A Student’s Visit to the Alden Dow House
Sheena Brandt

Alden B. Dow left a creative mark on Midland, Michigan. His artistic ideas brought new light to architecture that will remain for years to come. Alden Dow first studied engineering at the University of Michigan, so he could work for his father, Herbert Henry Dow, at Dow Corning. However, Alden knew before too long he wanted to follow his childhood dreams and become an architect. His mind was stimulated by invention, so he ended his education at the University of Michigan.

Dow pursued his dream to become a architect, and by the late 1930s the drawing process of his Midland, Michigan, home and studio had begun. He invented and put a patent on the use of his white unit block, which appeared to be a cube but actually was a six-sided rhombus. These unit blocks became stronger as each one stacked up next to another.

Alden Dow built his home in a secluded wooded area that was once an apple orchard. Privacy, safety, and the use of nature were extremely important ideas for Dow. Trees surround Dow’s home, and a pond is located behind the house. Each room of the home makes use of different colors and views of nature, which gives each a different feel.

My Visit to the Alden Dow House

As I walked up to the front door of the Dow House, I noticed the white unit blocks that make up the majority of the structure of the house. To the left of the front door the blocks stand as tall as the door, topped off by angled wooden frames filled with glass. These angled frames flow down the right side of the door to ground level. Through the windows, to the right of the door, is a display of a large assortment of pants. Opening the wide wooden door--which also had triangular shapes of glass, I stepped into a low entryway. Dow felt if the ceiling were lower it would push his guests out of the entryway to the connecting room. This is what happened, for I proceeded to the room to the right of the doorway. This room is brightly painted, using soft rosy pinks and lime green carpeting. A set of large windows overlook the pond located in the back yard of the Alden B. Dow home.

Moving to the left is a room referred to as the sunken conference room, which is about two feet under the level of the pond. It is surrounded by bay windows. The water rests just inches under the windows, and gives the impression that the room is floating. Looking out the windows to the pond, trees are dramatically changing to bright red, orange, and yellow. A bird feeder hangs from one of the branches out over the water. The feeder, blue, red, and yellow, is also designed in triangles and squares. The walls of the room are made of the white unit block and wood. The ceiling angles downward and is painted a rosy pink. The bay windows sit about two feet above the floor and three feet out from the wall, creating a little rectangular space. The space (from the floor to the base of the window) is filled by something that could resemble a cupboard. Its countertops are lime green, matching the carpet. This room is very dramatic and emphasizes Dow’s love of nature.

Moving to the opposite side of the entryway is the old studio where Dow's architects would work. It is a narrow space about twenty feet wide that fits a single row of about four tables sided by filing cabinets. There are old hand-drawn plans sitting on one of the tables. A model building that was never built rests on another table. This room smells dusty and looks old and worn.

To the end of the studio and completely separate is Alden's personal workspace. This room has a huge bookshelf that extends across an entire length of the wall. His desk sits near the bookshelf, backed by a window in the corner of the room. The ceiling is painted with blues, greens, purples, and reds, with a hint of natural light but no sign of any windows. The ceiling angles off and presents the appearance of different planes and openings. Across the room sits a built in wrap-around-porch, green in color. In front of the sofa is a round double-decker table. The lower level of the table was used to set drinks under the top level, which usually had important drawings placed upon it.

Hiding in a tiny doorway is a spiral staircase leading to the family's bedrooms. Each bedroom is connected in two ways. There are doors connecting the bedrooms to the hallway and also in each bedroom there are doors connecting to the next bedroom. Dow did this to feel more secure about his children being safe at night. Each bedroom is painted differently and has a different view of nature.

Past the bedrooms are the living and dining areas. Two levels separate these rooms, and the two rooms form the shape of an "L." The lower-level room is the living area. This room really complements the way Dow used space. It seemed so wide open but is filled with areas to display his pottery and plants. The ceiling is made up of panels woven in plastic and backed by lights. The plastic panels are framed in wood and angle upward on each side, meeting in the middle. These lights extend through both rooms. Hanging from the ceiling is a mobile with circular pieces of wood. The largest of the three is dark green; the middle-sized one is sky blue; the smallest is painted white. Hanging from the circular bases are square pieces of wood. It looks as though these square pieces are floating, but they are held together by wire.

The dining area is framed by a cream colored wrap-around couch, including another double-decker table laced with plastic on one end of the room. A window stretches along one side of the couch, where a shelf was built-in to display collectibles. One that caught my eye is a framed hologram of a ship sailing across the sea. Its colors were mixed like a rainbow.

In Dow's home there is a large quote of his framed and propped up on the wall. It states: "Architecture is more than the front face of the building. It is the location of the building. It is the plan of the building. It is the construction of the building. It is the heating and cooling of the building. It is the furnishing of the building. It is the landscaping of the building. It is, in its entirety, the manifestation of wholesome living."

The Alden B. Dow Home and Studio is the definition of organic architecture. Dow’s unique style and mixing of materials fits hand-in-hand with his thoughtful choice in color, all collaborating with nature. I particularly enjoy the colors and warmth of the house. It seemed so cozy, like grandma's house at Christmas, with a nice fire in the fireplace. It is my definition of a dream house. If I could build a house similar to this one, I would.


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