Already the home of work by Eliel Saarinen, Albert Kahn and Stephen Holl, Metro Detroit’s Cranbrook has acquired the Melvyn Maxwell and Sarah Stein Smith House, a 1950 Usonian home in Bloomfield Hills designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for two Detroit public school teachers. The home comes to Cranbrook via a donation from the Towbes Foundation and provides the institution with ownership of the Smith House as an educational resource. The Smith house has been preserved exactly as it was when the Smiths lived in it. While studying at the City College of Detroit, now Wayne State University, Melvyn Maxwell Smith saw an image of Fallingwater during a slide presentation and was instantly hooked on Wright. With equal financial backing from his wife Sarah Stein Smith, the couple travelled to Taliesin, where they asked Wright to design a home for $5,000. Wright negotiated $8,000 and waited for the couple to save up to purchase a suitable piece of property. Deeply occupied by his work on the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Wright communicated regularly with the Smiths once he delivered the design for the home and urged Melvyn Maxwell Smith to work as his own general contractor to keep costs down, and one that would allow Smith to control the quality of work. Smith gathered a team of contractors, journeymen and friends to work on the house, including those that agreed to work for a reduced rate in exchange for the privilege of being a part of the project. With the Smiths paying as they went, construction moved slowly. As the house was nearing completion, the Smiths found themselves without funds to purchase the windows. Real estate investor Al Taubman, another FLW super fan, found himself visiting the construction site just as Melvyn Maxwell Smith was boarding up the window openings with plywood. After listening to Smith lament that he was down to his last $500, and worrying that inclement weather would damage the house, Taubman had installers from the Pittsburg Plate Glass Window Company arrive the next day to measure and install the windows and sent the Smiths a bill for exactly $500. Over time, the Smiths filled the house with sculptures and designed objects by artists associated with Cranbrook. Melvyn Maxwell Smith lived in the house until his death in 1984. Sarah Stein Smith stayed until moving to California in 1991. The Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research is responsible for stewarding the Smith House and is also undertaking an oral history project to collect stories from artists and contractors that worked on the project.
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As a part of Detroit's Wasserman Projects exhibition, Desire Bouncing, a panel discussion addressed the future of architecture and art in Detroit. The panel was moderated by Reed Kroloff, principal of Jones Kroloff and former director of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum. The panel included exhibiting artist Alex Schweder, associate curator at MoMA's Department of Architecture and Design; Sean Anderson, architectural critic; Cynthia Davidson, Venice Biennale U.S. Pavilion co-curator; and Mitch McEwen, assistant professor of Architecture at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at University of Michigan. Detroit is physically changing. Some of its architectural treasures and thousands more of its abandoned homes have been demolished. But now that Detroit is undergoing the slow process of rebuilding, what kind of architecture will replace it? This and other questions were discussed among an expert panel of architects and critics that gathered last Friday at Wasserman Projects, a gallery and event space in a renovated fire truck maintenance facility in Detroit's Eastern Market. Around 50 guests attended the panel discussion, called "Architecture By Any Means Necessary." Kroloff began by asking the panelists, "What are things architecture can do beyond creating a city environment?" "Structures are receptacles for stories, for meanings," said Alex Schweder, an artist who often combines performance and architecture in his work. "The structures in Washington D.C. are a manifestation of stories we tell about our country." "Buildings can perform things we never thought were possible," said Mitch McEwen, a founding partner at A(n) Office and Principal of McEwen Studio. Her example of Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which changed her conception of architecture, lead to an argument about the interaction between a building and its visitors. Cynthia Davidson described her distaste for Detroit's Renaissance Center, the headquarters of General Motors, often criticized for its confusing walkways and lack of synergy with downtown. "[Designer John] Portman makes you realize how controlling architecture can be," she said. In response to a question about what new architecture in Detroit should do, Schweder advocated architects and city managers give up some control. "Our roles can be collaborative with client and users," he said. "People want voice and agency in the look and use of their city." The discussion took a turn towards political issues and actual implementation of these ideas. Sean Anderson, acknowledged the difficulty Schweder's proposal. "History is often not recognized by developers that come and rebuild cities." During the audience question portion of the panel, someone mentioned that vast areas of Detroit that have no architecture, but "only the ghosts of architecture." He then wondered if this "absence" was worth preserving. "Detroit is a city of single family homes," answered McEwen. She felt that memorializing vacancy was the wrong approach. "I hope the city rebuilds, but with respect for the logic of the single family home." Desire Bouncing will be on show through April 9th at the Wasserman Projects at 3434 Russell Street, #502, Detroit, Michigan 48207. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScgU9lB3Ves
More than one year after Reed Kroloff announced he would leave his post as director of Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art, the illustrious arts campus and museum has plucked an art museum director from the West Coast to fill his shoes. Christopher Scoates has worked with California State University Long Beach since 2005. A native of England, he has a Master of Fine Arts in Photography from Cranbrook and more than 25 years of experience in universities and art schools. As a curator he has organized exhibitions bringing together music, lighting, and various media for shows that have traveled the country. “Cranbrook Academy of Art's rich legacy and history of innovation have made it one of the top institutions of graduate education in the visual and fine arts,” Scoates said in a statement. “Together, the Academy and Museum share a commitment to new art and new ideas, and I look forward to developing new partnerships, alliances, and audiences that will extend both the Academy and Museum programs far beyond the walls of the campus.” His appointment takes effect August 1st. Cranbrook is a top ranked, graduate-only program in architecture, design, and fine art famous for its Saarinen-designed campus and small class size—just 150 students per year. (Disclosure: Kroloff serves as an editorial advisor to The Architect’s Newspaper.)
Reed Kroloff will leave his full-time position as director of Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum for a part-time role, the academy announced Tuesday. In his stead, Cranbrook Trustee and Academy Governor Allan Rothfeder will serve as a special advisor to assist Cranbrook President Dominic DiMarco during the transition period. Kroloff, who left New Orleans in 2007 to become the director of Cranbrook, presided over the construction of a new wing during his time as director. He also founded the academy’s first National Advisory Council and oversaw the formulation of a new strategic plan for the Bloomfield Hills, Mich. institution. Kroloff was previously head of Architecture magazine and served as dean of architecture at Tulane University post-Katrina. He currently serves as an editorial advisor to The Architect's Newspaper. Cranbrook is the country’s top ranked, graduate-only program in architecture, design, and fine art, retaining just 150 students each year. Its iconic Eero and Eliel Saarinen-designed campus was a favorite subject of modernist photographer Balthazar Korab. “We’re sad that Reed will be leaving us next year,” DiMarco said in a statement, “but are confident that Reed and Allan will be a great working team during this transition of leadership.”