Round House

Added by Jennifer Madeline Frazer, last update: August 17, 2012, 12:13 pm

Round House
Round House, source: Jennifer Frazer, date: January 30, 2011
Location
122 Olmstead Hill Road
Wilton, CT 06897
United States
41° 12' 58.662" N, 73° 26' 56.9328" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Residential (RES)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):

Mentioned, but not yet designated, in the National Register of Historic Places under “Mid-Twentieth-Century Modern Residences in Connecticut, 1930-1979.” This Multiple Property Documentation Form (MPDF) is a document that provides information for class of historic sites that may still be nominated individually. Though this document makes the argument for listing of the Round House, it will not be eligible until 2017.

History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

Built by Richard Foster in 1967-68 as a residence for himself and his family.

Dates: Commission / Completion:1968
Architectural and other Designer(s): Richard T. Foster
Others associated with Building/Site:
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): None
Current Use: This structure has only been employed as a private residence.
Current Condition: Very good
General Description:

Richard T. Foster, a New York City-based architect who worked with Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson on many high profile projects, designed the Round House for his family. Aside from its well known architect, the structure's shape sets it apart from any other structure; it is a glass, steel, wood and concrete cylinder mounted twelve feet above the ground on top of a concrete base. The house rotates 360 degrees on its base. Given that its entire circumference is clad in glass, the rotation affords all inside perpetual and ever changing views of the bucolic countryside setting in which the house is sited. The site forms a natural amphitheater, with a large pond on the north west side, and a 400 acre natural preserve to the north and northeast, the views are stunning.

Construction Period:

1967-68.

Original Physical Context:

The house, as built in 1967-68, aside from interior updating in 2005, stands today as it was originally designed and built. Accessed from Olmstead Hill Road, down a long narrow drive, it is located on a sloping 3.83 acre lot in Wilton, Connecticut. Surrounded by meadow and pond in the front and wooded nature preserve in the north and east, the home is provided a private, expansive view from its 360 degree vantage point.

Approaching from the drive, one first encounters a 576 square foot garage/gatehouse (rectilinear) to the west. This structure serves both as the pool house and gatehouse for the home. Further west, in front of the structure is located a 600 square foot in-ground pool.

Located at the end of the drive, just past the gatehouse, is a six foot retaining wall and fence which serves as a privacy shield for the rotating home. Rising above that wall, one sees the first glimpse of the 2,997 square foot Foster structure. It rests on a round concrete, but shingle clad, 12 foot diameter base.

From the drive, visitors walk down a set of stairs, across a circular cobblestone terrace, spanning the width of the structure above. The curved wooden front door, leads the visitor into a small vestibule and a wood and metal spiral staircase leading up to the main floor. The base of the structure is the immobile component of Foster's design, and serves as the center for the axis from which the house spins.

The 12 foot diameter base houses a non-structural hollow column that runs up the center of the base and through the structure to the attic.The column shields the home's waste pipes and electrical and cable wires.

The original plan included nine rooms, but the 2004 Owner, Michael Von Oehsen, had the space reconfigured to seven rooms: the rotunda/foyer serves as the first concentric circle surrounding the base's circle, then the next and largest concentric circle of the 72 foot diameter home includes the home's primary wedged-shaped living spaces: kitchen, living room, dining room, master bedroom with a walk-in closet and bathroom, office and a second bedroom with bathroom.

Foster design of the exterior has floor-to-ceiling panels of glass with occasional sliding glass doors that lead to a 1245 square foot porch that fully wraps around the structure.

Built with concrete, steel and glass, the house is clad on its roof, underside, and on the exterior of its base and gatehouse in cedar shingles. The exterior metal, on the railings and window mullions, is pre-rusted steel.

Evaluation
Technical Evaluation:

The house is nearly 3000 square feet, laid out inside a cylinder that sits cantilevered over a twelve foot high base. The 72 foot diameter, 500,000 pound structure revolves around its base, using its concrete base as its axis. The base houses a three-ton ball bearing system. The shoebox sized set of controls are powered by a 1½ horsepower motor. Three movements are possible: forward, backward and stop. Round House's rate of rotation can be adjusted, from nine inches to five feet per hour, rendering a possible range of five to twenty six rotations per day. Remarkably, the house is known to rotate smoothly so that those inside note the movement only by the passing scenery outside. At highest speed, the house can complete one rotation in only forty-eight minutes.
Foster's design planned for equal distribution of weight throughout its cantilevered structure. His design transfers both live and dead loads, through a complex design of steel rings, columns and bearings to the the concrete core below. When weight is loaded more heavily in one area in the house, because of Foster's system, a counter balance reaction does not occur in another portion of the house.

Social:

The house was well noted during and just after its construction; Architectural Record, the New York Times and Interior Design all ran pieces on the home in the late 1960s. The American Institute of Steel Construction gave one of its twelve annual awards to the home's design. The Round House has remained a private residence from its inception.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Modernist architecture in 1960s and 1970s Connecticut exemplified the movement's trend towards a more sculptural effect. Richard Foster’s Round House in Wilton is unusual in shape and style; the floating, rotating cantilevered disk composed of steel, glass, concrete and wood follows the movement's choice of materials while creating new forms of expression that employs emerging mid century modern technology.
Historical:

Richard Foster lived in this house until his death in 2002.
Valedictorian of his Architectural class at Pratt Institute in 1950, Modernist Architect Richard T. Foster (1919 - 2002) was founder of Richard Foster Associates in New York City and Greenwich, CT. He worked with Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe on multiple projects; his career was enormously prolific. Included in his accomplishments are the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center (1964), the New York World Fair Pavilion (1964/65), Meyer Hall of Physics, Kline Geology Laboratory and Kline Biology Tower at Yale (1965/1966), Kreeger Museum in Washington D.C. (1967), Bobst Library at New York University (1972), Tisch Hall at Stern School of Business, New York University (1972), Hagop Kevorkian Center at New York University (1973), Eastman Dental Center at the University of Rochester (1978) and the Hatch Interdenominational Chapel at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center.

General Assessment:
In 1968, Foster's Round House was the first and only round, fully rotating residence in the world. Sometimes compared to a space ship, the Round House is best understood as part of the group of modern homes built in and around New Canaan following the precedent of the Harvard Five.
Documentation
Text references:

_____, “122 Olmstead Hill Road, Wilton, CT 06897,” Online Database for Wilton, CT, Vision Appraisal Technology, http://data.visionappraisal.com/WiltonCT/findpid.asp?iTable=pid&pid=4069, as viewed 2.2.2011.

_____, “360 degree living: architect Richard Foster designs a house in Connecticut which can make a complete revolution every 48 minutes”. 1968. Interior Design. 39:102-105.

_____, “Beautiful detailing enhances a very special house,” 1969. Architectural Record, New York: McGraw-Hill Publications, 145, 6:177-180.

Field, Carolyn Rundle, “Rooms with a View,” Townvibe, July/August 2010, Morris Media Group, Wilton, CT.

_____, “Connecticut’s Modern Homes Part of First-Ever Statewide Listing to National Register of Historic Places; Raises awareness for nation’s underappreciated, but vastly influential mid-century architecture,” PreservationNation.org, Washington, DC, http://www.preservationnation.org/about-us/press-center/press-releases/2..., as viewed 2.2.2011.

_____, “Mid-Twentieth Century Modern Residences in Connecticut, 1930-1979,” National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, National Register of Historic Places, United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:y3HbAf056ioJ:www.preservationn..., as viewed 2.2.2011.

_____, “Richard Foster Associates: About the Company,” Emporis Corporation, Frankfurt, Germany,
http://www.emporis.com/application/?nav=company&lng=3&id=100499, as viewed 2.2.2011.

_____, “Round House,” Realty Guild, New Canaan, CT, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tspXb1NdAMI, as viewed 2.2.2011.

Authoring
Recorder/Date: Jennifer Frazer 2.2.2011
Additional Images
Round House
Round House Entrance, Source: Jennifer Frazer, date: January 30, 2011
Audio and Video Web References

Depicted item: Round House, source: Realty Guild, New Canaan, CT
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