We are pleased to welcome Gretchen Wilkins as the Architect-in-Residence. Read more about Wilkins here.
Over the past 30 years, the Architecture Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art has developed a reputation for questioning the boundaries of architecture as a discipline, and shaping the future of architectural practice. Encompassing the professions of architecture and urbanism, and deeply connected to the arts and culture, the Architecture Department at Cranbrook is truly a multi-disciplinary environment immersed in the breadth and depth of the Academy’s nine other Master of Fine Arts departments. There is no subject matter, formal exploration, material investigation or means of representation that is outside the realm of critical production at Cranbrook. Architectural making and thinking are invariably applied to domains within and beyond the discipline in order to posit the way architecture effects change in the world. In the department, we seek to respond to the complexities of the ever-changing cultural condition through design, critical thinking and discussions that offer openness, inquisition, rigor and a healthy dose of skepticism. We value diversity of thought and welcome diverging voices into the conversation.
Our immediate context within the Academy and expanded relationship with the city of Detroit are both sources of inspiration and laboratories for investigation. While the immersive environment of the Academy offers a place of solitude and focus for the pursuit of individual projects, we believe that architecture is a collaborative process and perhaps the most public of all arts.
In a startling departure from tradition, the Architecture Department at Cranbrook has no curriculum—no required courses—no courses at all. Design, research and critique replace assignments and class schedules. This academic freedom is an extraordinary intellectual platform for all students who possess the individual will and dedication required for establishing their own specific agenda and position in relation to architecture. The Architecture Department allows the individual student to develop a body of work not bound by a preconceived educational objective but in accord with their experience, passion, and skills.
This open approach to graduate architectural education has produced a legacy exemplary and experimental architectural practices. Students are encouraged to consider the body of work developed in their two years at Cranbrook as an extension of their existing practice, as an opportunity to deeply reflect on that work through new projects, and as a platform for their future practice. The heritage the of this place, from Saarinen to Eames to Libeskind to Hoffman, is about making, about engagement, and about experimenting with new solutions through new ways of working. To that end, idiosyncrasy is both welcome and necessarily challenged: challenged by peers; by visiting critics and scholars; by ongoing discourse and by the Architect-In-Residence. In short, Cranbrook is a crucible for ideas.
The department expects that each applicant has earned an undergraduate degree in architecture or related built environment disciplines. Understanding the seminal issues in contemporary architecture and demonstrating a personal motivation for the intensity and rigor of independent design research and graduate architectural study are also essential. Cranbrook offers exceptional students the ability to experiment with ideas and methods that are simultaneously personally compelling and relevant to the history and body of architecture. Each student is encouraged to develop a profound body of work which culminates in a thesis project. To that end, the department seeks independent and highly disciplined students who are invested in the pursuit of contemporary architecture and its relationship to our culture and our physical world.
The studio is an around-the-clock home of production, conversation, and exploration. Students gather formally and informally to share their work, ideas, and meals. As a group, we also have a variety of scheduled gatherings. Essential to the development of the work are individual desk critiques with the Architect-in-Residence and more formal pin-ups where students present their work to all members of their department and interested peers from other departments. We also have reading assignments and discussion sessions on subjects that are relevant to the work happening in the studio and topics beyond the department.
Each semester we invite numerous visiting lecturers and architects who offer new points of view, review student work and sometimes spend multiple consecutive days with students to conduct workshops. We invite established and emerging voices in order to connect us with the breadth of architectural production happening in the world.
We take an annual department trip to another part of the country where significant cultural and societal engagement is taking place. During the spring semester of 2017, the Architecture Department visited Marfa, Texas for five days. Our trip started with a palette cleansing hike at the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico which set the tone for the 4 days spent in Marfa visiting, discussing and drawing Donald Judd’s comprehensive body of work. We spent the remainder of our days attending the Marfa Music Festival, gallery openings, experiencing the local food culture and gazing at the “Marfa lights”
The Architecture Department is a 6000 square foot freestanding building with approximately 4000 square feet of open studio space for large scale work. The remainder of the building includes the Architect-in-Residence’s studio, an enclosed area with student desks, plotter, 2D and 3D printers, kitchen, dining room, crit space, spray booth, and materials storage. Also located within the Architecture Department are digital fabrication facilities with 4’x8’ CNC router and a digital plasma cutter. The Architecture Department also contains its own dedicated woodshop in addition to having access to the Academy’s main woodshop and metal shop facilities which include an industrial-size spray booth for finishing large-scale work. Students also have access to equipment in other departments at the Academy, with a wide range of state-of-the-art woodworking, metalworking, ceramics, printmaking and photography facilities.
The Academy’s professionally staffed and well-equipped Central Media Lab, Library and Fellows in History and Critical Studies further enhance the Department’s resources. The metro Detroit business and manufacturing community offers many possibilities for outsourcing of work if needed.