While recent news about The Cooper Union has swirled around the controversy over its new Morphosis building’s cost, dean Tony Vidler maintains that students are much more focused on problems other than that of the school’s financial straits. The end of the traditional school year brings the whole architecture school together for an end-of-year review of final projects; graduate students, who finish their program in September, continue to work on their theses throughout the summer. This year, Vidler says, those graduate students “stressed emerging crises in food, water, social aggregation, densities, urbanization, technology, and environment – these questions were uppermost in their minds as they turned toward their theses.” 

Somewhat ironically, the bulk of the architecture program does not take place in Thom Mayne’s new building. The majority of classes and studios are held in the 1859 Foundation Building, remodeled in 1974 by John Hejduk, and perhaps working in spaces designed by one of the New York Five elicits the program’s indebtedness to drawing. From the 28 fifth-year students and 10 M. Arch II graduate students, projects this year were heavily drawing-based. As Vidler explains, “One of the traditions has always been that students learn to think by drawing, and in thinking through drawing, we’ve expanded the repertoire of drawing to include all of the digital and three-dimensional modes that we use, and so we build on our tradition, and are extraordinarily future-oriented at the same time.”

“What is important to the students is that The Cooper Union has a very strong tradition in design, especially during the years where there were the great disputes between post-modern historicism and modernism, and The Cooper Union went the independent route under the leadership of John Hejduk, Raimund Abraham, and Peter Eisenman,” Vidler says.

Another tradition, however—that of providing full scholarships to students—is in jeopardy. Undergraduates will continue to benefit from the school’s mission of providing education for free, although graduate students will soon begin paying an as-yet undetermined tuition.

The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union by the numbers:

Undergraduates (2011-2012)

Graduates (2011-2012)

Tuition: $0 Tuition: $0*
Number of students in 5th year of undergrad: 24-30 Number of M.Arch II students: 8-10

(*) Graduate students will begin paying tuition shortly, per this letter from Cooper Union and this follow-up from the president of the Cooper Union Alumni Association.