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.
finishing the roof
Once 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.
Every 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.
The 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.
So 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.
The 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.
Prior 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Once 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.
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.
I have devoted several posts to Branch in the past week. Over the winter, we designed and made a catalog detailing all of the products we made. I had the idea to introduce our made in America ornament for the garden to a broader audience. I felt we were ready. The past 10 years has had its successes, and most certainly setbacks and failures. Bringing a hand made object to market takes a lot of time. There are mistakes made every step of the way. Solving problems creatively is not about minutes. It is about months, and years. As Seth Godin said, “all boats leak”. No matter the best of intentions, it takes time and effort to hone a design and a manufacturing process such that your product stays afloat, the majority of the time.
We were a new company that needed time to get our house in order. Given that we are just about at 10 years sorting out who we are, and who we hope to be, I think we are ready to introduce ourselves to other people, in other places, who love the garden. Most of that introduction via our print catalogue is visual. But we printed a few paragraphs about who we are, and where we come from. Much of that commentary had to do with where we are from-the rust belt.
Our work in steel is grounded our history and experience. I grew up in Detroit. I rode my bike to JL Hudson’s downtown, now and again, for a chocolate soda, when I was 12. And again when I was 14, 15, and 17. The gritty city-everything about that bustling urban downtown enchanted me. I biked it. This means I was on the ground floor whizzing by every factory and shop for 22 miles from my home. Those experiences made a big impression. There are many many things I cannot remember, but I do remember the city. So much to see. So much energy. The growing I could see every place I turned-loved that.
I so admire and appreciate the sculpture produced by the automobile industry. There was a time when Detroit made the issue of transportation an art. I am not such a fan of horsepower and speed as Buck is. I like the shapes. I love that the design is beautiful, functional, and made to last. Manufacturing is an idea that not only interests me, it is part of that music that plays in the background no matter what I am doing. Buck grew up in Texas. His grandfather was a carpenter. His father was a riveter at General Dynamics in Texas, in his earlier years. He became head of production some years later, until his retirement. If you are not familiar with General Dynamics, they were and are a huge defense contractor. They built the F-111, and the F-16 fighter jets. His Dad supervised the building of jets. Buck comes from a long line of makers, whose work involved steel and wood, and whose work involved great precision and exacting standards of construction.
The music in one’s background-what is that? Simply stated, every person comes with an attitude, instincts, a history, a point of view, a skill set, a mind set, an aura that that makes for a particular music that plays in the background while they work. The fabrication of the Branch boxes, Italian style vases, pergolas, and fountains are infused with the music playing in Buck’s background.
This pergola involved making very thick steel tubing conform to a round shape. The accumulation of a lifetime of fabricating skills, and a love of both geometry and industry is evident in all of the work he produces. His spheres are riveted. His pergolas are bolted together, so they can be broken down and shipped. They also have that industrial aura about them that recalls the history of structural steel buildings and bridges.
The moment I became aware of the Runwell watch, being manufactured in Detroit, by Shinola, I knew I had found the perfect birthday present for Buck. Everything about their philosophy, mission, and devotion to quality I knew would really appeal to him. But most of all, the watch is a very precisely and beautifully handcrafted instrument-made by a company in Detroit. http://www.shinola.com/
Precision made, by hand, in Detroit. This is music to my ears.