The Cooper Cube
, as it is popularly known
, is located in New York City
's East Village
, on the strangely-shaped concrete
island bordered on the south by Astor Place
, the north by E 8th Street
, Lafayette Street
on the west side, and Cooper Square
on the east. The sculpture is a huge black
cube formed of Cor-Ten steel
, 15 feet high, balanced on one of its point
s. The area itself is home to other landmark
s: the Cooper Union
is across the street, and the Astor Place subway
with its redesigned IRT kiosk
s has exits directly to the north and east.
The structure has many simple nicknames, including "the Cube", "the Black Cube", and "the Borg Cube". Its real name, which few people know since it is written (in black) on a hard-to-read (black) sign on the southeast corner of its (black) base, is "Alamo".
Alamo was designed by Minimalist artist Bernard "Tony" Rosenthal between 1966 and 1967, and fabricated by the Lippencott Foundry in Connecticut. The name was given by the sculptor's wife, who likened its size and "impenetrable strength" to that of the Alamo in San Antonio. It was originally created for the October 1967 exhibit "Sculpture In Environment", organised by the NYC Department of Parks and Cultural Affairs. Rosenthal originally planned to bring the sculpture back to Ann Arbor, MI, where one of its siblings currently resides, but the students at the Cooper Union organised a petition to keep the structure there permanently.
In November 1967, the sculpture was officially donated to New York City by the artist, the Knoedler Gallery, and an anonymous donor, the latter being the only donor mentioned on the dedication plaque.
As mentioned earlier, the Alamo has a family. The University of Michigan has a similar sculpture, simply titled "The Cube" (another source claims the title is "Endover"), located on its Ann-Arbor campus. The Cube may have been constructed in order to fulfil Rosenthal's desire to have one at his alma mater, since it was created later (and he prefers that one, since he was able to further revise the design). A third, "Marty's Cube", finds its home in Miami, FL, and the fourth (and so far, last) of Rosenthal's cube sculptures is located in Pyramid Hill, in Hamilton, OH.
All of the cubes share one interesting feature: they can be spun. Although weighing over 2,000 pounds each, they were all designed to rotate by pushing one of the faces. One strong person can do it alone, although it usually takes several. Not everyone realizes this, and those nearby often stop to watch when someone decides to turn it. Unfortunately, this has become harder over the years, as rust and a general lack of maintenance have taken their toll on the fragile base.
The Cooper Cube is a popular meeting place for several reasons. It's quite hard to miss, being a large black cube in the middle of nowhere, and being the only one of its kind in the city, most people will recognize it upon description. It's conveniently near several popular counter-culture areas, including St. Mark's Place a block to the east, Washington Square Park a few blocks west, and Union Square to the north. It's within a few blocks of nearly every train line that enters downtown Manhattan, including the 6 Train at the aforementioned Astor Place stop and , the N and R trains on 8th Street and Broadway.
Similarly, the Cube is a great place to people-watch, being at a strange convergence of areas. The freaky people from St. Mark's Place tend to congregate in the area, along with college students from the Cooper Union and nearby New York University. (Note: this usually makes the cube hard to spin without hitting one or two of these bystanders.) Strangely enough, however, the site is also home to a K-Mart and not one but two Starbuck's.
Miniatures of the sculpture were commisioned for use as the annual Doris Freedman awards, established by former mayor Ed Koch to honor those who have "contributed to the improvement of the urban environment".
6 Train to Astor Place
N/R to 8th Street, walk east on 8th Street
to Union Square, walk south on 4th Avenue
the official Parks and Recreation plaque