Ann Arbor District Library proposes design changes to key Alden Dow design element

Ann Arbor District Library proposes design changes to key Alden Dow design element

In response to the Ann Arbor District Library’s renovation proposal, Craig McDonald, Director, Alden B. Dow Home and Studio and a2modern submitted the following letters to the Ann Arbor District Library Board. The letters were read at the March 13, 2014 special library board meeting.

I. Letter to Ann Arbor District Board from Craig McDonald, Director, Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, Midland

Dear Ann Arbor District Library Board:

I have been reading about the proposed changes to the Ann Arbor District Library. I know how important it is to make our libraries as relevant as possible in our ever-changing electronic world. We are making similar modifications to our library in Midland. Access to information and the dissemination of information is paramount in making our libraries continue to be vital community assets.

I am excited to see that the architects working on renovations to the Ann Arbor District Library feel it important to retain the horizontal band that is a key element to the design of the building. The rectilinear structure is balanced by this horizontal element and it serves to create the loggia that welcomes you into the building. It also creates a sense of human scale to the structure as well as it being aesthetically beautiful. The concern I have is that they intend to “modernize” this detail by either covering or replacing the green porcelain enamel fascia panels with a new material. What is the rationale for this? The green panels add a liveliness and uniqueness to the structure. They are meant to contrast the color of the brick. They are also indicative of the work Alden B. Dow created in the 1950s and distinguish it as one of his designs. The color draws your attention to the structure and focuses you to the entrances that are created below it. The color also creates a continuity that is not achieved by the proposed materials, that only break up any sense of continuousness as seen in the rendering.

Other architects of the time also used porcelain enamel panels in their designs including Eero Saarinen use of them on the General Motor Tech Center in 1950. They are a part of our history and a unique building material of the 20th Century. To cover or replace these panels will take away one of the unique and distinguishing elements of this Dow designed building. I respectfully encourage and challenge the architects to see how they can incorporate this beautiful, distinguishing feature of the building into their well-crafted modifications.


Craig McDonald


The Alden B. Dow Home and Studio

II. Letter to Board from a2modern Board

Dow Library Renovation Project Can Maintain Its Connection to Its Creative Legacy and Forward Looking Patrons

Dear Library Board,
As the Library Board considers the proposal to “upgrade” the entrance to the downtown library, a2modern strongly urges that proposals include the reuse of key architectural elements and features from the original Alden Dow design as possible. One area of particular interest is the retention of the teal metal panels, the “gems” of the original architectural elements, as part of the new entrance design.

In 1957 when the library opened, townsfolk were proud to have a cutting edge modern building as a community gathering place. Library Patrons were pleased to have secured Alden Dow, arguably Michigan’s greatest architect, to design it. Later that same year, The Michigan Librarian published Dow’s lecture to state librarians that included his intensely personal philosophy of life and its interpretation into library functions. A Dow designed library was forward thinking and enriched the lives of patrons, especially children. The influence of the color wheel could be seen in architectural elements; especially in the teal accent panels, a design “cue” Dow often used. It gave more punch to the simple loggia beneath it and the garden in front.

Two additions later, necessitated by growing needs, have pretty much obscured Dow’s original design. However, these teal gems remain and would be worthwhile saving not only to honor the library’s architectural origins but to emphasize its creativity and quality, its pizazz! Why does the library need to remove a gem from a platinum setting and replace it with a cement fiber that is durable, lightweight and fire resistant, with “high eco-value?” Each of our city’s libraries should reflect the hopes and aspirations of its past and future patrons and be unique and individual in how it accomplishes this.

a2modern, a community of more than 300 homeowners and enthusiasts of modernism, seeks to build awareness of and appreciation for our area’s unique stock of modern homes and buildings. Dow’s homes and buildings are a significant and important chapter in that rich legacy. Thank you for your attention and leadership on this important matter – honoring Ann Arbor’s cultural legacy through learning and architecture.

Respectfully submitted by the a2modern board – Nancy Deromedi, Grace Shackman, Linda Elert and Tracy Aris