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.

 

 

 

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.

the second-roof.jpg
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.

More From Buck, At Branch

steel orangery boxes

tall lattice boxes

branch studio

tall lattice box

steel topiary forms

oil derrick topiary towers

steel tuteurs

oil derrick topiary towers, finished

steel containers

steel planter boxes

planter boxes

steel planter box, planted

planter boxes

planted steel planter box

steel pergola

steel pergola and planted tall Jackie box

steel fountain cistern

steel fountain cistern.  The steel grid positioned near the top of the water level is a safeguard- given very small, and very curious children. 

orangery boxes

Steel planter boxes

steel planter boxes

rectangular steel Hudson box, and associated steel Hudson planters

 

planter boxes

planted steel Hudson boxes

tomato cages

steel tomato cages in the form of classical obelisks

 auricula theatre

steel herb table, after the classic English auricula theatre. Buck has been very busy, churning out one fabulous garden ornament after another.  This plant table is proportioned exactly according to the golden mean.  No wonder it looks so solid, so satisfying, and so good.

 

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.