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Schools of the 21st Century
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Photo © Frank Ooms

Cranbrook Kingswood Girls’ Middle School

Lake | Flato

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

By Lamar Anderson

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Program: A single-story, 47,000-square-foot private middle school with a block of classrooms and labs for each of the three grades. A trio of performing arts spaces (dance, drama, and chorus) is divided among the classroom blocks, which extend northeast from the main entrance. Southwest of the entrance are a library, a dining hall, a gymnasium, and administration offices. The new building belongs to the Cranbrook Educational Community, which also includes an elementary school and the (now coeducational) boys’ and girls’ high school campuses, designed by Eliel Saarinen. The K–12 buildings are situated on the 319-acre Cranbrook grounds, which Saarinen helped develop in the early 20th century. Located in a suburb of Detroit, the campus, a National Historic Landmark, is home to several Saarinen buildings, including the Cranbrook Art Museum, with more recent contributions to the campus by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, Steven Holl Architects, and Peter Rose + Partners.

Design concept and solution: After several decades housed in the basement of Saarinen’s girls’ high school, the girls’ middle school wanted an intimate building that would tie in with the rest of the campus while staying within the school’s modest budget. To keep the scale of the steel and load-bearing masonry structure friendly, the Lake | Flato team laid out the classroom pods as three bars that jut out from the main corridor. On the facade they expressed the classrooms’ slight variations in height with interlocking L shapes of concrete masonry units and Cranbrook’s signature green glazed brick. The architects selected another material from the campus palettecopperbut used it sparingly to save on cost: thin copper sheeting caps the main entrance and prominent glazed spaces such as the art studio. Inside, the architects were inspired by Saarinen’s method of creating a progression of controlled views to the landscape. They broke down the 300-foot-long academic corridor into three staggered 80-foot segments, each punctuated with a Baltic birch wood enclosure housing artwork from the museum’s collection. Each of these junctures offers views west to a courtyard and, beyond, a grove of trees. East-facing windows overlook a playing field. The architects brought the concrete and brick of the facade inside to blur the boundary between outdoors and in.

Completion Date: January 2011

Gross square footage: 47,000 gross square feet

Total project cost: $9.7 million

Total construction cost: $8.6 million

Architect:
Lake|Flato Architects, 311 Third St
San Antonio, TX, 78205
o 210.227.3335
f 210.224.9515

January 2014
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