Round Houses and Octagons

By Dan Gregory

An historic Octagon House in San Francisco.

Wheels Within Wheels

To me, the new year 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.


Originally Published in Eye On Design

01/02/2014

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