Alden B. Dow, Architect [1904-1983]
Alden B. Dow [†] was a life-long resident of Midland, Michigan. Born to Grace and Herbert Henry Dow, the founder of the Dow Chemical Company, on April 10, 1904, Alden Dow studied chemical engineering for three years at the University of Michigan before transferring into the architectural program at Columbia University. He was graduated in 1930, and returned to Midland. Until 1933 when he gained his architect's license, Dow worked as an Associate Designer with Frantz and Spence, Architects, in nearby Saginaw. While a designer with this firm Alden Dow designed his first executed project, the Midland Country Club.
Dow was still eager to sharpen his architectural skills. In May, 1933, he and his wife Vada went to Spring Green, Wisconsin, to participate in Frank Lloyd Wright's newly created program for architects. Dow and his wife were members of the first year's group. They remained only for six months, but the influence of Wright was strong and it went far in giving Dow confidence and direction in his work. But, as architectural critics noticed already in the early 1940s, Alden Dow's work, while affected by Wright, is by no means derivative.
The influence of Wright is of course all pervading, especially in the earlier work, and Daw's own system of square cement block construction is a development of the system of textured block construction which Wright used so brilliantly in his Los Angeles and Hollywood work. It is perhaps to Wright also that Dow owes his vivid feeling for interlaced rhythms and his sense that each line in a building necessarily affects every other line.
In his early residential designs, Alden Dow used four motifs interpretations of the Prairie Style, houses built on a square grid pattern, houses constructed on an elongated L floor plan, and houses built out of unit block, a building material developed by Dow and a material which went far in defining the elements of the structure. These designs are illustrated by the first four residential structures he designed for Midland based clients. The Earl Stein house (1933) is an interpretation of the Prairie Style with its brick construction, a capper roof, broad horizontal planes, L shape floor plan, and long covered walkway to the entrance. The F. W. Lewis house (1933), a small, inexpensive wood frame home is built on a square grid pattern, what Dow called the "unit system." The J. A. Cavanagh house (1933), a modest wood frame and brick building, is laid out on an elongated L floor plan and has a carport. From the street, this home appears small, but the bedrooms are all in the core of the house which projects outward from the rear, thereby assuring the family privacy. The Alden Dow Studio and Home (1934-1936) was built out of unit block, rhomboid casted cinder blocks used by Dow in his interpretation of the International Style. His most innovative designs were done in unit block, a material he developed and patented. Some critics identify his Studio as one of the two most important buildings in America.
While Alden Dow used several basic motifs, his work remained unpredictable, vigorous and exciting. Dow designed each structure to fit the needs and desires of his clients. Each was a variation of one of several themes. As a result, the imprint of Alden Dow on Midland is strong and unmistakeable. The success of his architectural design is further indicated by the number of structures designed by other architects which imitate his residential work. With much of his post-1938 work also in Midland, the community's architecture has been strongly influenced by Alden Dow.
† Robert G. Waite, Preservation Consultant, Residential Architecture of AT den B. Dow in Midland, Michigan, 1933-1938, nomination document, 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.