Foundation Building, Cooper Union

  • North Elevation

  • West Elevation

education & preservation

Foundation Building, Cooper Union

The 1858 Foundation Building, designed for Peter Cooper by Frederick Peterson, was an Italianate palazzo that had a formality befitting Cooper’s idea of his institute as an instrument to honor and elevate its beneficiaries.

The institution had done its best to maintain the building over the years, but the brownstone exterior increasingly deteriorated. A catastrophic “preservation” idea of the 1950’s and 60’s – to jackhammer the entire surface of the brownstone and apply stucco – accelerated the penetration of water into the stone and obscured the clarity of the original expression in a mush of worm-like hammer tracks.

PBDW designed the restoration with the goal of returning the building to its original crisp formal appearance. Brownstone from the same quarry that supplied the original stone was used to replace badly deteriorated stones, such as those of the South Portico, which was completely rebuilt. Projecting trim was recarved to approximate original profiles lost over time. A variety of other materials was employed in the building’s original details, including early terra cotta, limestone, and copper. Each material was preserved to the maximum extent possible and new cast stone provided where needed.

The badly chiseled facades were honed to flatten them, then tooled with fine-toothed chisels to smooth out the remaining divots.  The result is an approximation of the original flat honed stone in a slightly softer appearance that acknowledges the toll that time, man, and the elements has taken on the brownstone.


The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art


New York, NY

Date Completed



AIA New York State Design Award, 2001
AIA New York Chapter Design Award, 2001
Lucy G. Moses Award, New York Landmarks Conservancy, 2001
Tucker Architectural Award, Building STONE Institute, 2002

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