Round House Renovation

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Round House Renovation

Originally constructed in 1968 by architect Richard Foster for his family, the Round House is a mushroom shaped home, circular in plan, that sits on a central stair core and rotates in two directions at three speeds. In 2010, a family from Manhattan purchased the property as their weekend getaway and discovered that despite the home’s all-around views, its pie-slice floor plan actually prohibited ample access to daylight. The Round House Renovation opens up the 4,200 square foot interior to bring in more nature, lightens the material palate and subtly transforms the house as a device for filtering and manipulating natural light.

Design Challenge

Originally constructed in 1968 by architect Richard Foster for his family, the Round House is a mushroom shaped home, circular in plan, that sits on a central stair core and rotates in two directions at three speeds. In 2010, a family from Manhattan purchased the property as their weekend getaway and discovered that despite the home's all-around views, its pie-slice floor plan actually prohibited ample access to daylight. The Round House Renovation opens up the 4,200 square foot interior to bring in more nature, lighten the material palate and subtly transform the whole house into a device for filtering and manipulating natural light. The true innovation of the Round House Renovation is the wedding of the interior with the landscape. For the renovation architect and the client, it was important to both restore and revive the home in ways that payed homage to the radical ingenuity of the original design. Born of the mind of architect Richard Foster, completed in 1968, the design of the Round House must have been influenced by his recent participation in the design of the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in Phillip Johnson’s office, in New York City. His notions of progress, modernity and possibility were the philosophical context in creating a circular house that rotates in two directions at three speeds, perched on a nine-foot-tall center core. Powered by a 1.5 horsepower electric motor the entire house rotates around a fixed center stair core, capturing views of the landscape and enjoying the sunlight and shade. Reflecting post-World War II optimism, the house was widely published, featured in Sports Illustrated, photographed by Ezra Stoller, and attained wide notoriety. In the publications, every aspect of the house was described in detail: the rotation mechanism, the structural system of cantilevered trusses, the mechanics of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, and the tectonics of the enclosure of oversized glass panels and shingle cladding. All these aspects were preserved and restored during the renovation. The renovation began in 2011 as a close collaboration between client and renovation architect to substantially restore the exterior and renovate the interior to further reveal, restore and celebrate the genius and imagination of Richard Foster and, at the same time, make the house code compliant and environmentally comfortable. Upgrades included subtle glass guardrails were installed beneath the existing horizontal rusting steel rail at the exterior deck perimeter for code compliance. Radiantly heated floors, a comprehensive upgrade of insulation at all exterior surfaces, insulating glazing and a new high-performance forced-air heating and cooling system were among the steps taken to achieve creature comfort. The three-bedroom home was reprogrammed to two bedrooms. One bedroom was eliminated providing a larger master bedroom and bath, spacious child’s bedroom room, and a small den playroom convertible to a guest room. Walls dividing kitchen, dining and living spaces were modified or remove for a more fluid living condition. Both the master bath and the kitchen were enlarged and reconfigured into more sensuous forms, contrasting with the original radial divisions. The result is a more complex and embracing series of spaces.

Physical Context

The true innovation of the Round House Renovation is the subtle revelation of the house as a device for filtering and manipulating natural light, wedding the landscape with the interior. The design restores the 1968 architectural marvel, celebrating the beauty and capabilities of such a radical fifty years later. When the client purchased the Round House in 2011 the original Foster interior, largely rendered in dark colors, was not in its original state. The dark interiors, resisting the play of light from the perimeter window wall, set up a harsh contrast between the interior and panoramic views to the exterior. The eye was constantly tasked to overcome the contrast. The introduction of lighter colors along with the reintroduction of daylight from the central monitor, and selectively placed light cones, worked with the glass perimeter glazing to balance the light. Glass surfaces introduced into the interior, further balance the interior zones of light. The effect is a zone of suspension, where light level neutrality between inside and outside create a dreamy floating sensation. Richard Foster set up this possibility. The renovation observed this opportunity and took advantage of his skill and forward thinking. From a glass-enclosed fireplace to white terrazzo floors, the renovation is in service to Foster’s greater structural idea of a rotating machine that captures landscape and light, standing proudly as a testimony to human ingenuity.

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