Michigan: Day One

written by:
August 20, 2010

As I noted last week via the blog and Twitter, and my colleague Amanda so aptly showed in this slideshow, I was in Michigan last week. It was my first trip to the state and I had a hell of a time. Though about half of my time was spent in and around Holland shooting part three of our Full Spectrum series of videos at Herman Miller, I did head northeast of there for some time in Midland. I went to Midland to see the work of native son, architect, and scion of the Dow Chemical family Alden B. Dow. He did over a hundred buildings in a town of about 40,000 from the 1930s to the 1970s, and never had I seen a town whose aesthetic and feel owed such a debt to just one architect. I got a great tour of the Alden B. Dow home and studio (go if you can!) as well as a tour of town from the home and studio's director Craig McDonald. Have a look at this slideshow to see what I did.

  • 
  The best view by far of the Alden B. Dow home and studio is from a little rise on the other side of the man made pond. I love how the Prairie style is at play here, a Japanese vibe, and of course this very inventive Dow style as well. The house was built in four stages and also contains what was Dow's architecture office.
    The best view by far of the Alden B. Dow home and studio is from a little rise on the other side of the man made pond. I love how the Prairie style is at play here, a Japanese vibe, and of course this very inventive Dow style as well. The house was built in four stages and also contains what was Dow's architecture office.
  • 
  This is the drafting room in the Dow studio. Note the red accents (they'll show up again later) and the long line of desks. The ceiling is pretty low, but the wall of windows is wonderful. The room is set up with drawings by kids who come to the Dow studio as part of an architectural summer camp the studio hosts.
    This is the drafting room in the Dow studio. Note the red accents (they'll show up again later) and the long line of desks. The ceiling is pretty low, but the wall of windows is wonderful. The room is set up with drawings by kids who come to the Dow studio as part of an architectural summer camp the studio hosts.
  • 
  Made of left over cinder from Dow Chemical's coal-burning furnaces, the unit block became an important material in Alden Dow's career. He arranged the rhomboid blocks to as to appear square in the Dow house, and painted them a bright white.
    Made of left over cinder from Dow Chemical's coal-burning furnaces, the unit block became an important material in Alden Dow's career. He arranged the rhomboid blocks to as to appear square in the Dow house, and painted them a bright white.
  • 
  A nice pic of old Alden himself.
    A nice pic of old Alden himself.
  • 
  I love this graphic representation of how Dow's initials became his logo.
    I love this graphic representation of how Dow's initials became his logo.
  • 
  Dow belived that kids should be encouraged to play as much as possible. The lower level of the house is all about color and joy, though notice the nice niches created in the back wall by simply removing a unit block.
    Dow belived that kids should be encouraged to play as much as possible. The lower level of the house is all about color and joy, though notice the nice niches created in the back wall by simply removing a unit block.
  • 
  Here's another view of the downstairs playroom. It also doubles as a theater where the Dows would show movies or films Alden made of his travels and work.
    Here's another view of the downstairs playroom. It also doubles as a theater where the Dows would show movies or films Alden made of his travels and work.
  • 
  As you enter the home and studio you are led down a small flight of stairs to the Submarine room, which is just about flush with the level of the pond. The pink ceilings refract the light off the water and the open windows really put you straight out on the pond.
    As you enter the home and studio you are led down a small flight of stairs to the Submarine room, which is just about flush with the level of the pond. The pink ceilings refract the light off the water and the open windows really put you straight out on the pond.
  • 
  Here you can see just how close you are to the pond once you open a window. The lily pads were really at full tilt and in the distance in the water you can see unit blocks that guests can walk on quite far out into the water.
    Here you can see just how close you are to the pond once you open a window. The lily pads were really at full tilt and in the distance in the water you can see unit blocks that guests can walk on quite far out into the water.
  • 
  Here's a model of a house that Dow designed for some clients who never ended up building it. One of his daughters later took up the design and now uses it as a beach house. Dow called it the W House.
    Here's a model of a house that Dow designed for some clients who never ended up building it. One of his daughters later took up the design and now uses it as a beach house. Dow called it the W House.
  • 
  A very playful man, Dow designed a number of puzzles. this one can be constructed four ways. You can buy them in the gift shop of the Dow home and studio.
    A very playful man, Dow designed a number of puzzles. this one can be constructed four ways. You can buy them in the gift shop of the Dow home and studio.
  • 
  Alden Dow did this mural for the Midland farmer's market, but apparently they didn't like it. He moved it back home and it hangs now in his archives.
    Alden Dow did this mural for the Midland farmer's market, but apparently they didn't like it. He moved it back home and it hangs now in his archives.
  • 
  The grandeur of the main living room is hard to capture in a single photo. It's an expansive space used for parties and entertaining. There's very little formal about it, a theme that runs through Dow's house.
    The grandeur of the main living room is hard to capture in a single photo. It's an expansive space used for parties and entertaining. There's very little formal about it, a theme that runs through Dow's house.
  • 
  I couldn't resist snapping a photo of the inside of one of Dow's clothing drawers. He kept a record of his weight over the years. Even as an older guy he never got heavier than 151. Pretty trim.
    I couldn't resist snapping a photo of the inside of one of Dow's clothing drawers. He kept a record of his weight over the years. Even as an older guy he never got heavier than 151. Pretty trim.
  • 
  There is a lovely interior courtyard that snakes out back. Here you can see where the drafting room meets up with Dow's office; the small door leads out of his personal office to the outdoors.
    There is a lovely interior courtyard that snakes out back. Here you can see where the drafting room meets up with Dow's office; the small door leads out of his personal office to the outdoors.
  • 
  Dow loved red accents, and they repeat all over the house. I like these on the exterior very much. The detail mixed with the patinated copper gives a great effect.
    Dow loved red accents, and they repeat all over the house. I like these on the exterior very much. The detail mixed with the patinated copper gives a great effect.
  • 
  This bridge at the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio goes from the terrace of the Dow home over the pond and out toward the large public park Dow Gardens.
    This bridge at the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio goes from the terrace of the Dow home over the pond and out toward the large public park Dow Gardens.
  • 
  This screened-in porch is on the second level of the house and overlooks the big pond. I love the colorful Bertoia furniture. The end tables were done by Dow himself.
    This screened-in porch is on the second level of the house and overlooks the big pond. I love the colorful Bertoia furniture. The end tables were done by Dow himself.
  • 
  The Dow children climbed all over this house, and it's gently pitched roofs make it a veritable playground. I climbed up one of the chimneys, though the steps were pretty far apart. I got up, but I could see it being a challenge for children.
    The Dow children climbed all over this house, and it's gently pitched roofs make it a veritable playground. I climbed up one of the chimneys, though the steps were pretty far apart. I got up, but I could see it being a challenge for children.
  • 
  I couldn't resist taking in the view from my hard-won perch.
    I couldn't resist taking in the view from my hard-won perch.
  • 
  The Ashman house is one of three Alden B. Dow designs tucked away on a small side street called Snowfield. This one was designed with only one constraint: it must ably house a grand piano for the single woman who commissioned it, pianist Josephine Ashman.
    The Ashman house is one of three Alden B. Dow designs tucked away on a small side street called Snowfield. This one was designed with only one constraint: it must ably house a grand piano for the single woman who commissioned it, pianist Josephine Ashman.
  • 
  Dow designed this house in 1963 as a kind of test house for various Dow Chemical products. His daughter Barbara and her husband Peter Carras.
    Dow designed this house in 1963 as a kind of test house for various Dow Chemical products. His daughter Barbara and her husband Peter Carras.
  • 
  It's grand inside the sanctuary of the First United Methodist church with light flooding in from both sides. Dow loved designing religious buildings, including a synagogue in nearby Saginaw, Michigan.
    It's grand inside the sanctuary of the First United Methodist church with light flooding in from both sides. Dow loved designing religious buildings, including a synagogue in nearby Saginaw, Michigan.
  • 
  I quite liked this facade of the First United Methodist church from 1948. The influence of Wright is strong on the vertical filigree, and the pool gives this courtyard a contemplative feel.
    I quite liked this facade of the First United Methodist church from 1948. The influence of Wright is strong on the vertical filigree, and the pool gives this courtyard a contemplative feel.
  • 
  The Whitman house from 1934 won the Gold Medal at the 1937 Paris Exhibition for domestic architecture. The other winners that year: the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center.
    The Whitman house from 1934 won the Gold Medal at the 1937 Paris Exhibition for domestic architecture. The other winners that year: the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center.
  • 
  Dow designed the Dow 101 House in the 1930s and it's made largely of homasote board. When Dow Chemical was avidly courting a potential new hire, they'd put them and their spouse up in the 101 House in hopes of luring them to Midland.
    Dow designed the Dow 101 House in the 1930s and it's made largely of homasote board. When Dow Chemical was avidly courting a potential new hire, they'd put them and their spouse up in the 101 House in hopes of luring them to Midland.
  • 
  The sides of the building used to be open, but this auto service shop is a Dow design is of Styrofoam and concrete.
    The sides of the building used to be open, but this auto service shop is a Dow design is of Styrofoam and concrete.
  • 
  This house by architect Bob Schwartz is made of styrofoam and concrete and is purported to be the strongest house in Midland. That didn't stop feet of water from coming in during the Great Midland Flood.
    This house by architect Bob Schwartz is made of styrofoam and concrete and is purported to be the strongest house in Midland. That didn't stop feet of water from coming in during the Great Midland Flood.
  • 
  The sides of the building used to be open, but this auto service shop is a Dow design is of Styrofoam and concrete.
    The sides of the building used to be open, but this auto service shop is a Dow design is of Styrofoam and concrete.
  • 
  Fittingly, Alden and Vada Dow are buried in the local cemetery near Alden's parents.
    Fittingly, Alden and Vada Dow are buried in the local cemetery near Alden's parents.

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