Cranbrook Academy Art Museum + Collections Building
What would happen to a canvas if it was kept in a poorly insulated and dark basement for ten years? The colors would fade. The fabric might accumulate mold. What would happen if it was left for 40 years? 65 years? 100 years?
The Cranbrook Academy, designed by the esteemed Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, was experiencing firsthand the consequences of displaying and storing art in a facility with an inferior building envelope and HVAC system incapable of maintaining a proper conservation environment. The museum was at risk of losing its accreditation and its staff and donors were in a state of perpetual uneasiness about fulfilling its stewardship responsibilities for a collection that includes such notable artists as Frank Stella and Eli Harvey. Our team was brought in to address this challenge and designed a new collections addition to be used as a learning space to enrich the museum’s mission.
The tunnel connection allowed for the opportunity to create a unique entrance experience to the collection. Utilizing a sliding curved panel, a visitor feels as though they are entering a hidden wing of the building containing storied secrecy and uncovered history. Reinforcing this notion in design of the lighting, with fixture are place above a metal grate ceiling to create a piercing and patterned effect, and surface mounted strategically place UV spot lights render the entry sequence with insulating brightness.
Improvements to the museum envelope, surgically constructed from the interior of the building, with double pane argon filled glazing, and new space for a HVAC building plant was accomplished by carefully excavating the crawl space beneath the lower level galleries and support spaces.
The design connects the past to the future. It utilizes materials like polished concrete flooring, concrete block and galvanized metal in combination and contrast with finely crafted materials like wood paneling, polished glass, stainless steel and glazed brick to respectfully complement the work of the illustrious original designer and forge a path toward a new era of influence for the museum.