Category Archives: Round houses

House as Cave, Bridge, or Tank

Beyond the Basic Box

A house is always a storehouse for the imagination, but sometimes it can take surprising turns as a container. Here are several particularly evocative design approaches to stoke your own fires of invention.

Cave. Early houses were caves of course, but here’s an example of a modern house built into a hillside in the spa town of Vals, Switzerland, that gives cave dwelling a contemporary twist. Talk about

a seamless transition between house and site – here the house is the site! Designed by Bjarne Mastenbroek of SeARCH, and Christian Muller Architects

to preserve the pristine alpine landscape, the house is primarily accessible

through a tunnel from a nearby wooden barn. The great cutaway oval is courtyard, light source, and connection to the hillside, framing views of the

valley below without blocking sight lines from above (photography by Iwan Baan, courtesy ArchDaily). You can see the entry barn beyond the lip of the oval, above; and the entrance from the tunnel is behind the blue tub. And you can even experience the home yourself: it rents through the website Villa Vals — I’m adding it to my bucket list!

Bridge. A clever solution for a difficult site like a small ravine is to treat the house as a bridge. An early modern example is the famous Warner or “Bridge House” in New Canaan, Connecticut of 1956 by John Johansen, which

straddles the Rippowam River near Philip Johnson’s Glass House (photo by Robert Damora courtesy Philip Johnson Glass House). The H-shaped plan puts the living-dining room on the bridge at the center; the four corners

contain the kitchen and bedrooms (image courtesy Faustian urGe). According to Gwen North Reiss, who interviewed the architect in 2010 when he was 94, Johansen considered the bridge not just a site solution but an important metaphor of transition and renewal. She quotes him: “The bridge represents in mythical forms the leaving of one region familiar to you…Throw yourself on a bridge and you are separated from time and space and then you find your way down to another reality hitherto previously unknown to you.” The barrel vaults in the roof are also evocative and follow the line of the stream (rivulets, perhaps?). More recent versions of the bridge-as-house can be found in the

work of Cutler Anderson Architects in Washington State, as shown here, where spanning the site made it possible to avoid “culverting the stream” (photo courtesy Cutler Anderson). Another way to go is to use bridge

stanchions to allow for a longer span, as shown in this house by Adelaide, Australia architect Max Pritchard (photo courtesy Max Pritchard Architects).

Tank. The water storage tank is especially compelling as a container. A quick Google search produces a variety of tanks that have been converted to houses,

like this very vivid one in Thorpness, England with its tall red storybook gable and long white chimney — like something out of a Dr. Suess book (photo courtesy Armchair Travelogue). This round concrete tank in an industrial

section of London is being converted to living quarters by the designer Tom Dixon, who added the windows and the wood siding and has plans to construct an elevator (good idea! photo courtesy Daily Mail).

The talented Max Pritchard used a 50 year-old concrete water tank as the base for this delightful house overlooking Adelaide. According to the Pritchard firm

the basement and a bedroom level (with windows punched into it) were built within the tank, while a new upper level containing the main living areas and

master bedroom follows the shape of the tank with a semicircular wall of glass — like a large bay window — to capture the sweeping views of city and sea.

As these structures demonstrate: design is about turning limitations into possibilities.

 

Round House Ruminations

Wheels Within Wheels

To me summer vacation means changing the daily routine and seeing new things, or old things in new ways, so here are some unusual home designs to act as springboards for the imagination.

For example, round or almost round houses – i.e. octagons, like the McElroy house in San Francisco of 1861, shown above (photo courtesy Wikipedia) — have always had a special allure. In the 19th century, health writer Orson Squire Fowler popularized the form in his book The Octagon House: A Lifestyle for All. Octagons were sometimes called “health houses” because of the way each angled room maximized natural light and ventilation.

Variations on the octagon have interested architects and designers ever since –  well, actually since Greece and Rome, not to mention the Middle East, if you consider all those round temples and domed mosques. Among the most famous examples is the 12-sided House of Tomorrow by architects George Fred Keck and William Keck at the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition in 1933, built of steel, aluminum, and glass. Here’s the conceptual sketch for it (courtesy projetoblog).

Note the airplane easing out of the ground floor hangar (every home should have one) on the left, while the automobile pulls away on the right, and Mom is left alone with the daughter in the center.

Here it is as built (though this view was taken after it was bought by a developer and moved to a residential subdivision overlooking Lake Michigan) where the handy hangar was replaced with living quarters (sigh…). As a popular exhibit at the world’s fair it promoted a romantic machine-age future as if to say: “Look, you can live in an airport control tower!” (Photo courtesy Wikimapia.) Sounds fun to me. It’s not so very far, conceptually, from Los Angeles architect John Lautner’s Chemosphere, of 1960, shown below, though most people compare the latter to a flying saucer tethered to the ground.

The faceted geometry is still there but now everything is flattening out and lifting off into space (photo courtesy the John Lautner Foundation). John Portman’s spinning cocktail lounges atop Hyatt hotels, and of course Seattle’s Space Needle, were not far behind.

Spin an octagon fast enough and you get a cylinder, like the round house for the Medici family in Ticino, Switzerland of 1980-82 by Italian modernist architect Mario Botta.

It’s called la Rotunda — which is also the informal name for the Pantheon in Rome, not a bad precedent (photo courtesy Maro Botto Architetto). The idea here, according Botta, was to create a design that was visually distinct from surrounding houses while making a strong visual connection to the distant landscape through the geometric window fissures in the monolithic round tower form. It’s a very evocative design: a drum that’s both closed and connected at the same time.

We have various round designs in our inventory, such as Plan 64-165.

It’s actually sixteen-sided — a doubled octagon; part of our Unique and Unusual Plans Collection. The one story pavilion (connecting to a round pool), contains the living-dining area and kitchen in one half; bedroom, bath, and laundry/utility space in the other.

It would make an elegant guest house or in-law unit as well as a pool pavilion. To me it’s a perfect vehicle — and a wheel, no less — for rolling into a late summer daydream about home, which is another way of saying that I’ll be on vacation for a week. Please keep the porch light on for me.