Wayne State University Student Center

People: Alden B. Dow

Date: 1966

City: Detroit

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, photo by Rob Yallop.

The Wayne State University Student Center, designed by Alden B. Dow, was originally called the University Center Building. The building was meant to be the "living room" of the university with multi-purpose activities, food service, lounges and offices for student activities administration. The idea was to contribute to personal development and informal education.

The pre-cast concrete building represents Dow's attempt to consciously defy nature. The building consists of two distinct architectural units. In the different designs of the two blocks of architecture, the architect seems to blend elements of Frank Lloyd Wright surface patterning in the lower half of the building with the formalism of Yamasaki in the upper half.

The upper half of the building appears to be pivoted ninety degrees from the lower half, and elevated and supported on posts over it. It displays a seemingly random arrangement of square and rectangular windows arranged by floor.

Inside, on the second floor is a mural by Walter Gropper, a WPA muralist, whose work, "Automobile Industry," painted in 1941, was moved from the Detroit- Northwestern Branch Postal Station to Wayne State University in 1971.

The son of the founder of the Dow Chemical Company, Alden B. Dow apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin. He opened his Midland-based practice in 1934. His home and studio, designed in 1936 with his patented Unit Block system, is a National Historic Landmark. Dow designed over eighty buildings in Midland ranging from residences to public buildings, and including the Midland Center for the Arts (1968). His work is found throughout the state and nation. Dow remains the only architect to have been named Architect Laureate of Michigan (1983).

(Text excerpted from the Wayne State University Walking Tour script developed by the City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board staff.)