Art students suffer angst as Cooper readies to build


By Lincoln Anderson

The Cooper Union is getting ready to demolish its Hewitt Building on Third Ave. and replace it with a striking new nine-story “green” building designed by Thom Mayne.

But 120 art students — mostly juniors and seniors — who just set up their art studios in the Hewitt Building in September are now reportedly undergoing serious angst about what this $120 million project will mean for them.

The art students were recently told they must clear out their studios by mid-November, and that new studios have been prepared for them in Long Island City.

But the prospect of having studios in Queens and schlepping back and forth to the East Village — often while lugging in cumbersome artwork for critiques by faculty members — has them up in arms. Being in Long Island City will mean having to take both the 7 and 6 trains to get to The Cooper Union — not to mention, a long 10-minute walk from the studios to the 7 stop in Long Island City.

The plan was detailed to the art students at a meeting a week and a half ago by Bob Hawks, the head of The Cooper Union’s real estate, and Saskia Bos, the art school’s dean.

The university had secured a space in Manhattan at 28th St. and Park Ave. S., just two stops away on the 6 train from The Cooper Union’s campus, but it fell through, the officials explained. To delay vacating the Hewitt Building would cost the school an extra $8 million, the students were told.

“One girl cried at the meeting,” said one person who attended the meeting, requesting anonymity. “There were students saying, ‘So you’re saying we’re not worth $8 million?’ ” Students demanded shuttle service and that the studios be open 24 hours. In short, the source said, “The students don’t want to go to Long Island City — not unless they get something really sweet out of the deal.”

On Tuesday, Claire McCarthy, The Cooper Union’s spokesperson, said the two parties couldn’t come to agreement on the terms of the length of the lease at 28th St. and Park Ave. S., so the school returned to looking for space in Long Island City, where it had originally looked. According to a source, the landlord did not want to extend the lease beyond two years.

As for the $8 million figure, McCarthy said, “I can’t verify that. Any delay in construction is costly. We are committed to building this building — the first green laboratory building in New York.”

The new Third Ave. building — which will be covered with a special stainless-steel mesh skin that will keep it cool in summer and warm in winter — will take two years to build once work gets underway, McCarthy said. There was a slight delay, in that the school had planned to start demolition in August; but the project should start soon and is still scheduled to take two years, she said.

Most of the new building will be filled by the school’s engineering department — hence McCarthy’s calling it a “laboratory building.” However, the art studios will occupy the top floors.

As for the Long Island City studios, she said they are being fixed up with a new heat, ventilation and cooling system and will be as comfortable as possible.

“We searched for quite a long while for suitable space,” McCarthy said. “And we believe we have found in Long Island City excellent space for them. It’s right near P.S. 1 — in an arts district.

“We know they will have to travel. We are working hard to make a smooth transition. There will be transportation provided to take their work out to Long Island City [for the initial move], and possibly for later in the semester…. Change is difficult.”

The studios will, in fact, be open 24 hours, she said. However, the shop — where metal melting and soldering and woodcutting is done, overseen by technicians — won’t be open around the clock.

McCarthy noted that it’s unusual for arts students to have their own studios and it’s something that The Cooper Union is proud of.

The elite school offers each of its 1,000 students a free $30,000-equivalent annual tuition. In addition to the 150 art students, there are 500 engineering students and a smaller number of architecture students.

As for the journey from Long Island City, McCarthy said, “I understand it was a 5-minute walk from the subway — but I’m not going to quibble about it. I was at P.S. 1 recently and it took 5 minutes [to walk to the subway]. People have to adjust.”