DRIVEWAY SQUARE

JUHANI PALLASMAA
 

Square 1 Square 2

 

When I spent the spring term of 1993 teaching at Yale University, Lillian Bauder, the head of Cranbrook Academy, invited me to assess some of the architectural plans for the Cranbrook area made by Steven Holl, Rafael Moneo, Peter Rice, and Tod Williams. She also asked me to plan a T-crossing at the end of the driveway that would "make a feature of the crossing". Dan Hoffman was assigned to develop an entrance canopy and a gate structure for the new road, which is extremely well adjusted to the landscape. Our common assignment was to design the lighting and traffic guidance fixtures. From the very beginning the development of the designs was teamwork, with contributions from the whole architectural department of Cranbrook Academy, and both present and former students also talking care of the realisation of the structurally extremely demanding constructions.

The driveway square forms a visual and symbolic end to the driveway. The square is situated halfway between the art museum and the science institute designed by Eliel Saarinen; the curving line of columns do in fact bear a reference to the columns by the entrance of the art museum, and the bronze wall to the rectangular shape of the science institute. The round stone-paved area creates an impression of a square. The edges of the driveway have been marked with airport lighting embedded in the stone pavement. The rounded shape of the square pushes the previously linear pedestrian way out towards the beautiful lakeside landscape.

The stone materials selected for the six columns are suggestive of the Ice Age, when the edge of the glacier ran where Cranbrook now stands. Six types of granite were chosen from the stone wall of the Academy, which is built of natural stones. These granites the Ice Age glacier had carried from the north 20,000 years ago. The head of the science institute, a geologist, traced the stones back to the bedrock in Canada where they had originated from. The stone material for the columns was quarried from the same rocks. The columns have been compiled of parts which grow larger in size according to Fibonacci's sequence, thus creating an upward movement. The columns are exceptionally slim for natural stone columns, and they are in fact post-tensioned. The ends of the tensioning steels have been left in view so as to give the columns a contemporary technical look.

A curving bronze wall comprised of four parts. With the help of star charts and the quadrant formed by the three southern-most columns, all heavenly bodies perceptible to the naked eye can be located.

Square 3

The columns also form a very accurate sundial. On top of the second column there is a specially cut lense which reflects the sun as a bright spot onto the ground. Three analemma figures marking the point of the midday sun have been embedded in the surface contained by the round shape of the square and the curved bronze wall (an elliptical figure formed by two arcs, vesica pisces, was commonly used as a background figure in medieval works of art portraying Christ; the figure originated from the early founding rituais of temples where circular arcs were used). Due to the complicated movements of the Sun and The Earth in relation to each other, the analemma figure keeps changing continuously. In addition to the analemma figure for the year 2,000, figures were also chosen for the years 93,000 B.C. (the figure is one single loop) and 69,405 A.D. (when the figure will be maximally asymmetric). The points showing the position of the shadow of the midday sun (in this case the sun reflected by the lense) are marked with three different materials: stainless steel, lead, and bronze.

The future function of the instrument is yet to be decided; one of the four bronze plates is void of engravings, and those who are interested in using the instrument are welcome to write down notes, calculations or observations on it with chalk. The most interesting cosmic observations may in the future become engraved and thus immortalised on the bronze surface.

Square 4

The manhole cover inside the vesica pisces area (that could not be moved due to cost factors) has been "refined" to be a part of the instrument by engraving a text on the stainless steel cover that leads the viewers thoughts to the geometry of the Earth underneath one's feet.

The driveway square was inaugurated in October 12th, 1994 in connection with the 90th anniversary of Cranbrook Academy. The analemma figures will not, however, be planted until 1997 as the science institute wish to check the solar calculation made in Finland. The calculations of the analemma figures were further complicated by the fact that because of the demands by the insurance company the square is not an even surface but slightly conoidal. In a little under 70,000 years' time the Earths inhabitants will have the opportunity to check wether the midday sun will hit the calculated figure!

The most intriguing and mystic experience of the designing process was the fact that the geometry and the proportions of the composition were nearly ready before any thought was given to the connections between the structure and cosmic phenomena. Although the criteria applied to the design were the aesthetics of the eye and bodyscale, the outcome was an accurate cosmic device.

ARKKITEHTI - FINNISH ARCHITECTURAL REVIEW   5-6 / 1996

Square 5

 

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