What’s in a Brick?

There are many beautiful bricks around Cranbrook’s campus. From the Roman brick details at Cranbrook School, the buckskin “Cranbrook brick” at the Academy and Institute of Science, or the beautiful green and gold bricks of Kingswood, Eliel Saarinen was a master of the ancient building material.

The richness of this legacy made architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien extremely diligent in specifying materials for their own addition to campus, the Williams Natatorium. Completed in 1999 and sited within the heavily wooded area adjacent to the Saarinen-designed Keppel Gymnasium, the 26,000-square-foot swimming facility features very few details that are not custom made. This includes the bricks.

The entrance to the Cranbrook Natatorium, showcasing purple Norman brick, glazed blue and green brick, concrete, and lead-coated copper. Courtesy Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The architects wanted glazed bricks (a material famously used by Eero Saarinen at the General Motors Technical Center), but they couldn’t find any product available on the market that meet their needs. Project architect Martin Finio told Construction Association of Michigan Magazine (Fall 2000) that:

Typical glazing tends to resemble a painted surface. The glaze becomes the object of interest. The brick behind it could be anything. What we were interested in was trying to find a way of glazing brick in such a way that you can feel the body of the brick through it.

The architects turned to Endicott Clay of Fairbury, Nebraska to help craft custom glazed brick, with a base of ironspot brick the company already produced. In ironspot bricks, manganese in the clay creates dark spots when fired. The goal for Cranbrook was to have these spots remain visible behind the glaze.

After receiving dozens of sample test glazed bricks that weren’t what the architects wanted, Martin Finio, Billie Tsien, and project manager Gary Scheuren traveled to Nebraska to learn more about the process and to work on getting the Natatorium bricks just right. When they arrived, Tsien saw a stack of samples Endicott Clay had deemed failures, rejected, and never sent to the architects in New York. Within the trash pile was the exact finish the architects wanted. Endicott Clay simply reverse engineered the once-rejected bricks and made enough mottled blue and green glazed bricks for the building.

Beyond the colors’ ties to water and earth (appropriate for a pool in the woods), the specific shade of blue and green have special Cranbrook associations. The blue is the famed “Grotell blue” of Cranbrook’s longtime Head of Ceramics, Maija Grotell, while the green relates to the lovely shades of aqua used by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson inside Kingswood and that building’s great patinated copper roof.

The Norman bricks above the green glazed bricks. Notice the raked horizontal mortar lines. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Alongside the glazed bricks, the architects specified manganese ironspot Norman bricks in deep purple. Norman bricks are longer than standard bricks and enhance the horizontality of the building. Using a tradition made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright and also used by Eliel Saarinen at Cranbrook, the horizontal mortar is raked and the vertical mortar is flush, casting the horizontal joints in shadow and increasing the sense of compression across the façade.

This hinge joint of blue glazed and purple Norman bricks terminates the east-west axis running from George Booth’s office in Cranbrook House, past the Art Museum and Orpheus fountain, and to the Natatorium. Daniel Smith, photographer. Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Other materials used on the exterior of the Natatorium include cast in place concrete (sandblasted to give it a warmer feel and richer texture), warm toned ground-faced concrete block (custom made in Grand Blanc), Honduran mahogany, Mexican river rock, and Pietra Cardosa Italian slate.

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Cranbrook, Way Back

When we consider historical records, even digital ones, our thoughts do not usually extend to websites. Yet, just like student newsletters or exhibition catalogs, Cranbrook’s website is a compendium of institutional information regarding the people, places, and things that make it unique.  As we ourselves shift evermore towards online existences, one focus of the Archives has been on how to ensure Cranbrook’s virtual legacy.

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the expression, “What goes on the internet, stays on the internet,” or some variation thereof. Cranbrook is no exception. Fortunately, there is the Internet Archive. A non-profit American digital library, it has been saving public websites since 1996. And, courtesy of its web archives, the Wayback Machine, Cranbrook’s evolving web presence has been captured over time from its beginnings in the mid to late 1990s to today. [Interesting aside: through the Internet Archives backup protocol, Cranbrook is a part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the current incarnation of the famed ancient Library of Alexandria!]

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Cranbrook home page as it looked in 1997. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

One of the quickest ways to get a snapshot of what was going on at Cranbrook in the last twenty-three years is through its website.  Get lost in Cranbrook 1997 by clicking on the above homepage image and navigating through the still active links.

How about exploring Cranbrook 2007?

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Cranbrook home page as it looked in 2007. Courtesy of the Internet Archive.

There are only 1,450 more site captures to delve into, if you’ve got the time! While the interactive websites of Cranbrook’s past can be accessed in this way, it is important to note that the information and files used in their creation form part of the over two million items at the Archives. For example, the main homepage image from the 1997 website, the Woodward Entrance Feature, can be found in the Archives’ Architecture Slide Collection.

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View of the entrance feature from Woodward Avenue at sunset, 1996. Dan Hoffman, designer. Balthazar Korab, photographer. Copyright Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives.

As increasingly digital files become the only documentation of Cranbrook activities or events, its websites are more integral to understanding the context of these records. The Archives continues to expand its digital capabilities to keep pace. In the near future, we hope to provide our own copies of Cranbrook’s various websites (with keyword search capability), side by side with the digital records from which they were created.

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Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Archives Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Getting a Green Roof

In the Architectural Forum of January 1932, an advertisement announced that 160,000 pounds of 16-ounce Anaconda Copper had been used for the newly opened Kingswood School Cranbrook. There are copper gutters, cornices, louvers, moldings, and chimney covers, but most impressive is the 90,000 square foot batten seam copper roof.

Kingswood Roof Construction Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Workers assembling the roof structure above Unit A, the classroom wing of Kingswood School for Girls. The copper roof behind them is already installed. No barrels of uric acid can be spotted in construction photos. c. 1931. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

There was just one problem with the new copper roof: it was installed with rolls of bright, new-penny-orange, sheet copper. Eliel Saarinen wanted a green roof, and I think he wanted it quickly.

Yes, he could have waited for the shiny new copper to patinate naturally from rain, humidity, and time. But who has the patience for natural aging when you have an architectural tour de force to complete? Instead, Saarinen turned to chemistry. Using a historic technique common in Europe, the contractor, A. C. Wermuth, directed his workmen to collect their urine in small jars and transfer it to barrels on site. These barrels were then hoisted to the ridge line of the roof, where the pungent catalyst was poured down the copper slope and then spread evenly with brooms.

Science did the rest, and Saarinen got his verdigris color which the Architectural Forum described as a “neutralized complement” to the warm tan brick and buff Mankato stone walls which “harmonized admirably with the heavy foliage of the location.”

Kingswood Early Slide c 1940 Copyright Cranbrook Archives

Color slide of Kingswood School for Girls showing the harmony between landscape, building mass, and materials. c. 1940-1945. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The story of more than just rain tinkling on the roof is recorded in Archives as told to former archivist Mark Coir by Dominick Vettraino, who grew up at Cranbrook and served as our landscaper, fireman, superintendent, and jack-of-all-trades. I was asked about the story of peeing-on-the-roof this week by an Upper School chemistry teacher, who’d heard the rumor and is now using it in her lessons for students stuck at home. You, too, can run the experiment: you just need to have a glass, a penny, and be hydrated!

Just like rust develops on iron, patina develops on copper when left exposed to the elements. The copper sulfate on the surface reacts to oxygen in the environment. Unlike rust, the patina actually protects and preserves the copper. However, copper doesn’t turn green quickly: it can take twenty to thirty years for copper to become green! Uric acid can significantly speed up the process. The fact that the Kingswood roof is quite green in early color photos does reinforce the idea that they used a catalyst to age the roof.

The entire copper roof was recycled and replaced in two phases, from 1998 to 2002 and from 2005 to 2007. In the replacement, the copper patination was not accelerated. The fact that the replacement roof is still not green, seventeen to thirteen years on, is to be expected. The roof quickly changed from bright orange to dull brown, and then slowly toward the purplish black you see today. However, I am noticing this spring that when you look at the section of 2002 roof at an acute angle, it’s distinctly turning green at the seams!

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Progress on the new roof. Phase one, completed in 2002, is at the far left and already dull brown. The original (though urethane coated) roof is at right. The new copper roof is shining at the center. May 27, 2006. Courtesy of C.A.S.S. Sheet Metal Specialist, Detroit.

The current color of the roof disappoints many graduates, but in time, it will return to the beautiful green color Saarinen and Wermuth achieved through their very affordable, if not very polite, method. And if you were at Kingswood between 1988 and the new roof replacement: you weren’t seeing a green patina, but a mint-green urethane coating sprayed on the entire roof to (unsuccessfully) slow the leaks!

—Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

PS: Between the joined “Studio #3” and “Dorm # 2” at the Academy, built in 1932 and 1936 respectively, there is a visible difference between the color of the two copper roofs where the patination has never matched. This can be attributed to different batches of copper. In the new Kingswood roof, every delivery of copper sheeting and copper solder delivered to the site was tested for quality and composition: we wouldn’t want the roof to change color irregularly.

Christ Church Cranbrook Baptistry

To the north of the narthex at Christ Church Cranbrook stands the Baptistry, where infants are christened with the pouring of water over the head.

Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. – The Book of Common Prayer

The whole Baptistry is a work of art, featuring an ornate wooden screen topped by the Lamb of God, a baptismal font with an ornate cloisonné cover that sits upon an exquisitely carved base, and a beautiful mosaic ceiling.

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Christ Church Cranbrook, Baptismal Font, 1928. Peter A. Nyholm, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Oscar H. Murray Photograph Collection.

Today, I want to focus on the ceiling by Mary Chase Perry Stratton and her Pewabic Pottery.

As George G. Booth was constructing Christ Church, he looked for the best craftspeople. In a 1926 letter to Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, architects of the church, Booth states, “I should be pleased if we are able to have a piece of Pewabic work in the Church and have thought the most suitable location would be the vault of the Baptistry”

After a seven-year rift with his old friend Mary Chase Perry Stratton over not allowing her creative license on projects at Cranbrook House, Booth offered an olive branch by giving Stratton the artistic freedom to create the Baptistry ceiling in 1926. This included the mosaic’s material and size, and how to incorporate the symbols of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit into the work.

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Christ Church Cranbrook, Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, which the initiant receives at baptism, are represented as follows: Wisdom is a Beehive (also a favorite symbol of the Booth family), Understanding is a Lamp, Counsel is the Star, Fortitude is an Oak, Piety is a Cross, Knowledge is a Book, and Godly Fear (Peace) is a Dove.

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Christ Church Cranbrook, detail of Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

As former Cranbrook Center Collections Fellow Stephanie Kae Dlugosz-Acton wrote in the publication from her exhibition, Simple Forms, Stunning Glazes: “These symbols are centered on treetops resembling fleurs-de-lis. At the base of each of these saplings, a sea of blue tiles of varying shades surround two different animals, usually one mammal and one bird. All of the small tesserae tiles have the signature iridescence of Pewabic and create a glittering effect that shifts as one moves through the intimate and reverent space.”

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Christ Church Cranbrook, detail of Baptistry Ceiling, 2015. P.D. Rearick, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

What a wonderful gift to all families who share a Christening in this Baptistry, and to all the visitors to Christ Church Cranbrook.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Cranbrook, Kent: Then and Now

When George and Ellen Booth moved from Detroit to Bloomfield in 1904, they named their estate ‘Cranbrook’ after George’s ancestral home of Cranbrook, Kent, England. As the institutions and landscape developed, many of them were also named after places in and around the ancestral Cranbrook. George’s father, Henry Wood Booth, was born there in 1837, where his father, Henry Gough Booth, and grandfather, George Booth, were coppersmiths.

In 1901, Henry Wood Booth along with George and Ellen took a trip to England, and the photographs from this trip are held in the Henry Wood Booth Papers in Cranbrook Archives. I invite you on a virtual “walking” tour of Cranbrook, Kent, using these historical images alongside the same places in the present day.

Cranbrook is a small town situated on the River Crane with an industrial history in iron-making, that goes back to Roman times, and cloth-making, stimulated by the settlement of Flemish weavers in 1331. Cranbrook belongs to a group of towns known as the Weald, which comes from a West Saxon word for “forest”. During the middle ages, Kent was divided into seven “lathes” (an administrative unit peculiar to Kent), and Cranbrook was one of seven “hundreds” (the smallest administrative unit about the same size as a parish) belonging to the lathe of Scray.

The map below pinpoints the places that we will visit so that you can follow the route as we tour the town.

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Walking tour directions. Google, 2020.

1. View down High Street towards Town Hall

Cranbrook is comprised of one main road, the High Street, which intersects with another smaller road, Stone Street. Most English towns have a “High Street,” just like “Main Street” in the US, and we will begin our tour on the High Street that leads into the town center.

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View of the High Street looking down to the Town Hall, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

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View of Cranbrook High Street. May 2019. Google.

2. Crane Lane

At the end of the High Street, there is a small lane called Crane Lane. The Booth family lived on the High Street nearby this lane. The symbolism of the Crane is well known on the Cranbrook campus and you can see its history rooted in the etymology of the ancestral Cranbrook, which is named for the gathering of cranes at the brook.

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View of Crane Lane, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

This is a bird’s eye view of Crane Lane showing the brook. If you click and zoom out on the map you can see that it leads to a small unbuilt area and eventually to a road named “Brookside”.

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Satellite map showing Crane Brook and Crane Lane. 2020. Google.

3. Turning right onto Stone Street – you can see the George Hotel on the right:

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View of Stone Street with the George Hotel on the right, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

The George Hotel is still there today:

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View of Stone Street. May 2019. Google.

4. At the intersection of Stone Street and Hill Road, which leads to the Union Mill, there was a blacksmith’s shop on the corner. Henry Wood Booth’s birthplace is on the left on Hill Road:

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View of Hill Road leading to Union Mill, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

The view today is quite similar:

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View of Hill Road. May 2019. Google.

Union Mill is the last remaining of four smock mills in Cranbrook. It is still used to grind flour which you can see here.

5. Heading back to the center of town, you can see St. Dunstan’s in the distance:

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This is the view today:

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View looking down Hill Road from the site of the mill. May 2019. Google.

7. St. Dunstan’s Church

You may be familiar with this name from St. Dunstan’s Theatre and St. Dunstan’s Chapel. St. Dunstan’s Church is the parish church of Cranbrook in the Diocese of Canterbury. It is known as the Cathedral in the Weald and, while records show that a church was there almost 1000 years ago, the present building is over 500 years old. St. Dunstan himself is the patron saint of metalsmiths.

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St. Dunstan’s Church, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

In the surrounding area, there are other sites with names that you will recognize from Cranbrook campus, namely Angley Wood and Glassenbury Manor (Kingswood Lake was once called Glassenbury Lake).

I hope you have enjoyed the trip and discovered something new about Cranbrook past and present.

–Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

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