Twenty miles northwest of Detroit in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Cranbrook is an
educational complex comprising a house and garden, a church, three schools, an art
academy, and a science institute. It was developed by George Gough Booth (1864–1949),
publisher of the Detroit News and a chain of smaller papers, and his wife, Ellen Warren Scripps
Booth (1863–1948), daughter of newspaper magnate James Edmund Scripps.
In 1904 the Booths purchased a large farm in Bloomfield Township and named it for
the ancestral home of Booth’s father in Cranbrook, County of Kent, England. Aided by
Booth’s sketches, Albert Kahn (1869–1942) prepared plans for their English Arts and
Crafts country house (1908) overlooking the estate. The Booths commissioned American
and European artisans and craftsmen to create tapestries, wood carvings, furniture,
metalwork, glasswork, fine bookbindings, and other decorative pieces in an arts-andcrafts
aesthetic for the house. The Booths subsequently began transforming their estate
into an educational complex distinguished for its architecture, gardens, fountains, pools,
and sculpture.
Booth articulated the vision for Cranbrook, assembled advisers, collaborated with
architects, artists, and craftsmen to form and furnish it, and, together with his wife,
provided the financial means to execute it. Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen
(1873–1950) designed many of the campus’s plans and buildings between 1925 and
The first community gathering place, the Meeting House (1918), was built to the
English cottage designs of Booth and his son, Henry Scripps Booth, then a student of
architecture at the University of Michigan. Its rambling additions and tower adapted the
glacial fieldstone, brick, and half-timber building for use as the Brookside School for
Young Children (1922–1930s).
The Booths commissioned Oscar H.Murray (1883–1957) of Bertram Grosvenor
Goodhue and Associates to design the late Gothic Revival Christ Church (1929) as the
spiritual cornerstone for Cranbrook and the Bloomfield Hills community. Leading
contemporary Arts and Crafts artisans and craftsmen created superb ornamental detail
and furnishings for the stone church.
In 1925 Saarinen, a visiting professor of architecture at the University of Michigan in
Ann Arbor, accepted Booth’s invitation to develop a visionary plan for an art academy at
Cranbrook. Having won second prize in the Chicago Tribune Tower competition of 1922,
Saarinen had come to Chicago with his family to see the American Midwest.
Saarinen’s first completed work in America was the Cranbrook School for Boys
(1929). His plans, based on the sketches of Henry Scripps Booth and his university
classmate, J.Robert F.Swanson, after George Gough Booth’s preliminary designs,
presented a campus of remodeled farm buildings (1911). Remodeling proved too costly,
so Saarinen revised the plan, retaining much of the arrangement of the farm buildings.
The exquisitely crafted brick buildings topped with red tile-clad gabled roofs are grouped
around a quadrangle, courts, and terraces in the manner of English collegiate
quadrangles. For the school Saarinen won the Gold Medal Award of the Architectural
League of New York for 1934.
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Booth attributed the origins of Cranbrook Academy of Art, a working place for
creative art expressive of the time, to his visit to the American Academy in Rome in
1922. Utilitarian brick buildings with studios and living quarters (1928–1930s) flank
Academy Way with courts and plazas facing gardens to the east. The propylaeum of the
modern monumental art museum and library (1942) forms the focus for the formal
gardens, pools, fountains, and sculpture. The precursor to the art academy was the group
of European artists and craftsmen—including Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, Finnish
ceramicist Maija Grottel, and others—who assembled at Cranbrook to enhance the
buildings and grounds of the institutions.
The Kingswood School for Girls (1931) comprises two connected rectangular wings
that form quadrangles with a succession of long, low projecting wings. The low-pitched,
copper-clad hipped roof with broad overhanging eaves; the horizontal bands of windows;
the spreading out of the brick building toward the periphery of the dramatic site on
Kingswood Lake from the higher condensed center; and the open interior spaces are
reminiscent of the Prairie architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Saarinen family
collaborated in unifying the buildings, interiors, and furnishings. Loja Saarinen created
curtains, upholstery, and rugs; Eero Saarinen designed furniture and lead-glass windows;
and Eva Lisa (Pipsan) Saarinen Swanson did the interior decoration for the dining room,
auditorium, and other spaces.
At the Cranbrook Institute of Science, Saarinen expanded the temporary cinder-block
building with an observatory (1931) designed by George Gough Booth with a simplified
modern flat-roofed brick structure (1938) that was reflected in a pool animated with
sculptures by Milles.
The Booths established the Cranbrook Foundation in 1927 to endow and support the
institutional development of Cranbrook. In 1973 the Cranbrook Foundation and five of
the original six Cranbrook institutions reorganized as the Cranbrook Educational
Community. The sale of Cranbrook’s ownership in Booth Newspapers in the 1970s and
in the Evening News Association in 1986 and other financial strategies realized funds
needed to support massive restoration and construction work to mark its centennial in
2004. This master plan is setting the course for the future, enabling the community to
meet the changing needs of education, a diverse student body, and a more public role.
The result is a northern access to the campus off Woodward Avenue, the main
thoroughfare from Detroit to northern communities; four extraordinary new buildings and
additions to existing buildings that are compatible with the Saarinen and Booth campus;
and the restoration of the historic buildings, art, and landscaping. The new wing of early
childhood, science, and music rooms at the Brookside School (1997) by Peter Rose
responds to the small size and scale, irregularity, and childlike qualities of the historic
buildings. The natatorium (1999) at the Cranbrook School by Tod Williams and Billie
Tsien opens to nature by means of retractable oculi and hydraulically powered louvered
wall panels. The spacious studio addition to the museum (2001) by Rafael Moneo has
gallery, studio, and fabrication spaces that permit the creation of large artworks. The new
wing to the science institute (1998) by Steven Holl, entered through a spectacular light
laboratory, straddles the wings of Saarinen’s older building to connect with and form an
interior courtyard with the older building. Thus, Cranbrook continues stewardship of its
National Historic Landmark campus while making concrete its visionary role.
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