Catalyst Community: The architecture of Central Park

Architecture is one of the foundations of the community of Midland. On just about any drive, bike ride, or walk, you pass by a building designed by Alden B. Dow, architect, and the son of Herbert H. Dow, the founder of the Dow Chemical Company. Alden Dow was influenced by acclaimed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.  

Starting this week in Catalyst Community and continuing over the next several months, we’re going to dig into the influence of architecture on Midland. Leading us in this effort is Paul Haselhuhn, a Midland resident, and the president of WTA (Wigen Tincknell Associates) Architects, a general practice firm founded in Saginaw in 1947. They specialize in architectural design including commercial, education, healthcare, governmental and more. 

Haselhuhn has been with WTA since 1998. He’s been a project manager on a wide variety of projects and now specializes in higher education and commercial facilities. As a LEED-accredited architect, Paul has a strong interest in sustainability and green architecture. 

When we discussed the idea of a series on architecture in Midland, Paul saw this as an opportunity to educate us on the significant role architecture plays in our lives from the beginning to the end. 

Paul Haselhuhn is the President of WTA Architects.Catalyst Community: The architecture of Central Park
Paul Haselhuhn, President of WTA Architects

As we begin the journey to explore architecture in our community, it seems appropriate to first explore what architecture is. 

To put it simply, we might qualify architecture as the built environment. That is to say, all spaces formed by people to define the area in which we live. This may not exactly be the definition found in Wikipedia, but it is the guiding principle that I have discovered in my 30 years of study and practice of architecture. Throughout this exploration, I hope to express the impact of architecture on our daily lives. 

Architecture is very personal, similar to our feelings about art, or the color we paint our house. How it affects us, how we feel about it, and whether we like a specific style or not is very subjective to each individual. My hope is that you are able to gain a greater sense of appreciation for the art of architecture as we discuss different spaces around the Midland area. Today’s journey takes us to Central Park, located on E. Nelson Street close to the community center. 

Central Park has quite a history. For decades, the 18-acre park has been a welcoming place for the entire community. There is a lovely walking path, Free Little Library, public tennis courts, and a playground for the little ones. There are also some unique features to the park such as an interactive human sundial and a band shell. 

Home of the Chemical City Band, the Nicholson-Guenther Band Shell was designed in 1938 by Alden B. Dow. Upon its completion in 1939, it officially became Dow’s first public structure for the city. The Band Shell is a noted architectural space designed by Midland’s foremost architect, and in order to be enjoyed by future generations, it was rebuilt in 2012, closely following the original design. Currently, Miracle Field is being constructed in the park. This new soft-surface baseball field will be for athletes with disabilities. Central Park certainly has a wide variety of spaces to enjoy. 

Home of the Chemical City Band, the Nicholson-Guenther Band Shell was designed in 1938 by Alden B. Dow. (Photo by Elmer Astleford. Photo courtesy of the Alden B. Dow Archives)One of the most recent additions to Central Park was in 2016, WTA Architects designed the Central Park Pavilion. At 384 square feet, the Mid-Century Modern architectural form is a response to natural elements found in the conifer tree.  Concrete and steel columns represent both old and new tree growth. While older trees tend to have a larger, more rugged shell and shape, new growth trees are fresh and slender, perfect examples of the new generation of life.  The vertical concrete fins at opposite corners move the patron from just the tree to the forest.  And finally, the gentle, sloping angles of the roof, both vertically and horizontally, speak to the typical downward form of the conifer tree’s branches creating the canopy of the forest.  

The pavilion was designed as an intimate space for people to gather. It is a friendly, welcoming place for eating, visiting, and enjoying company. Following the Mid-Century Modern form of the band shell, the two serve as perfect partners for one another, both paying homage to the rich architectural history Midland is proud to have.

Next subject: Downtown Midland & the importance of urban planning