Page T2.2 . 19 July 2000                     
ArchitectureWeek - Tools Department



Virtual Cranbrook Unites Tradition and Technology


At Cranbrook Saarinen found a unique atmosphere that supported his vision of producing design that, as he put it, "embraces the whole form-world." This commitment to integration led Saarinen to design not only architecture but furnishings and other items. In his home and studio located at the heart of the Cranbrook campus, he incorporated the textile designs of his wife Loja and the work of his children, Pipsan and Eero.

To recognize the "extraordinary value that the Cranbrook educational community holds as a laboratory for architectural studies," Mark Coir, Cranbrook Archives director, and Gretchen Maricak, assistant professor at LTU, formed a partnership between the two institutions. The result is a collaborative course, the Virtual Cranbrook Project, which will lead eventually to the virtual realization of Cranbrook's entire campus through the application of computer-aided design, rendering, and animation software, and other technological and creative means.

The project is currently focused on documenting the Saarinen house. In the future it will expand to include other prominant architecture on campus. Through the hands-on course, students develop an understanding and appreciation for the architecture. They learn by visiting the campus, taking field measurements, making freehand sketches, and documenting their research in digital media. As the project evolves, the resulting documentation will be incorporated into a campus geographic information system and will be accessible on the Web for virtual tours.

The tour begins with Saarinen's home and studio which were completed in 1930. After many decades of alterations by subsequent presidents, the house has recently been restored to Saarinen's original design and has become an extension of the Cranbrook museum. The students' documentation will be used in an interactive kiosk to take museum visitors on a virtual tour when the actual house is closed for the winter.

The students use several software applications: AutoCAD for the 2D plans and elevations and Softimage for the 3D modeling. "Softimage is an amazing program," claims student Ron Rader. It is primarily used by the entertainment industry for animation and special effects. Its graphic nature, flexibility, and high-quality rendering capability make it a natural for the Virtual Cranbrook Project.

The software also facilitates the creation of complex models such as the furnishings and sculpture that fill the house. The students scan their sketches into the computer and use them as backgrounds in Softimage to assist in creating proportionally accurate models. In addition, the students rely on Adobe Photoshop for texture creation and Adobe Premier for transitions, credits, and post-production editing.

The resulting presentations place an emphasis on storytelling as well as temporal composition. As part of the process, the students are required to develop sketches and storyboards to communicate their ideas. These help them to study composition and movement before they animate their project. It is a tool for exploring different techniques to create focus, movement, and motivation to "entice" the viewer through the space. They strive to create work that is innovative and embraces the sprit of Eliel Saarinen's designs.

In the near future, the computer will become more prevalent within the core program at LTU because of a new laptop requirement for students in the College of Architecture and Design. It is expected that the design and graphic capabilities of the students will continue to grow. This will be an asset to the course by attracting more sophisticated and computer-savvy students who will support the Virtual Cranbrook Program's goal of eventually modeling the entire Cranbrook campus.

Laura Clary is a an adjunct professor and instructor for the Virtual Cranbrook Project at Lawrence Technological University and a design Architect at the Southfield, Michigan firm of Harley Ellis.

Project Credits

Project Directors
Mark Coir, Director of Archives at Cranbrook Academy of Art
Gretchen Maricak, Assistant Professor College of Art and Design at Lawrence Technological University Instructors
Gretchen Maricak (Sketching and freehand drawing)
Laura Clary (2D documentation, 3D modeling, rendering, animation, and movie-making)



ArchWeek Photo

Renderings of Saarinen's studio alcove emphasize the room's natural light, filtered through geometrically patterned, leaded windows.
Image: Chris Free, Tad Bultema

ArchWeek Photo

Saarinen House, Studio Alcove.
Image: Chris Free, Tad Bultema

ArchWeek Photo

Accurately recreating the furnishings and art objects within the living room help communicate Saarinen's philosophy of total design.
Image: Robert Budzeika, William Jensen

ArchWeek Photo

Saarinen House, Living Room.
Image: Robert Budzeika, William Jensen

ArchWeek Photo

The master bedroom, designed by Loja Saarinen, communicates a feminine touch through color, textile patterns, and the silver piece designed by Eero Saarinen for his mother.
Image: Leslie Ingersol, Rawdah Mohsen, Jeremy Tiemeyer

ArchWeek Photo

Saarinen House, Dining Room.
Image: Ryan Grabow

ArchWeek Photo

Saarinen House, Courtyard.
Image: Robert Johnson, Ron Rader, Nathan Wayne


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