Cranbrook Academy Entrance Gate Competition


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Entrances have always been an important element in Cranbrook's dialogue with the surrounding community. Designed by architect Eliel Saarinen, Cranbrook's iron gates reflect the human scale of the campus architecture and invite individuals to enter the school's grounds and quadrangles. Our proposal for a new entrance will be the first image of Cranbrook that a newcomer experiences; the image of Cranbrook that students and faculty will encounter during their years on its campus; the lasting image of Cranbrook that individuals will carry with them when they leave. The entrance must epitomize Cranbrook, for it will proclaim and help shape the school's identity. For this proposal, we understand an entrance to be more than an opening in a vertical plane or a cut in a wall. Our wall occupies a diagonal line traced directly across the recommended building site, located 250 feet away from Woodward Avenue. This oblique line, which cuts across the access and exit roads, is a response to the asymmetry of approach, produced by the intensity of traffic arriving from the south and transcending the normalcy of afrontal gate or an axial approach. In this manner, the largest and tallest wall is generated, thirty feet tall at its peak. This ambitious and resolute size responds to the vastness of the landscape and Cranbrook's equally significant position as a cultural institution.

The wall has neither front nor back, but two (inner and outer) fronts. The wall's outline has been deformed according to perspectival principles such that from a privileged point of view - located at the entrance - the wall appears to be perpendicular to the access road and rectangular in shape. The brick paneling is also detailed in such a way as to appear centered on the road's median, seemingly frontal and symmetrical, between access and exit roads. These refined optical corrections are, in fact, a pretext for constructing an illusion of perfection, a wall of such visual interest and richness of craft worthy of Cranbrook. Such fabrications reiterate Cranbrook's rigor and its culture of design. The wall is made of a steel tube structure that carries steel framed brick panels on the outer front and is braced with limestone buttresses on the inner front. Where both brick and limestone surfaces stop, the steel tube structure is clad in steel sheets producing the effect of a free-standing steel wall. This is the dominant reading of this piece: a strong, minimal, sculptural, metallic gesture in the landscape. To it, limestone walls are attached; on it, brick panels are hung. The panels are made of diverse brick patterns displayed against a general background on which variations are played. Saarinen motifs, inventions, and direct references coexist with authorial quotations. The presence of the new wall is assertive, powerful, and politically useful since the empowerment of art institutions such as Cranbrook, we believe, is essential to our culture. The wall is necessary, for it allows the precise carving of "doors," while framing and articulating its relations to the world. This wall provides a lasting image and represents an ethos for the school.

Year: 1991
Client:
Cranbrook Educational Community
Location:
Bloomfield Hills, MI

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