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'On The Map' looks at a creative genius, and his octagon church

Saint John's Lutheran
Year - 1955

New for the time, but standard today -- those are the ideas of an architect who designed an octagon church. Saint John’s Lutheran in Midland calls the building their home.

Saint John’s dedicated the structure in 1955. It cost $560,000. Today that would translate to over five million dollars.

Alden B. Dow was commissioned to design the building. With his creative designs, Dow changed what was considered “normal” in terms of what people expect from the spaces they occupy.

“After the church was built a lot of the small plane pilots would use it as a landmark for locating where they were”.

Lois Ann Reed is a historian at Saint John’s. She said one of the things that makes the church unique is the tri leveled ceiling designed to catch and bring in more natural light.

“Ancient churches were built with a dome in the center. If you look at what we have here with these three separate levels, what Mr. Dow did was take that concept of a dome and he separated it into three levels and then he did a bend to them. Like a origami”.

Reed said the church was designed to resemble the Luther Rose, which is the emblem of the lutheran church.

“It's just a design that people are very interested in because it looks different than the traditional peaked roof”.

Karen Schultz is also a Saint John's historian . She said because the building is a “Mid-century modern Dow” it’s on the list of national historic places. She said the organic design makes it popular.

“Nature. It's all about being one with nature. That’s why we have so many windows so we can see out and the outside comes into us”.

Schultz said Dow studied with Frank Lloyd Wright, the father of mid-century modern, and he was willing to go the extra mile to ensure the clients were pleased. Something architects today do without a second thought, but some say Dow was an early adopter.  

“He was not Lutheran when he took on this job. So, he did a lot of research to find out what was important to Lutherans. A lot of his research is incorporated in our church building”.  

“Alden Dow liked to use consistent color schemes in his buildings”.

Lois Ann Reed said the color choices reflect the organic driven design to help bring nature into the building.

“The green on the floors was to carry the inside and the outside together. So you had a continuous flow from inside to outside. That's why we have all the big windows in the alcoves so from in the church you can see out to the green grass”.

Reed said the colors not only aid in design significance but also carry symbolic meaning.

“The original red is on our roof and it's also around the altar, and that symbolizes the blood of christ. Its covering the congregation and then flowing down to the congregation”.

Reed said despite Dow’s genius the building did have a flaw.

“Someplace along the line it wasn't communicated to Mr. Dow that Lutherans like music and organs. So, he designed the church without an organ. And that didn't go over very well”.

Fortunately, a church member devised a solution and paid to implement the plan.

“We had to put the pipes in the Basement for the pipe organ because there just isn't that much space up there for banks and banks of pipes”.

Schultz said architectural students from universities around the state come study the building.

I asked Schultz “So is this style coming back?”

She said quote, “I don't think it ever left. I don't”.

And it hasn't, Dow and others like him changed the very spaces where we not only worship, but live and work.

“With this mid-century modern concept of more light and bigger windows it became very popular for people to put a picture window in their living room”.

Alden Dow, through his dream-like designs, helped pave the way for modern architecture.


Prior to the era of Dow’s out of the box thinking, architects created rooms, and more rooms with small windows concealing humans from experiencing the outdoors. Now, because of the creative mind of Dow and others like him, you can sit on your couch in your kitchen and look out the big window in your living room.  



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