In 1960, the citizens of Ann Arbor approved a $2.3 million bond for the construction of a new city hall. Alden B. Dow was selected as the architect and began the design of this important civic project that year. When it opened in the summer of 1963, it had a distinct impact on the downtown landscape.
The six-story building is shaped like an inverted pyramid with floors that grow wider as they rise. Splitting the pyramid into two halves is a vertical brick chimney-like mass that extends above the top floor. Horizontal bands of windows alternate with wide stucco spandrels. An outdoor terrace or promenade deck encircles the second floor, with the architect’s typical planter boxes above it. Its design became quite the topic of conversation and was variously called a chest of drawers, an upside-down wedding cake, and even “a poor man’s Guggenheim.”
Clustered around the building’s core are executive and administrative offices, conference rooms, elevators, and stairs; open office space and waiting areas occupy the periphery of each floor. Its interior layout was designed to be a model of efficiency, with 84% of the building’s 78,100 square feet considered usable space. The building was air conditioned and used ventilating acoustical ceiling tiles in all areas.
In addition to city offices, the new facility featured a police shooting range in the basement, a Civilian Defense Emergency Center in the event of a nuclear attack, and a drive-in window for paying bills.
For his design of the Ann Arbor City Hall, Mr. Dow received the Certificate of Merit award from the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1964. The firm remodeled the sixth floor Court Rooms and the basement Communications Room in 1969.