Midland, Michigan: A Midcentury Modern Architectural Dream


Carol Neff


Alden B. Dow Home & Studio


Web resource, Newsletter, Regional Spotlight
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Many cities have landmarks or elements that distinguish them from every other city or place. Midland, Michigan is unique because of the unbelievable quality and concentration of structures that create a cohesive expression of modernism in the Midwest. Beginning in the early 1930s, Alden B. Dow, FAIA and Architect Laureate of Michigan, introduced modern architecture to Midland.  As part of the mid-20th century Modern Movement, Dow challenged traditional thinking and enhanced how buildings were defined and used. Dow’s footprint in Michigan, and Midland in particular, is large and long-lasting. He designed over 350 structures throughout the state in numerous cities including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. In his hometown of Midland, he designed over 130 structures.  Twenty of his earliest residential structures are on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, a National Historic Landmark, is a top tourist destination. 

Dow’s influence goes well beyond his own designs. After WWII and the baby boom that followed, Midland experienced two decades of unprecedented growth and the need for more housing, schools, churches and commercial buildings increased.  Dow’s innovative, functional, and dynamic work attracted architects like Francis Warner, Jackson Hallett, Glenn Beach, Robert Schwartz and others, to the area to create modern structures that are well integrated into the Midland community.

In order to tell the complete story of Midland’s role in the Mid-Century Modern movement, the Alden B. Dow Home & Studio established Midcentury Modern Midland (MCMM) to document, preserve and celebrate Midland, Michigan’s architectural heritage. A two-year effort culminated in the creation of a website and mobile app to share this unprecedented collection of over 400 midcentury modern buildings. Through a customized database, the website and app allow individuals to search by structure or designer, and each site includes a photo and known information. Detailed information about the architects and designers who contributed to this unique architectural landscape is also accessible.

Tours are an added featured offered in the app. Users can choose to take a predetermined route or create a customized tour by selecting the architect and or building type.  The app will then route your tour in the most efficient path and send it to Google Maps.  The routing feature was created through a partnership with the University of Michigan’s Department of Industrial Operation Engineering Practicum in Production and Service System Class.

Community engagement was a key element in completing this ambitious project. "When you grow up and live in Midland, the midcentury modern legacy is part of your heritage," explained Craig McDonald, director of the Alden B. Dow Home & Studio. "It has been amazing how many people want to be a part of this program and history."

The information in the database was collected with the assistance of over 30 community volunteers who canvassed the entire city of Midland.  Volunteers identified structures that possessed midcentury modern traits. A total of 893 buildings were submitted for consideration and a committee of design experts reviewed all of the submissions, approving 437 for inclusion. Once verified, each building was researched to establish the architects, builder, original owners, and the year it was built. 

Many of the original architects, building owners and their families asked to participate in the program and volunteered in numerous ways. Leslie Feagley, daughter of architect Jack Feagley and a designer in Boston, quickly offered to assist with the project. She credits growing up in Midland and having exposure to her father’s architecture as important part of her work. "Whether it was through exposure to my father’s architectural designs or my childhood love and interest in art, I was introduced to the elements of design at an early age." Feagley designed the logo for Midcentury Modern Midland. For the organization’s letterhead, Feagley’s work was combined with the work of artist Charles Breed and Peggy Kernstock of Equiline Design.  They created a silhouette of buildings that represent midcentury design in Midland.

Through this effort, a great deal was learned about Midland's structures and the people who designed, built, and lived in them - and this information is now available to all. Midcentury Modern Midland will continue to refine and document these buildings as the project moves forward.

Access Midland’s architectural heritage yourself

As we are all staying near to our homes and practicing social distancing, we encourage you to visit the Midcentury Modern Midland website or download the free mobile app in the App store or Google Play to learn more about Midland’s midcentury legacy. These tools will allow you to take a virtual tour from the comfort of your own home. Enjoy the work that began the midcentury modern influence in Midland and helped to inspire one of America’s more architecturally significant communities! 

About the Author

Carol Neff is the Project Coordinator for Midcentury Modern Midland

Modernism in America Awards

Midcentury Modern Midland received a Citation of Merit in the Inventory/Survey category of the 2019 Modernism in America Awards.

This article is part of the Docomomo US Regional Spotlight on Modernism Series. Please read our Call for Articles if you are interested in submitting a spotlight on your city or region.