What’s Buck Been Up To?

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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.

A Sculpture for the City

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When a landscape architect for the city of Sault Ste Marie called about a sculpture/fountain that he might install in a tiny new city park, I did not tell him that I had nothing for him.  Who wants to talk to a client about what you cannot do for them? I am able to do things differently, as I have a very talented staff who are able to manage and fabricate all manner of custom work for clients. The fabrication studio shown above makes it possible to produce work in concrete, steel, wood and any combination thereof.  I told him we would be happy to design and quote a fountain for his project.

2008 Branch 8-12-08 (13)The upper peninsula of Michigan, and the Sault in particular, is home to a substantial population of American bald eagles.  They are proud of the fact that the eagle which symbolizes our entire nation thrives here, as well they should be.  The bald eagle is as much a local treasure, as it is a national one.  As any fountain placed on City property would be subject of discussion, design and review by committee, it seemed those firecely wild and independent birds would make a fitting subject for a sculpture, and appeal to a broad audience.  We chose a subject matter we knew would strike a chord with a number of people.  Given some drawings and dimensions of this object, a CAD drawing was produced enabling the project to be quoted.  Nothing with cities proceeds quickly, but it does proceed; we were cleared to build.

August 13 pictures 163This fourteen foot tall steel sculpture interpretive of a tree would cover a plumbing system designed to propel water out the topmost branch.  Attached to that tree would be a network of steel twigs representing an eagle aerie.  The galvanizing tank in which we hot dip galvanize all of our steel is only 5.5 feet wide; one branch of the tree would have to be mechanically installed after the contruction process was complete. The fountain was designed in the round for viewing, not designed to fit a tank. 

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A five ton bridge crane allowed us to lay the sculpture down on a trailer, and transport it to the galvanizer. It was a days work for for the tank operator to carefully suspend and dip this piece, and its wide branch, without incident.  We stayed the entire length of the galvanizing process, so the piece would not have to be stored there; we trailored it home that night.  

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The hot dip galvanizing process covered every surface with a layer of zinc; this zinc would protect the steel from rust.  The steel plate welded to the bottom of the sculpture would be bolted to a concrete foundation, ensuring that no wind or other  bad weather could topple it; that plate accounted for 300 of the 2000 pounds of steel used in all.

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Acid washing the galvanized steel changed the finish dramatically.  What was silver is now a very dark streaky grey.  We hooked up a hose once the finish was completed, to check that the plumbing would work; this moment gave Buck more than a little anxiety.  If there were a problem with the plumbing, how could it be repaired? As he is a very thorough and thoughtful fabricator, the fountain passed its most important test. 

DSC_0016Life-size bald eagles hand sculpted  from a steel rod and mesh galvanized armature, and acid stained mortar, would be attached to the sculpture via steel sleeves made to match the size and angle of the legs.   

buckBuck followed  this semitruck on whose whose flatbed that sculpture was securely tied down-for 340 miles.  The next day, he supervised the installation, driving home late in the day. The sculpture had been installed.

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The landscape architect, John Rowe, had designed a pool which captured the fountain water underground, and recirculated it. The design of the pool was much more about native Michigan rock, than water.  The clump of steel cattails provided sculptural interest closer to eye level. We kept the concrete sculptures high in the air; they can be seen from far away. The stone edge was wide enough to provide seating.  The materials used are gritty, as befits this urban neighborhood. It does indeed look like it belongs there.