Departmental Philosophy
Artist In Residence
Current Student Work



Cheryl Baxter
Fantastic Trailer, 2012

5 Points
Towards a New Cranbrook Architecture

The following five points outline the current philosophy for the Department of Archecture at Cranbrook Academy of Art

Now + Then:

Over the past 30 years, the Architecture Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art has developed a reputation for questioning the boundaries of architecture as a discipline. In a world where information and conversation are no longer restricted by physical boundaries, architecture is no longer restricted by its traditional disciplinary boundaries. Yet as boundaries become more fluid, the architectural delineation of boundaries becomes more significant, not less. The Department of Architecture attempts to delineate the "core work" of architects and the boundaries of architecture, artifice and discourse. The education of architects in the department reinforces the understanding that the work of architecture by its nature is always "in response to." No matter how its boundaries are re-defined, architecture still provides shelter, erects structures, organizes movement as well as ideas, stimulates perception and engages culture. At Cranbrook, the architect is engaged in, not estranged from, the profession of architecture.


Foreground + Background:

Architecture is as much background as it is foreground. Whether we conceptualize or construct architecture, it is clear that the object, space, or structure conceived is not only meant to be seen, but also to be seen through. The department positions itself within the Art Academy and the larger context of culture, not in terms of the independent artist, but rather, in the position of the engaged architect -— a figure within a field defined by others.

This, Not That:

In a startling departure from tradition, the Architecture Department at Cranbrook has no curriculum--no required courses--no courses at all. Dialogue and critique replace assignments and class schedules. This academic freedom is an extraordinary intellectual platform for all students who possess the individual will and dedication required for establishing their own specific agenda and position in relation to architecture. The Architecture Department allows the individual student to concentrate and develop a body of work not bounded by a preconceived educational objective, but in accord with their experience, passion, and skills.

However, personal development does not necessarily mean refuge. Architecture at Cranbrook, despite its programmatic and curricular flexibility, is not a vacation from practice or from the rigorous quest to uncover what architecture is and how it works in a time when things change rapidly. Far from it: the heritage of this place, from Saarinen to Eames to Libeskind to Hoffman, is about making, about engagement, and about questioning directed at finding real, working solutions. To that end, in this department idiosyncracy is welcome, but it is challenged with the same intellectual and practical intensity as complacency would be; challenged by 15 talented students; challenged by dozens of visiting critics and scholars; challenged by experimentation and critique; challenged by the Designer in Residence. In short, Cranbrook is a crucible for ideas.


Performance + Form:

Although in the department we believe that architecture is grounded in form and formal relations, the department’s ambition is not simply to train architects to produce strange, evocative or meaningful forms. We are concerned with the way architecture effects change in the world,how it performs,and instrengthening discourse for those who will lead in the shaping of the physical world around us.


One to One:

The real is not the currency of the conventional. The talented student begins with a less than the tacit acceptance of convention, and moves him- or herself into the position of provocateur or activist. But this student must have a consummate understanding of the boundaries constructed by conventional thinking. The idea of the real is not seen as a simple co-conspirator of "convention" and the tired de-facto definition of practice. It is simply a place where physics and philosophy become greater than in isolation. Relevance is not restriction manifest in control, but it is rather, the primary point of entry in the discourse that aids and abets the prediction of the new. Within most models of architectural education, the chief mode of operation and articulation is through the use of analogy. A scale drawing, a scale model, or an analogous document confined to abstraction. At Cranbrook this is called into crisis by the ability to work at a scale of 1 to 1. The development of one's work at a scale of 1 to 1 positions the real in a new academic light. It draws the idea of “making” away from the previously polar world of fetish and sustenance, forward toan argument of constructed discourse. The student learns and responds to a scale of 1 to 1 versus the potential of it. Improvisation becomes a discursive method of thinking and design.

Entering Cranbrook:The department expects that each applicant has earned an undergraduate degree in architecture or can demonstrate an understanding, coupled with an interest, of the seminal issues, context, pressures, performance and criteria necessary for successfully completing a graduate architectural education. Cranbrook offers exceptional students the ability to experiment with ideas and methods that are simultaneously personally compelling and relevant to the history and body of architecture. The department seeks independent students who are invested in the pursuit of contemporary architecture and its relationship to our culture and our physical world. The study of architecture within the context of an art academy, fundamentally changes the resistant plane and discourse of: architectural space, practice, structure, politics, meaning, planning, power and social relevance.

Method of Study: It is the current position of the Department of Architecture that tactics and methods deployed to leverage independence and level substantial critique of traditional architectural education and practice should be called into question, if only because these tactics are clearly repeating themselves. It is the obligation of the department to evolve and invent contemporary operational methods and thinking that forecast change. There are no techniques, ideas or methods that are outside of the boundaries of critique and utility. All preconceptions of architecture are, in fact, under fire and questioned and are transported primarily by the vehicle of active inquiry and work.

Context: The studio spaces of the department are seen as a type of laboratory or site where risk and notion meet materiality with the highest level of energy possible. Many of the student’s ideas and interests, under close examination, reveal the residue of the beautiful and paradoxical relationship between Eliel Saarinen's tempered modernassertion manifest in the buildings and landscape which is the Cranbrook campus, and increasingly, the city of Detroit, with its unique urban position in North America.

After Cranbrook: The Department of Architecture is evolving and continuing to redefine its relationship to culture, society and architecture at large by the work of the students within the department. Independent work is encouraged as a means of strengthening one's own position and practice once the experience of study at Cranbrook has come to a close.



Denisse Diaz de Leon Teran


Denisse Diaz de Leon Teran



The Department is a studio environment with open space and high ceilings that encourage students to experiment with large-scale constructions on the premises. Members of the Department are provided with individual studios which can be shared or divided into private spaces. The Department has in-house facilities for work in wood, metal, traditional and CNC machining/laser-cutting, and casting. It maintains a large woodshop, metal/welding shop, computer room (with Macs, PCs, printers and plotter), seminar room, and kitchen, as well as proximity to the Academy’s Central Media Lab that provides equipment, software, and technical support.


Brian Lee


Brian Lee


In the studio 2
Tenzin Phuntsok and Andrew Manahan

In the studio 2
Hwa Jeong Lee and Raymond Gandayuwana

Life in and around the Architecture Studio


Architecture at Cranbrook
Department Critique on site in Detroit


Top image: Emily Baker, Spin-valence, 2011