The Branch Fountain

pin cushion 003Winter at the Branch Studio is a gritty affair. The building is too large and drafty to heat to any decent level.  Everyone over there lives in their insulated carhardts, boots and leather gloves-amongst a whole host of other gear.  The wind makes the doors rattle like crazy.  Enter if you dare.  There is nothing romantic about manufacturing, but there is a special beauty in the making that goes on over there. A group of men who take extraordinary care in their fabrication. Beyond the din, dirt and sparks of a fleet of welders in use, there is a collective heart beating strong.  These guys weld cold rolled and pickled steel.  It is not an occupation for the faint of heart.  Steel bends for no man.  That said, my group at Branch works hard to make steel friendly to the landscape.

February 11, 2014 (4) Containers, fountains and garden ornament made at Branch comes straight out of the manufacturing heritage every bred in Detroit fabricator is heir to.  This means garden ornament designed and fabricated to last.  Boxes and fountains that can withstand anything nature decides to dish out. Everything at Branch is hand made, and rock solid.  The finish we have developed is a patina much like lead.  The stainless steel Branch tags that are attached to everything we make identifies our work, and attests to its longevity.  The Branch Studio is the youngest of my companies-just 11 years old this year.  The work however speaks to a maturity of which I am proud.

Branch fountain 3The winter is the time we make all of our stock boxes, fountains and pergolas, in anticipation of the spring season. But we also take time to design and fabricate new things.  I have been after Buck to fabricate a fountain of a design very different than our usual classically based garden ornament for at least 2 years.  He was slow to cotton to the idea, but in January I could talk of nothing else.  He finally heard me.  A Branch fountain got off the ground.

fountain feetThis fountain is comprised of almost a mile of steel rods, and weighs 3500 pounds.  On the outside, the fountain measures 5′ wide by 9′ long.  The bottom of the fountain was built as a torsion box, the weight was so great.  Buck held more than a few confabs with his group regarding visual density and texture.  The design called for a certain density, that would be satisfied differently, depending on the diameter of the rods. The texture needed to be congested, but loose.  A good friend remarked upon seeing the finished fountain that she was intrigued that a material so hard and heavy could be made to look so soft.

February 24, 2014 (12)Once the shell of this fountain was built, my conversation centered on the magic that that can be created by the human hand. Every hand is distinctive, like a signature.  I was after a group signature.  A show of hands.  Everyone welding on this project changed positions every hour.  No matter what view you take, the look is about community of hands-homogeneous.

February 24, 2014 (15)The texture is created from 8 sizes of steel rods, from 3/16 inch, up to 3/4 inch.  The length, size, and placement of each individual rod was a decision that had to be made, hour after hour, and week after week.   This was their first outing without a fistful of CAD drawings and clear specifications. We were building a fountain yes, but we decided to broach the topic of sculpture.

galvanized fountain 11Stepping outside any routine is about taking chances.  Taking a chance can be more than one bargained for.  But a result that is more than one bargains for is well worth the effort.  My welding group at Branch stepped right up to the challenge posed by this design, and dove in.  Their collective signature is all over this fountain.

DSC_8780The signature of every artisan at Branch is represented in this fountain.  I can read the moves, and I can see the names.

Branch fountain aThe act of creating is a thrill like no other.  A painting.  A quilt.  A symphony.  A poem.  A dress.  An event.  A car.  A necklace. A company.   A garden.  Branch of course is  interested to be a sculptural part of the landscape.

Branch fountain cThe Branch fountain is a sculpture around which a garden could be forged.

Branch fountain bThis is the news from the Branch Studio.

 

 

 

The Morning News At Branch

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bon-voyage.jpgbon voyage.

At A Glance: The Details

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The pictures of the details of the construction of these massive pergolas is not just for our records.  We will send a complete set of pictures to the contractor who will be charged with assembling the structures once they get to Florida.  Though I have described this Branch project yesterday with few pictures and few words, the actual length of time and the attention to detail has been serious and long.  At the risk of boring you beyond all belief, these pictures help to better tell the whole story.
welding-the-lattice.jpgwelded lattice

welding-a-panel.jpgmeasuring

assemby.jpgassembly

barn-raising.jpgraising the barn

assembly.jpgpanels in place

assembly.jpgNote the 2 by 4′s between the vertical panels.  Great care was taken to square up the four posts before the roof would be dropped on.

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Big enough to house a forklift

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finishing the roof

the-roof.jpgfinishing the roof

steel-cradle-for-delivery.jpgOnce both pergolas were finished, cradle structures needed to be built for the roof structures.  They are too wide to lay flat.  The maximum width of a flatbed truck is 8.5 feet.  We are over the legal transport dimension limit.  Not a problem.  Terry, Michael, Sal, Dave, Enrique, Owen, Scott, Steve, Geri, Dan, Max, and Buck worked together to bring a big idea for the landscape to life.  Start to finish.  Am I happy with the result?  Truly?  Yes.

A Structure

steel-lattice.jpgEvery project, no matter whether it is big or small, begins with that first step. I had several months of communication via email from a design firm in Florida.  Could we build a pair of large scale pergolas for one of their clients?  The emails flew back and forth regarding the design and dimensions.  8 weeks ago we had a call.  The principal in this design firm would be flying up the following day to see Detroit Garden Works, and our operation at Branch.  We were happy to oblige.  Our design client was charming and discerning-that part was obvious.  As a result of that meeting, Buck had 2 very large garden structures to build.  A project of this size started with the first step.  The cut steel stacked on a pallet pictured above represents some 960 pieces of flat steel that would form the lattice pattern for both structures.

steel-pergola.jpgThe pergola roofs would be curved.  Gracefully curved. Curving substantial tubes of steel involves a process that is anything but graceful.  The proper tools and a measure of brute force more accurately characterizes the work.  Any big project that comes along asks for a person in charge who can imagine, and engineer-that would be Buck.  I sent this progress picture to our client early on.  These 8 pieces of steel would become a pair of roof structures.

steel-garden-ornament.jpgSo much engineering precedes the actual construction.  Buck figured out how to build these large garden structures such that they could be shipped.  As few pieces as possible means that the reassembly on site would be straightforward.  The frame of this short side panel is actually 3 pieces which would be unbolted for crating and shipping.

lattice-panel.jpgThe leg and beam panels were finished in a lattice pattern.  Three Branch fabricators welded the side panels lattice in tandem-from the ends to the middle.  The order of events, and the community action of an associated group of welders, is more critical than you might think.  The tremendous heat generated by welding can stymie the most careful design and planning.  Happily for this project, Buck had it all in hand.

finished-panels.jpgThe side panels for this pair of pergolas have been done for a few weeks. They are beautifully and precisely made.

pergola-roof.jpgThe construction of the roofs came last.  Those curved pieces of steel contructed weeks earlier were welded into place.

steel-garden-structure.jpgPrior to the finish of the roof, Buck put one structure together.  He needed to be sure that everything fit true, square and tight.  The orange apparatus you see on the ceiling in the picture above is a bridge crane.  The arm of the crane can move the block and tackle of the crane from one end of the studio to the other.  And up and down.  This makes it possible to handle the construction of very heavy objects.

finished-structure.jpgThe weight of this pergola?  Close to 2800 pounds.  I did take lots of pictures yesterday, as this may be my only chance to see this all put together.  I can imagine that once placed in a landscape, these structures will be stately and beautiful.  We are always appreciative when a client sends pictures of the things we make at Branch in the garden, but we don’t always get them. These will go to a private garden.

steel-pergola.jpgThe first day I walked into the building that would become the Branch Studio, I worried that I had bought place much larger than I would ever need.  Yesterday it occurred to me that the size of this building had not only inspired the imagination of our group, it enables us to take on large projects. The ability to produce work on this scale doesn’t come fast or easy. We had to grow up into it. There is an investment to be made in equipment and tools.  But more importantly, there are those talented and hard working people who are able to work together as a group towards a common end.  There’s lots of listening, and lots of teaching.

steel-roof.jpgOnce the pergola was all put together, I saw cellphones come out.  There were a lot of pictures taken.  A sense of accomplishment and pride was in the air.  As for Buck?  Once he saw what he had designed, engineered and built go together perfectly, he was one very happy man.

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The last roof was finished yesterday. Are all these guys at home relaxing? No. They are at work today for a half day, building the steel cradle/ crates that will hold the pergola roofs during transport.  The crates are necessary, as the roofs are too wide to ship flat. It won’t be long now when a 48 foot long flatbed truck will back into the studio, be loaded, and haul these structures to Florida.  Well done, Branch Studio.