April 17, 2012 12:51 ET

Cranbrook Art Museum Renovation & Collections Addition Reopens

SmithGroupJJR Design Celebrates Saarinen's Architectural Masterpiece, Creates State-of-the-Art Conservation Environment

DETROIT, MI--(Marketwire - Apr 17, 2012) - The Cranbrook Art Museum recently reopened in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. following a $22 million renovation and addition, designed by SmithGroupJJR. The 2 1/2 -year project entailed construction of the museum's new Collections Wing and restoration of Eliel Saarinen's iconic 1942 structure.

The new three-story structure adds 31,200-square feet to the museum's existing gallery and offices. This transformational model allows for open display of Cranbrook's collected works -- 6,000 pieces of art, architecture and design -- in handsome storage vaults accessible to students, academics and artists. The addition also creates a much needed receiving area for new pieces arriving at the museum.

"The completion of the new wing definitely positions the museum to bring its collection to life for a new generation of artists, students and visitors," said project designer Paul Urbanek, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C.

The existing museum also received substantial upgrades as part of the building project. The main mechanical plant was redesigned to regulate temperature and humidity at a constant level year round. These and other improvements created a sophisticated conservation environment for the museum's artwork -- critical to ensuring the institution maintain its accreditation from the American Association of Museums (AAM). AAM certification impacts a museum's ability to lend and receive prominent exhibits.

"The goal was to overhaul an aging building in dire need of insulation, vapor locks and modern climate-control systems without appearing to have touched a thing," said museum director Gregory Wittkopp.

Design Approach
The Collections Wing is composed of three rectangular volumes decreasing in height and width as the building progresses northward, away from the museum -- one of Cranbrook's most iconic architectural monuments. The west façade is a modest brick wall that steps down as the volumes recede. Void of fenestration, its deep brown-toned bricks are clear-coated and trimmed with fine stainless steel blades, providing a crisp, yet understated complement to Saarinen's original design. A lone stainless steel bench is the building's only accent. Marking the convergence of the new Collections Wing and the square arch atop the Chinese Lion stair, this element creates a space where visitors can reflect upon the subtle connection between Saarinen's classic design and the new addition.

Also unique to the facility is a series of 12-foot high zinc-clad steel panels that enclose the Collections Wing's service court. The panels act as a counterpoint to the lead-coated copper panels on the red brick New Studios Building, designed by noted Spanish architect, Rafael Moneo.

Completing the exterior composition is a large, square stainless steel-clad projected window. Here, the deep brown masonry wrapping the structure from the west unites with a light red brick -- matching that used by Moneo -- on the east façade. The intersection of these elements visually connects the new facility with neighboring structures and defines the Seminar Room within.

Interior Details
The Collection Wing's interior is an expression of utilitarian concrete block construction enhanced to an artistic light. Joints of standard gray block have been raked and the concrete's soft coating retained to create a subtle, luminous backdrop to finely crafted details throughout. Primary openings within the block have stainless steel plate surrounds. Mahogany plank doors with custom stainless steel push/pulls are introduced to accentuate the act of crossing each threshold. Circulation paths give way to recessed niches of stainless steel and granite, which provide additional spaces for the display of art.

Cranbrook: Past Influences, Future Vision
Cranbrook Academy of Art has been described as "America's Bauhaus," denoting its impressive contributions to American modernism. The new Collections Wing enhances Cranbrook's vision to promote learning about art within a renowned architectural icon.

About SmithGroupJJR
SmithGroupJJR is one of the largest architecture, engineering and planning firms in the U.S., ranked #1 for design quality based on design awards won in Architect magazine's 2011 annual best firms ranking. The firm is also the recipient of the 2011 Landscape Architecture Firm Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects. A national leader in sustainable design, SmithGroupJJR has 354 LEED professionals and 72 LEED certified projects.

Contact Information