1 Comment on SLCC Talks: Personal heroes

  1. Michael Hawker // September 25, 2013 at 3:40 pm //

    I can name a few heroes, some of whom I have never met in person. One is Alden B. Dow (1904-1983), an exceptionally creative architect who was based in Midland, Michigan. He was a son of Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical, and didn’t follow his father’s footsteps per se, but rather envisioned his own path to follow.

    Alden spent 1933 with the Taliesin Fellowship, studying with the world famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, but chose to not stay in the Fellowship long, and returned to his hometown for his settlement. Midland is a small town, away from the centers of Detroit, or Chicago, and away from the design limelight of the coasts. Alden chose a path where his ego was secondary to the values of a quality of life.

    I admire Dow for being creative of course, but also for being an astute philosopher of life, for understanding the importance of beauty in our built environments, and for the manner in which he led his professional and family life. He received innumerable accolades and his work stands testament to the contribution he made to our world, but he did it quietly. Look up Alden Dow Home & Studio for yourself as an example. Each of my visits there left me weeping (in joy), as its repose and beauty is unmatched–even Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece southeast of Pittsburgh, Penna., struggles to compare in my book.

    He was ahead of his time as well, thinking about the impact we exert on the natural world. For example, Alden built his own home out of concrete blocks (a unique modular design he patented) made from the residual ash created by Dow’s chemical plants heating systems, thus recycling a by-product material. Alden did this with plastic by-products too, incorporating them into his architecture. But the mere use of recycled materials paled in compare to his use of daylight and integration of home to garden. Thinking about sustainable and energy efficient practices was decades in the future.

    Alden understood the notion that each individual can be creative and give something to a project or endeavor, that each person has a unique way of looking at something. These ideas, when based on principles–not styles–can become enduring. He valued education, travel, and culture, and imbued that into his family’s life.

    Though I may never attain the achievements of Mr. Dow, I am forever inspired by him and his architecture.

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