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    Fighting Contemporary Crises with Modernism

    Building for the Emprezaz Graficas O Cruzeiro by Oscar Niemeyer, 1949. Photo by Pat McElnea/Courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

    The problems and challenges facing contemporary designers and architects are targeted in “Lessons From Modernism: Environmental Design Considerations in 20th-Century Architecture, 1925-1970”, an exhibit opening today at the Cooper Union in New York and running until March 16. The exhibit's reflection on past solutions could not come at a better time: Whether it is the news of yet another massive weather disaster, an article about strained energy sources, or a headline about the burgeoning world population, the need for change in our day-to-day living is undeniable.

    Housing at Sunila Pulp Mill by Alvar Aalto, 1936. Photo by Pat McElnea/Courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

    For the show, the Cooper Union's Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Gallery displays 25 modernist buildings by the likes of Le Corbusier, Jean Prouvé and Oscar Niemeyer, each represented by new 3-D models and analytical drawings and renderings illustrating elements of sustainable design. Though built before the existence of organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council or the Environmental Protection Agency, the buildings are analyzed within the contexts of site and sustainability.

    Cocoon House by Paul Rudolph with Ralph Twitchell, 1951. Photo by Pat McElnea/Courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

    Each featured project was passionately researched and debated by a panel of Cooper Union students, faculty and alumni, overseen by the exhibit's curator, Kevin Bone, FAIA. Bone—principal of Bone Levine Architects, professor of architecture, and director of Cooper Union’s Institute for Sustainable Design—believes in  “architectural adaptations” according to location in order to achieve greater sustainability. Watching his young urbanized students, Bone says, “We have almost no connection to nature, the cycles of nature, and the environment. We have to rediscover the importance of a building’s connection to site and climate.”

    A highlight of the exhibit will be the 2013 Eleanore Pettersen lecture given by award-winning British architect Sarah Wigglesworth of Sarah Wigglesworth Architecture at Cooper Union’s Great Hall on Thursday, February 28 at 7 p.m.

    Open Air School by Johannes Duiker, 1928-30. Photo by Pat McElnea/Courtesy The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture Archive of The Cooper Union.

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