The Cloister Style Pergola, Part Two

You may not have read in November of last year a post about a landscape renovation that we have had underway since June of 2018. A part of this project in process involves the design and fabrication of a large scale cloister style pergola. The story behind the design and fabrication? Click here for the details.   the design and fabrication of a steel cloister The 2018 story concluded with that moment when 18 tons of steel sections and parts finally made their way to the site for installation. Of note was the fact that wet weather necessitated building a road back to the installation site. A structure of this size had to be assembled on site, so Buck engineered it to be put together and set up one section at a time. Just before Thanksgiving, a large boom crane moved in for the duration, as each section of the structure would be far too heavy to maneuver by hand.

It was slow going. The weather was bitterly cold and muddy. The finished size of this structure is 47 feet long by 36′ wide. I have no idea how many pieces there were in total, but there were enough to call the installation of this pergola a puzzle of enormous size. To make every section line up perfectly so it could be bolted to the previous section was daunting. The process made my eyes water.

Eventually the structure took shape. Seeing it go up was an experience like no other I have ever had as a designer. The model I built my client was the size of a piece of copy paper- 8.5″ by 11″. Of course the model did not at all describe the actual structure that was to enclose 1700 square feet. The model was a not so accurate expression of a structure as it was an attempt to express an idea of the landscape shot through with romance. What?? Romance is my middle name. Ha. As much as I admire classic French landscapes for their edited expression, and coolly compelling geometry, Italian gardens and landscapes have that element of romance that I find irresistible. As for this steel cloister, suffice it to say the design is as more about my client and her love of the garden than anything else. Though I had spent hours going over every proportion and detail, at some point I had to commit to a design. And a presentation of that design to my client. In May of last year, she decided to go ahead and build.

Cloister? In its simplest form, a cloister is a covered walkway. This structure has a six foot wide walkway all the way around the perimeter. That walkway is covered by roof panels constructed in an open and elongated diamond pattern. The cover will provide some shade, but will permit light and rain to come through. That pattern is repeated on the fascia panels at the top. There are 32 round columns, each of which is bolted to a concrete foundation that goes 42″ deep into the ground. Between each pair of columns is a pair of curved steel brackets. This curved detail compliments the roundness of the columns, and the solid steel spheres that ornament the structure.

Buck’s first drawing of the cloister showed square columns. The look on his face when I told him that I wanted round columns was an unmistakable sign that I was asking for the moon.  After he explained that engineering flat surfaces to perfectly line up and be attached to a curved surface would be just about impossible, I paused. The roof and fascia panels would be built from round rod, and each panel would feature steel spheres. The round columns would be essential in giving a structure of this size a graceful appearance. The architecture of this stately old home was not asking for an industrial look. Please? He relented.

Buck did a superb job of engineering, and his group did an equally fine job of fabricating. My client took this photograph and the following one after a snow storm this past winter. I was delighted to see how the snow outlined and described every detail of the structure. It will be a feature of the landscape every season of the year. As planned, the cover over the walkway was permeable to both light and water. In the immediate foreground of this picture is the roof of a very simple version of the cloister over the dining and grilling terrace that is directly adjacent to the house.

The snow made it easier to see the long diamonds and dots pattern on the roof, fascia panels, and the main entrances into the space.

Now that the long winter is over, we are back on the project. I have every confidence that come late May, this landscape will be ready for her to enjoy. We have little to do in the interior of the pergola. Bringing up the soil level to grade, planting the roses, installing the edger strip and grass is about it. The irrigation in this area is underway, and the tile for the fountain pool is due in May first.

This was the first time I had seen the completed structure since the work began. I was thrilled with how it looked. And incredibly appreciative to have a client who made it possible. Their are limestone stepping stones yet to come. I had the roses custom grown several years ago. Dan and David have been growing them on, so we would have plants of some size from the beginning. The furniture and pots for this area have been in storage at our landscape building since last September. Though I will probably post about this project again when the landscape is complete, this is a very special moment for my entire group. The best part?  Our client is pleased.


In the homestretch now.

The Branch Studio: Recent Work

It has been a while since I have written about Branch, so to follow are some snapshots of recent work. Pictured above is a 12′ wide by 8′ deep rose arbor.

rose arbor from the side

Custom made fountains with custom powder coat finish

rectangular fountains in place

Jackie box with a polar finish

custom fountain, shown in its galvanized state prior to a powder coat finish

garden arbor with traditional twisted steel bar

custom rectangular lattice box

custom table base for interior table. The vertical bars at the outside corners are support bars stabilizing the base while it is under construction. As a side note, the Branch work table top is a solid piece of 1/2″ thick steel, which is perfectly flat and level.

tapered box

custom pergola being assembled prior to galvanizing, to be sure everything fits properlyweathered Branch finish on the left box. Newly finished box on the right.

wood and steel gate designed by and fabricated for Zaremba and Company

round tapered Hudson pots for a rooftop garden

custom planter boxes

large scale custom Barry pot

custom pergola

quartet of low bowls

custom radiused set of lattice boxes

contemporary planter box

porch railing panels

 
custom obelisk

Four spout fountain

custom box and rail for the Foundation Hotel in Detroit, designed by, and fabricated for, Zaremba and Company

custom oak and steel boxes

The shop

At A Glance: Recent Work

raised-steel-planter-boxes.jpgThis has been a very busy summer season for Branch.  To follow, pictures of a few of our early summer projects.  How pleased we are to have clients in our area.  And clients afar- northern Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, Texas, Connecticut, Florida, New York City, Long Island, California, Virginia, Louisiana, and Oregon.  This project in Grosse Pointe Michigan-raised planter boxes to be planted with cutting flowers.

Branch-Hudson-tapers.jpgmedium Hudson tapers

custyom-fountain-in-progress.jpgcustom fountain cistern under construction

Hudson-boxes.jpgHudson boxes

Drost-Landscaping.jpgBob Drost from Drost Landscaping in Petoskey.  He personally picked up 10 special order contemporary Branch boxes for a job last Sunday.

white-oak-and-steel-orangerie-boxes.jpgOak and steel orangerie boxes

elliptical-fountains.jpgA pair of elliptical fountains designed and fabricated for a landscape for a new house .

plant-stand-for-herbs.jpgLarge Branch plant stand for pots of herbs

custom-Hudson-fountain-cistern.jpgCustom sized Hudson style fountain with pump housing ready to be galvanized for a client in California

hemispherical-fountain.jpgUp side down hemispherical fountain, just about ready to be shipped to California

Hudson-boxes.jpgSteel Branch boxes and plant climbers-planted for the summer

large-Hudson-tapers.jpgLarge steel Hudson tapers ready to plant at a long lakeside country driveway

custom-curved-Hudson-planters.jpgHudson boxes custom made to fit a curve in a terrace

reproduction-Belgian-planters.jpgThese reproduction Belgian boxes in white oak and lead-we sent them to Florida a week ago.  Branch is busy.  Love that.

A Garden Room

It has been four years anyway since I made my first visit to this property-and I know I did in the past discuss some of the landscape issues involved that prompted my client to call.  She is a busy executive with little time to fuss when she gets home, but she loves everything about relaxing outdoors after a long day.  The terrace was small, and the landscape not so satisfying. The landscape company which keeps up with her commercial properties came in on occasion to spruce things up.  The biggest eyesore was a gravel and rock area that made a big visual discussion of a drainage area. 


We greatly enlarged the terrace, curving the front edge out into the yard. After the installation of the terrace, we regraded the ground around it in a graceful way. The poor drainage we dealt with-underground.  We got rid of the rock edging, and painted the garden furniture a dark bittersweet chocolate color.  She bought some containers for her terrace.  These are just a few sentences that describe a big chunk of work.

We added a fountain, and perennial gardens off the terrace-views to something from inside and out.  But one problem yet remained.  The terrace is in full sun all day long.  This sun is not so condusive to relaxing, reading, or entertaining.  We began to talk about a pergola.  A pergola not only encloses a space, and provides structure, it can provide some welcome shade. A pergola can transform an outdoor space into a garden room.  They can provide a framework upon which to grow plants.  Big vines, such as wisteria or grapes need very sturdy structures.  Friendly vines such as clematis, Dutchman’s Pipe, honeysuckle and the like are just greatful for the support.  Tall lax growing plants such as climbing roses are lazy and sprawling-a pergola can introduce some order.  But my client was interested in shelter-some shade for the space that would make it more comfortable.  

I designed a very large pergola, some 15 feet deep, and 20 feet long.  It covered the better part of the terrace.  The design is simple; the detail repeats the X detail of her upstairs balcony terrace. It took Buck quite some time to design how to build it such that it would be perfectly rigid and sturdy. It took even longer to build; the main 20 foot long truss was built as a single piece, for strength.  This volume of steel is incredibly heavy; he has a bridge crane that will lift 5 tons.  He straps the steel pieces to a giant hook; the crane moves the pieces into position so he is able to weld.     

Outside of the main truss, the rest of the pergola was built in sections, so it could be transported relatively easily, and assembled on site. GP Enterprises, with the help of a miniature loader, enabled the assembly to be done safely.  One machine to lift pieces aloft-lots of people to guide, steady and bolt.  I so regret not being there to watch the assembly-I am sure it was quite an operation. The entire installation took 5 hours start to finish. 

Her spring pots still look great, but I am sure we will plant them differently now that she has a garden room.  This pot could easily be a home for a morning glory, or hyacinth bean vine.  Malabar spinach would run wild over this roof.

We plan to plant perennial vines, but that will take some time.  I made the suggestion that a fabric roof panel might provide some instant shade while the planted roof is growing in. 


It will take some time for this very big object to be assimilated into the space.  Every gardener knows a garden is a work in progress, and that spaces evolve.  When I first met her, I do not believe she spent much time outdoors.  Some years later, I think she is very excited by the prospect of outdoor living.  From the first picture to the last-there have been a lot of changes made here-all of them for the better, I think.

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