium associated with a 1971 exhibition at MoMA by the same name. Additional documentation of projects produced between 1972 and 1985 was collected for the second volume of Education of an Architect, published in 1988. From 1988 to 2016, the Student Work Collection grew through annual accrual. Since 2017 the collection has grown through biannual accrual. At the end of each semester, faculty members identify student work for inclusion in the Student Work Collection. The student authors then submit original work to the archive for photographic documentation. The original work is largely returned to the student authors, though a small amount of that content exists in the collection.
The archive expects accruals on a biannual basis from 2020 forward.
- Architectural design Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Architectural schools Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Architecture Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Education, Higher Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Teaching Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Guide to The Cooper Union School of Architecture Student Work Collection [1939-2020]
- Caitlin Biggers
- May 2019
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- June 2021: Update to include born digital material through the 2019-2020 academic year