Alden B. Dow’s Unbuilt Design for the Homestyle Center

Called an “outdoor museum for houses” by the journal Architectural Record, the Homestyle Center was a project conceived by Detroit realtor Jason Honigman and promoted by Arleigh Hitchcock, an architect and sales manager for the Herman Miller Furniture Company.  Their plan was to build a permanent display center for up to 50 homes designed by the leading American architects of the time on an 80-acre site on the outskirts of Grand Rapids.  All of the houses were to show something new in design, construction and use of materials, and several were totally experimental.

Alden B. Dow was among the architects selected to design one of the first 25 homes to be completed and on display by spring 1957.  Other notables in the first group included Buckminster Fuller, Harwell Harris, George Nelson, and Royal Barry Wills.  Frank Lloyd Wright was also invited but is reported to have said he would have to be in charge of the entire project in order to participate.

For his assignment, Mr. Dow was to design a home for the Midwest suited to a sloping lot permitting entrance on two levels, four bedrooms, and two baths with a reproduction cost of $50,000.  The exterior of his 50 by 37 foot house was composed of 12 inch lightweight block topped by a two-level flat roof.

One entered at the upper or balcony level above the two-story living room below.  Four bedrooms and two bathrooms along the outer walls opened onto the balcony.  The bedrooms were closed off from the hallway by sliding wood and plastic doors.  A stairway led down to the living room with a fireplace and adjacent built-in sofa.  Opposite the fireplace was a wall of windows overlooking a lake.  The dining room, kitchen, hobby room, and study were tucked under the bedrooms.

Three levels of wood beams created bands of exposed structure inside and out.  The top level was exposed as a clerestory over the living room. Four-foot plastic panels separated the roof structure of the clerestory from the main roof.

Unfortunately, none of the planned structures were ever built due to a lack of necessary funds.  “It is a great disappointment to us that this project was not developed as it should have been,” Mr. Dow later wrote in a letter to Hitchcock.  “I think it would have been a good thing for Grand Rapids.”  Today, the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is located on the site planed for the Homestyle Center.

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