Freehand Drawing

In Rubin’s Freehand Drawing course, architecture students explored and mastered the pencil as tool and medium. Working without the aid of a straight edge, compass, or even an eraser, students honed their manual graphic skills and learned to exert their utmost control over each deliberate mark. Once they were able to draft perfectly straight lines and round circles, students moved on to draw three-dimensional objects and the negative space around them. Finally, they were given complex spatial problems to solve conceptually. A selection of student work is now available as part of the Cooper Union Irwin S. Channin School of Architecture Archive’s Student Work Collection.


Untitled Freehand Drawing by Matthew MacDonald, 1969-1970, Coper Union School of Architecture. Featured in MoMA's Education of an Architect: A Point of View, 1971 exhibition and catalog


Rubin’s foundation-year Color course expanded on the pedagogies of Josef Albers, as outlined in The Interaction of Color, and which Rubin absorbed firsthand during his own studies with Albers at Yale. In the first semester of Rubin’s course, students used Color-aid paper to solve a series of problems like Simultaneous Contrast, Rational and Irrational Transparency, and Optical Mixture. Through their meticulous collage work and lengthy group critiques, students gained an understanding of color relativity and achieved heightened awareness towards the perception of hue and value, and learned to manipulate optical illusions to achieve a range of outcomes. In the second semester, students worked with found papers, leaves, and various collage materials, which Rubin encouraged them to collect throughout the previous semester. They worked on small-scale collages, at times incorporating paint or low-relief elements, to create abstract compositions in response to a series of formal prompts.

Rubin always dressed in a gray shirt while teaching color, to guarantee a neutral backdrop as he held up each student’s work against his chest for a class discussion and critique. Color class was punctuated by his storytelling; he shared anecdotes from his childhood in Brooklyn, his time at Yale, his experience on the New York art scene of the early 1960s, and his creative life as a collector of antiques and oddities. He used his stories as analogies for understanding color relationally, to inspire passion around assemblage and collage traditions, and to keep Bauhaus philosophies and Albers’ pedagogies alive and relevant throughout the twentieth century. Each year, Rubin collected the strongest examples of his students’ work, and over the decades amassed an impressive library of color problems that he used as a teaching tool. Unfortunately, this collection was lost or destroyed upon his retirement from Cooper Union.

Color Vibration by Derek Lesher, 1990-1991, Cooper Union School of Art. Photo by Carmelle Safdie, with permission from the artist