What’s Buck Been Up To?


If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have a company, the Branch Studio, whose sole mission is to design and fabricate ornament for the garden.  It is a small company, but it produces some very beautiful pots, sculpture, pergolas-and fountains.  The opportunity for me to design garden ornament, and get it fabricated for specific projects adds a lot to my landscape design projects.   

contemporary steel fountain

Detroit Garden Works is a retail outlet for those garden objects that get made at Branch.  We make pots, sculpture, pergolas, plant tables, arbors-the list is long.  Buck, Salvadore, and Dan are responsible for the fabrication we do in steel, wood, and concrete.  Buck takes a sketch of mine, and creates an object.  A Saarinen scholar in architecture at Cranbrook in the 1970’s, and a previously practicing architect for 30 years means no project of mine daunts him.  Bowl shaped steel-really daunting.  He took to it without any protest.   

contemporary fountains

He has fabricated a pair of fountains similar to this one for a company in California that owns properties across the US-one went to Fort Worth Texas, the other will ship out to Florida in a few weeks.  Those steel bowl shapes enchanted me-could we not design a contemporary fountain that could be delivered, installed, and plugged in? 

In March, Buck was well on his way with this fountain.  He was sure he needed a new Miller tig welder-ok, Buck.  The details of his fabrication -ingenious, as usual.  The bowl sits on a pedestal of steel that can sit at grade, if there is a garden planned in concert.  That pedestal can be buried below grade, should a client with a contemporary landscape like to see the bowl sitting, appearing to float, just above the grade of a gravel or stone terrace. 

Though round steel is entirely stable and strong due to its shape, the steel in this fountain is thick.  We placed it at the shop with the help of a loader. Buck wanted to be sure that if a child chose to climb up the side, or an adult decided to sit on the edge, the bowl would not move, or tip.    

Four people and a machine were involved in placing it at the shop.  The process of setting a fountain level with the horizon is time consuming, and essential.  More than any element of nature, water is always perfectly level.  A vessel out of level-the water will describe that problem in clear and obvious detail. 

I could not have been more pleased about the look of this contemporary steel fountain.  It has lots of options for installation.  Buck plumbed it, and set a good sized pump in the bottom.  A valve controls the rate of the flow of water.  The electric cord comes out at ground level from the pedestal. 

contemporary fountains

Arrange for delivery.  Install at whatever height seems good, in whatever landscape that asks for a coolly contemporary fountain 60 inches in diameter.  Plug it in, or hardwire it.  Buck thought through all of the issues.  As usual, he did the lion’s share of the work.  He makes it really easy to commit.  This fountain brings a smile to my face every time I look at it.   How so?  He builds beautiful things.  

contemporary fountains
Buck and his group have been really busy-I need to catch everyone up.

Finished Fountain

The welding studio has been busy the last 3 weeks.  Buck had a special order for a fountain, and a matching urn for a client in California, and a destination in Fort Worth Texas.  The sheer size of the fountain meant the base and scuppers needed to be very strong, and the steel thick and heavy.

The project under construction has a landscape architect on retainer.  He designed both pieces, and we fabricated from his designs.  The drawing from the LA needed to be drawn in CAD-this is short for computer assisted design.  It is an enormous skill in and of itself to master the CAD program.  Buck is an expert, given his 30 year experience as an architect specializing in technical design. That CAD drawing enables him to fabricate an object true to every dimension specified in the design.  

The hemispherical fountain bowl is 60 inches in diameter. Creating this shape from a solid piece of steel involves a lot of technology, a surprising amount of finesse, and loads of skill.  This bowl is not perfectly hemsipherical, but it is extremely close.  Close enough to convince the eye. 

Once the bowl had a 2 inch thick lip of steel, interrupted by 4 evenly spaced scuppers, it was ready to be welded to the base.  Scuppers? The steel lip keeps the water inside the bowl.  The scupper is that place where the steel dam had been breached, allowing water to flow and fall over the edge. Once the steel is galvanized, Buck applies our finish.  He finished the inside of the bowl, and the base first.  Then the entire fountain, with the aid of a bridge crane, would be flipped up side down for the finishing of the bowl. 

The fountain design is very simple, but massive.  The finished piece weighs close to 1/2 a ton.  It will be placed in a large pool-I am not sure of any of the installation details.  It will take some skill to size the pump properly, so the water sheets over the side without runing back under the scupper, and down the side of the bowl.  Fountain design, fabrication and installation takes a lot of skill. 

The urn, on the forklift in the foreground, is much smaller than the fountain, and will be placed in some other location on the project.  This piece will be planted.  Both pieces were shipped up side down, for obvious reasons.  All of the weight of the steel is at the top.

The fountain does not have a jet.  The pump will push water hard enough to keep the water flowing fast over the 4 scuppers and into the pool.  The contractor for the project wanted this copper pipe and stop valve installed just as you see here.  

Buck did not crate this piece-what crate would be stronger than this steel?  Circular shapes are very stable and incredibly strong-even more so when they are made of steel.  I have heard I will get pictures of the installation once it is finished and running.  I have my fingers crossed about that. Buck tells me the level of the base and the level of the top of the fountain is within a 1/16 of an inch of being dead on.  Dead on and level is very important where water is concerned.  In a perfect world, water will fall over all 4 sides equally.  In an imperfect world, within  1/16 of an inch of perfect will work. Buck and his crew make lots of things that are a part of something bigger.  If no pictures are forthcoming, I have some help.  Buck has family in Fort Worth.  What fun, that they will get to see something he made, available for the looking,  just across town.

Buck At Work

Buck has been plenty busy at Branch.  What exactly are you looking at here?  This is a fountain urn commissioned by a client in California for a project in Texas.  This fountain has a bowl assembly and a base, designed and specified by the landscape architect on the project.  Buck stacked the two pieces upside down, to check the level.  A level vessel is imperative with a fountain.  Water needs to fall over every edge equally.  Should your fountain bowl be out of level, the water falling unevenly will broadcast that your ornament is askew.  It pains me to see any garden ornament-whether it be a bench, an urn on a pedestal, sculpture, obelisk, pot centerpiece or terrace, out of level.     

Newly back in town, I wanted to see the fountain assembly right side up-Buck was glad to oblige.  The fountain bowl is 5 feet in diameter-largish.  He welded loops inside the bowl so he could pick it up with his bridge crane.  The base is all of a piece.  The bowl will need a rim welded to it.  At this moment, the fountain urn is in three pieces. 

The center of the hemispherical steel bowl is marked in white paint on the underside.  This helps to  rough center the bowl on the base.  This will be plenty good enough to look at.  When the time comes to weld the bowl to the base, many more specific measurements will be taken.   

Once the bowl was set on the base, we were ready for the fountain bowl rim. The rim is comprised of two rings of 1 inch thick steel, welded together.  This ring is much heavier than it looks.  The rim contains water in four symmetrical spots.  The corresponding four rim spots are scuppers that facilitate falling water. 

This picture of the rim detail tells the story better than words do. 

This large urn will take its place in the center of a much larger fountain pool. 

The fountain is not the only special order project under construction.  This pair of gates are part of an iron fence for a local client.  Informing the design-a discussion about coyotes, and how to keep them out of a dog run. 

The fence panels are composed of a series of four foot tall vertical iron members that will be hidden by a yew hedge on both sides of the fence.  The top 24 inches of fence is constructed of steel vineyard bar in the horizontal dimension.  Why steel bar that looks like tree bark?  The perimeter fencing is our Belgian branch fencing.  This visible top two feet of dog run fence will repeat that horizontal branch motif.

My favorite part of this fence? A 16 inch wide steel shelf welded to the top of the fence.  I can see pots placed on that shelf 6 feet off of the ground, planted with trailing plants.  I can see all manner of tall garden findings and short bits having a home on this shelf.  No coyote will like the idea of scaling this.  A dog run that reads visually as a prison does not interest me.  A coyote proof fence with visual possibilities is much more to my liking.  

The Branch Studio is a big place. Just a shade over 13,000 square feet.  Buck occupies, fabricates, and directs in every square foot with what I would call thoughtful.  Amazingly precise.  Beautifully finished.  Though I was just away the better part of a week, Buck at work really describes a certain kind of kind of energy, motion and energy  that I truly admire.  Buck makes it easy to come home.

The Finish

I wrote about Buck’s steel fruits and vegetables the end of September.  They have since been filed smooth, and had a finish applied that will keep them from rusting.  He spent the day today building plywood crates so they can be shipped to Orillia, Canada, for a library/market square that is under construction. They will be ready to go in short order. 

I think they look great.  I am curious to see how how they will be integrated into the landscape. I think there is plenty here to work with.