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. Encompassing the profession of architecture and urbanism, as well as the art of shaping the cultural and built environment, the Architecture Department at Cranbrook is a truly 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 affects change in the world. In the department, we seek to respond to the complexities of the ever-changing cultural condition by engaging in 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.
One mode of engaging with the contemporary arena defined by the world wide web, globalization, relocalization, automation, digitization, financial and political crises, and environmental conditions of the human population and earth’s resources, is by understanding and taking a position in relationship to the processes through which the future of our societies and cities are shaping into their next mode of existence. Being located on the doorstep of Detroit, Cranbrook Architecture students are perfectly positioned to have the option of engaging their research and work against the backdrop of one of the most fascinating urban conditions.
In a startling departure from tradition, the Architecture Department at Cranbrook has no curriculum—no required courses—no courses at all. Dialogue 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 concentrate and develop a body of work not bound by a preconceived educational objective but in accord with their experience, passion, and skills.
However, personal development does not necessarily mean refuge. Architecture at Cranbrook, despite its programmatic and curricular flexibility, is not a vacation from practice or from the rigorous quest to uncover what architecture is and how it works in a time when things change rapidly. Far from it: the heritage of this place, from Saarinen to Eames to Libeskind to Hoffman, is about making, about engagement, and about questioning directed at finding real, working solutions. To that end, in this department, idiosyncrasy is welcome, but it is challenged with the same intellectual and practical intensity as complacency would be; challenged by 15 talented students; challenged by dozens of visiting critics and scholars; challenged by experimentation and critique; challenged 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 can demonstrate an understanding, coupled with an interest, of the seminal issues, context, pressures, performance and criteria necessary for successfully completing a graduate architectural education. 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 study of architecture within the context of an art academy fundamentally challenges and repositions the discourse of architectural space, practice, structure, politics, meaning, planning, power and social relevance.
The studio is an around-the-clock home of production, conversation, and exploration. Students informally gather to share their work, ideas, and meals. As a group, we have a variety of scheduled mandatory 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 studio.
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 and charrette projects. 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 bonding as a group while attending the Marfa Music Festival, gallery openings, star-gazing at night, getting to the bottom of “Marfa lights” and evaluating food and drink options.
The Architecture Department is a 6000 square foot freestanding building with approximately 4000 square feet of open studio space where each student defines their own boundaries by negotiating with their peers based on project-specific needs. The studio atmosphere is collegial and respectful. The remainder of the architecture building includes a separate enclosed area with desks for each student, 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 and Library further enhance the department’s resources. The metro Detroit business and manufacturing community offers many possibilities for outsourcing of work if needed.