Monday, October 27, 2014



Saarinen's Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Let's be clear about which Saarinen did Cranbrook: It was designed by ELIEL Saarinen, not his son Eero Saarinen.

Cranbrook Boys School was finished in 1928, and Kingswood Girls School in 1931. Both are in the Arts and Crafts style, which emphasized traditional craftsmanship, simple forms, and folk styles of decoration. It was exceptionally anti-industrial (so no steel, glass, plastic, etc.). The two schools were merged into a single campus in 1970.

Here is an aerial view of the campus.




Here is a view looking east at Cranbrook. What's noticeable here is the way the buildings are designed to look from the side. The sunken "tapis vert" lawn is two levels below the main level of the buildings.

An exedra (long bench with a back, built into the ground) helps avoid the sense of "steps" up to the building level.

Beyond that, the buildings are different heights, different angles, and different masses to avoid the sense of "one big block". Notice the chimney is in the foreground-left, casting shadows and helping to break up the mass of the school building beyond it.

The school building is large, but does not thrust across the vision the way the building farther back does. We see the long edge of the hipped roof, while the small tower between it and the rear building shows the short-edge of the hipped roof (breaking up the mass).

The arcade is open and airy, and extends leftward. The administration building is closed and massive, and extends leftward. But the arcade breaks up the mass of the admin building, helping to avoid that blocky look.

In the distance is the bell tower, with its iconic bronze (now green) dome.




Another view of the arcade. Note how Saarinen creates casual meeting space with a paved terrace, but study space beyond with lovely grass to lie on (shaded by trees). The arcade provides protected space for people moving from one building to the next, but also DIRECTS them -- keeping them off the terrace (unless that is their destination) or the grass.

The arcade's roof is also a pedestrian walkway, to allow views of the grassy quad and the terrace (and, as we know from the previous photo, of the sunken tapis vert beyond).




The great fountain and terraced plaza at Cranbrook. Saarinen avoids the bland look of a flat space and pool by sinking the fountain into the ground and creating steps that "invite" the viewer into the fountain rather than a ring of concrete the says "keep out".

An exedra borders one side of the fountain plaza for those who want to sit. Grass borders the other side, for those who want to lie down.

Trees help transition from the tall, blank building walls to the flat, open space of the fountain plaza.




The "Great Hall" and the pool at Cranbrook. This is one of the centerpieces of Saarinen's design. The hall (really an arcade) is much, much taller than the surrounding buildings, making it stand out as a unique structure -- even though it is attached to the buildings next to it.

Two and a half flights of steps lead down to the level of the grass. Notice how Saarinen raised all the buildings around the grass by a half-story, so that anyone looking out the windows can look down on the artwork below -- giving them a better perspective than being level with it.

The pool is practically level with the grass around it, so that the surface of the water seems to be on the same plane as the grass. This means the pool is not seen as separate, but part of, the entire display area. But because it's water, you can't get up close to the art work and disturb it. It's a neat way of creating "do not touch" exhibition space.

Not all the art in the pool is "art" per se. Some pieces function as fountains.




Here's Saarinen House. It's named after Eliel Saarinen, and functions as the residence of the president of Cranbrook Academy. The exterior isn't much to look at, just a typical red brick and wood Arts & Crafts house.




But the INTERIOR is Saarinen's Art Deco masterwork.

Designed in the late 1920s and located at the heart of Cranbrook Academy, it was the home of Eliel and Loja Saarinen from 1930 to 1950. Eliel used it as his studio. Loja was the first chair of Cranbrook Art Academy's Weaving Department. The furnishings are original to the house, most of them designed by Eliel (with a few pieces by their son, Eero). Loja's textiles adorn the walls.

Dining Room




Living room




Bedroom




Bathroom

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