Saarinen and Cranbrook

Cranbrook School

I’ve been lucky enough to go to Cranbrook a few times in the last ten years. It’s always a joy to go there, see what’s changed, be reassured by what’s the same.

It’s invariably off season and quiet there when I get there. Thanks to some friends and connections I’ve acquired over the years they’re kind enough to let me wander freely in and out of the studios chatting and mingling with the students. It’s quite a privilege and I always feel refreshed and grateful for those kind enough to share their work and time.

It’s a beautiful location, set in Bloomfield Hills a northern suburb of Detroit, MI. Think Cotswolds and cottages and you’re not far from the mark. The overwhelming arts and crafts feel to the place draws you away from the knowledge that you’re only a few miles from Motor City and persuades you that you’re walking through a greener and pleasant land.

In many ways it’s a one of a kind, a little ideolised oasis of learning protected from the 21st century sweeping past the borders of the 319 acre estate. The Academy of Art offers two degrees, Master of Architecture and Master of Fine Arts – the later encompassing, 2-D Design, 3-D Design, Ceramics, Fiber, Metalsmithing, Painting, Photography, Print Media, and Sculpture. All work is self-determined for the duration of the curriculum with students studying under the tuition of a single artist in residence. I would have loved to study there, if I ever take a sabatical then it may well be on the list of possible mindfoods.

TWA Terminal 5 JFK

So onto Saarinen, I was sparked to write this by the tale of Happy Finish (a retouching agency) creating a realistic copy of Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal 5 JFK for  Benedict Redgrove to shoot fashion models inside. Have a look at the pictures and you’ll see that calling them agency and photographer is a massive understatement, they’re both at the top of their game. Here’s a piece by Eliza Williams at Creative Review exploring the collaboration.

The connection between Saarinen and Cranbrook is Architecture. The chief architects of the site were Eliel Saarinen (Eero’s father) and Albert Khan, and Cranbrook is a study in Arts and Crafts style, and despite innovations and newer buildings it still keeps this feeling throughout. The campus contains several schools for boys and girls, the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, Cranbrook Institute of Science and Cranbrook House and Gardens. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger of the New York Times called the Cranbrook campus “one of the greatest campuses ever created anywhere”.

St Louis Arch

Eero studied there under his father and then went on to create some of the worlds most iconic buildings and is considered a master of American 20th Century architecture. I was lucky enough to see a retrospective of his work while visiting, he was a man with a vision and thankfully the talent and means to express it. I think Cranbrook would have looked very different if he’d designed it instead of his father!

Sometimes splitting opinion but always bold and modernist, he also designed the US embassy in London which never fails to garner opinion.

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