I recently had the opportunity to tour a National Historic Landmark in Midland, Michigan, known as the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio. I was very interested in Mr. Dow, because he is the architect credited with designing the town of Lake Jackson, Texas, where my husband grew up. Alden B. Dow (1904 - 1983) was the son of Herbert Henry Dow, founder of Dow Chemical Company.
I was with a group that was visiting the area to learn about popular tourist attractions in the Saginaw Valley area of Michigan. This photo shows our group going through the very "modern" looking gates that lead to the home.
Although you can't tell it from this photo, it actually has 20,000 square feet of living and working space.
This landmark of architecture can be toured by groups or individuals, plus it has an extensive program of youth and adult educations classes, day camps, and lectures that are available.
Photography is not allowed inside the home, but you can see many photographs of the interior on their website, www.abdow.org , where you can also find a listing of activities being offered at the facility. This photo of the magnificent front door, is just a teaser, as to the incredible design features that you will find on the interior.
These unusual planters have been especially designed to harmonize with the unusual roof line that is above them.
This photo shows the exterior of the room where we had the opportunity to sit down and listen to our tour guide as she told us about the Alden B. Dow family. As we sat inside, we had a view of the surrounding lily pad pond, right at eye level. It reminded me of sitting in a houseboat, that has its living room below the water level.
There is a door that opens out from the sunken room, onto the pond. Depending on your courage, you can walk across the pond on the strategically placed stepping stones. The water is only about two feet deep, and as you might imagine with all the school group tours that go through the landmark, one or two kids have "fallen" in to the pond. Our tour guide said that towels are provided for such mishaps. This is just one example of how the Dow Foundation that operates the tours has encouraged exploration in the same way that Alden B. Dow himself encouraged it.
This trellis, with its bright red translucent overhead panels, adjoins the sunken room. Notice how the red reflections give the appearance of red blooms on the otherwise, green plantings.
Alden B. Dow is famous for his signature style in residential spaces, called Unit Block construction, which he patented. The design uses white unit blocks (all of which were made by hand, at the building site) which, although they appeared to be a cube, are actually six-sided rhombuses. The rhombuses gain strength as they are stacked together. From the front, it looks like cubes stacked one on top of another. However, actual cubes stacked on top of each other would be unstable, and allow water seepage through the straight line of joints.
This veranda between the home and the garage, shows examples of the Unit Block construction forming pillars and walls.
Alden Dow's philosophy of architecture went beyound just the front face of the building. He said it also included the landscaping of the building, which is illustrated here, in the way that the portico is designed to create square shadows on the ground below.
I remember years ago when I was involved in a home building project, the builder said every time you add a corner to a house, it increases the cost by thousands of dollars. Suffice it to say, this house has HUNDREDS of corners!
Some of the rooms are completely surrounded by earth, with the only light coming in from built-in openings along the roof line, or through skylights.
Alden Dow believed in a home blending into the surrounding environment. You may remember this philosophy was also taught by Frank Lloyd Wright, and Alden Dow did an apprenticeship under the famous architect, during the summer of 1933, at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
The long, low section on the right side of this photo contains the architecture studio, where Dow's apprentice architects did their drafting work.
I was glad that photography was allowed on the screened-in porch, so that I could capture a memory of the vibrant colors of furniture used throughout the home. One thing that is unique to this home, versus others I have toured, is that we were ENCOURAGED to sit on the furniture (including an original Charles Eames chair).
Another feature that was encouraged was to discover hidden spaces and passage ways, that run throughout the interior and exterior, of the home. This photo shows a "hidden" sidewalk along the home under the roof line, that is an exterior connection between the back of the house and the sunken room in the front of the house.
Alden B. Dow is quoted as saying "Each idea must be an expression of intimate care, a personal concern that all the details of the 'Big Idea' meet a standard of QUALITY." I saw this as a paraphrase of Colossians 3:23 that says "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." This photo illustrates that concept, as the architect used a corner of ground adjacent to the pond, to create a "work of art" in the form of lines and spaces. The creation is functional, as well as visually pleasing, because it can be used as an "amphitheater" to view the lily pond activities. If you would like to learn about visiting this incredible landmark, as well as other attractions in the area, just log onto www.VisitGreatLakesBay.org to see how you can get miles of smiles in this beautiful region! Tricia