Dow Chemical Co. Founder's Garden
January 22, 2013
Client: Dow Chemical Company
Location: Midland, Michigan
Lead Architect: Hamilton Anderson Associates
Role this firm played in the project: Landscape Architect
The Company’s former world headquarters holds special memories for the many former employees who once occupied the building. Located at the foot of a downtown, where it meets the vast expanse an industrial plant, the site sat vacant. The Building, designed by the son of the Company’s storied founder was once the cornerstone of the plant but became a void in the city fabric. To remember this once prominent piece of the corporate and civic history of the City, the site is now an open public space, celebrating the heritage of the town, the company, and its founder.
The founder was renowned for his fearless pursuit of discovery and his innovation in both chemistry and business practices (The Company was the first company to offer stock shares to its employees). Visitors begin their park experience in the Rotunda Plaza, where salvaged bricks from the historic building trace the footprint of the memorable rotunda of the Building. A statue of the founder sits in the center of the plaza, surrounded by his thoughts and sketches and a map highlighting how the company has expanded throughout the world. He looks out toward the park and the plant beyond. The design recalls the founders spirit of discovery with five walls emerging from the earth with fieldstone that seems to transform from raw, cobble to refined masonry. The walls, at the top of the bluff overlooking the local river, symbolize his discovery of the first five chemicals he extracted from the vast brine deposits that sit below the area. Visitors experience one wall at a time, in the order the founder discovered them. Each wall describes both chemical discovery, through hand-written notes scribed by one of the company’s leading chemists, and the founder’s philosophy, through quotations attributed to the founder. After the final wall, views open up to the vast plant beyond as it bends around the river.
The founder found inspiration and solace in gardens and nature, in his walks through the birches and pines, and his cultivation of fruit orchards. When any of his employees were married, he would give them a bridal-veil spirea as a gift. These connections are remembered as the multi-modal trail weaves through a through a pine grove, the entrance walk is lined by a spirea hedge, and an orchard-like arrangement of trees creates a framework of spaces for staging community and company events, sculpture, or product display. A wide swath of native plantings softens the edge of the park and connects to the naturalized shoreline.
The park serves to visually link the downtown to the industrial plant that still symbolizes community success and hope for the future to the residents of the City. It restores the natural shoreline and strengthens connections to the river and the greenway that runs along its shores. But most of all, it honors the shared heritage and history of the City.
The project aimed to be true to history, chemistry, and philosophy in its abstraction of the local heritage. This meant consistent collaboration with historians, chemists and company leaders to ensure meaningful expression. The design utilizes regional materials such as local field stone and reclaimed brick from the former headquarters building.
The shape of the property is triangular, with entry access limited to a narrow aperture at the street and the stadium parking lot. With the opening of the new minor league stadium just months after the design process began, the team suggested and coordinated significant changes to the stadium circulation, eliminating road connections and rerouting truck traffic to strengthen connections into the park and between the park and stadium. The stadium roads had just been constructed, so implementing these challenges was not palatable at first to the client and took considerable trust in the landscape architect to reconstruct recent improvements to result in a better project.
The park is often utilized at night, as baseball games let out and patrons at downtown bars and restaurants meander along the river, so lighting was an important part of the design process. The walls are thoughtfully illuminated to highlight the interpretive content. They have a strong visual presence from the street, from across the river, and from upper levels of the stadium. The founder’s statue stands out as the brightest element, drawing visitors into the Rotunda space to start their journey along the bluff.