Experiencing Great Architecture and Creative Built Environments

Alden B. Dow

Alden B. Dow Home and Studio (1933-41)

Alden B. Dow Architect

315 Post Street., Midland MI 48640

Aerial View and Map

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Last Visit – April 21, 2012

Photos taken September 24, 2011

Architect Alden B. Dow is the son of Herbert Dow, the founder of the Dow Chemical Company. Alden returned from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in 1933 after an 8 month apprenticeship and set up his architectural practice in Midland. He immediately began designing his studio, and constructed it in several phases through 1937. His own house was added to the complex between 1939-41. The Complex has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

The Unit Blocks, a Dow creation, are composed in a dramatic arrangement that towers up in the center of the building, and gently cascades down to the pond’s edge, and  extends out as stepping stones into the pond. The composition is tied together with a low copper roof that hovers over the blocks diagonally and dissolves into an open trellis. The conference room that projects out into the pond is nicknamed the “Submarine Room” as it’s floor is 18 inches below the water level. The view of the studio from across the pond, is the signature view which embodies Dow’s statement “…Gardens never end, and buildings never begin…”.

Alden and his wife Vada’s house, behind the studio, is also constructed of his signature Unit Blocks and is built at the edge of the pond. Overall the house is not as dramatic from the exterior as the studio, but is beautiful in it’s own right. There is a screened porch that projects out beyond the blockwall above the pond. The interior provides a very spacious, creative living space, well ahead of its time.

I highly recommend a visit- just the view of the studio from across the pond is one of those seminal architectural experiences that inspires and validates architecture as art – a Masterpiece.

Click for link to the Home and Studio website


Alden B. Dow Buildings in Midland

Midland, MI

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All photos from September 24, 2011

As the son of the owner of the Dow Chemical Company, and an architect, Alden was the logical “choice” of Dow corporate executives that were building new residences. Luckly, Alden was a very talented and creative architect, otherwise the result could have been unfortunate for Midland!

Here is a selection of buildings in Midland that Alden designed.

The Midland Center for the Arts is the public building that leads this slideshow. The rest are all residences, just a sample of the many houses Alden designed in his hometown. There is an annual tour of Dow designed buildings, including the interiors of several residences, that I can recommend. I attended several years ago and that was well worth the visit.

You can see the heavy influence of Frank Lloyd Wright in Alden’s designs. This is understandable, as Alden attended Taliesin and was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s apprentices in 1933. After his 8 month stay at Taliesin, and with an architectural degree from Columbia University, Alden returned to Midland and just started building. By driving around the upscale neighborhoods in Midland, you can pick out his distinctive designs (or do a quick internet search for some addresses).

Alden’s own Home and Studio has its own post, do not miss it, as it is truly an architectural masterpiece.


Dow Gardens (1899-Present)

1809 Eastman Avenue, Midland, MI 48640

Aerial View and Directions

Map of Garden

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Visited September 24, 2011

The estate of Herbert Dow, Founder of Dow Chemical, has been transformed into a 110 acre garden open to the public. There are natural areas, manicured plantings, a children’s garden, a hedge maze, and carefully placed art and sculpture (including Leaping Gazelle by Marshall Fredericks).

There are several bright red bridges designed by Herbert’s son, architect Alden B. Dow, which span meandering streams and provide a stark contrast to the lush green background plantings. There are paved walkways, woodchip paths, and grass lawns to traverse. As you round the corner you may come upon a wedding ceremony – or two as I did.

The main reason I went to the garden was to get the view of Alden B. Dow’s Home and Studio from across the reflecting pond. (See separate post on the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio)

There is a contemporary conservatory building that you can walk thru. Although not as large or as vast a collection of unusual plants as most I have visited, there was a cage of bright yellow friendly birds greeting the visitors by the entry.

All in all it provided a beautiful relaxing place to wander through for the afternoon.

Logistics: there is a small admission charge ($5 when I visited) and there is a shop selling gardening related items with an extensive collections of gardening books at the entrance.

Click this link for the Dow Gardens Official Website