Kalamazoo Valley Community College by Alden B. Dow

Designed by Alden B. Dow in 1967, the original and largest campus of Kalamazoo Valley Community College is beautifully integrated into its 187-acre hillside site.  Rather than being a collection of individual buildings, it is one continuous structure winding its way back and forth across the upper sides of a valley. 

Glass-lined corridors and main student areas are located with a view of the 50,000 square foot landscaped central court, which serves as a focal point for the design.  The same red brick is used for the inside and outside of the building as a way of strengthening the connection between the two.

The distinctive “Tower of Light” emphasizes and illuminates the entrance to the college.  The tower is constructed of three reinforced concrete columns formed in a saw-tooth pattern with four perpendicular slabs connected to each column.  As the architect described it in a letter to the president of the college:

“Philosophically, it is a lantern in darkness or in light showing the way to discoveries … achievements … and happiness.  Factually, it is light.  It is a vertical line contrasting with the horizontals of the building, thus drawing attention to that spot which is the main entrance to the college.”

He went on to discuss the college in terms that best sum up his central design philosophy:

“If a building honestly develops its purpose with enthusiasm, keeping an admiring eye on the dramatic and including the give and take of humility, the results will be long-lasting … I feel that the imagination and at the same time good sense found in this building is going to be enthusiastically accepted by everyone who attends this school.”

Kalamazoo Valley was just one of a large number of educational projects planned and designed by Mr. Dow during the 1960’s, including structures for the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, Delta College, Saginaw Valley State University, Interlochen Arts Academy, and Muskegon Community College.

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