Round and Round It Goes, but How Is the Big Problem

The Chicago Tribune

Vivian Brown
November, 1967

For a while, Richard Foster, architect, thought he would have to use ship-to-shore tele-phones in his unique revolving round house being built in Wilton, Conn.

But that was only one of the engineering challenges—water, electricity, heat and waste disposal, too, presented dilemmas in a rotating house.

The glass and steel house, 72 feet in diameter, rests on a core of precast concrete that is 12 feet high. It will rotate from 9 inches to 5 feet a minute on the outer periphery with an infinite variety of speeds in between. The house rests on a three-ton ball bearing assem-bly. The bearing, 14 feet in diameter, is set in a raceway above the core. Power is supplied by a 1.5 horse power electric motor.

“Mounting it on the ball bearing proved to be about the easiest task so far,” Foster said. He was well bolstered in the event of difficulties as his cause had attracted many interested engineers at nearby electronics plants who had offered their services. Architectural feats are not new for Foster. He was the architectural coordinator of the Seagram Building, a New York showcase of glass and steel, and in his 17 years as an architect with former partner, Philip Johnson—he has been involved in planning other unusual buildings.

“But this is the first time I’ve ever been involved in a rotating house. I don’t even know of another,” Foster said. He is playing the project more or less by ear, making drawings as he goes along.

He and one man, William Mewing, a contractor, have been doing the house together. They call in help when it is needed. Foster works on week ends when he also makes decisions—telephone and electricity will go on trolleys that have swinging joints; water will be piped to the roof. Now they a r e building cement troughs in the round hoping it will be the answer to waste disposal.

“I didn’t plan the house so that we could go riding. It was planned so that we could take advantage of the varied and beautiful views,” he explains. “We didn’t try to capture the sun. There didn’t seem to be any point in it.”
Foster said that all houses should be planned to take advantage of the sites that they are to be on. He was so impressed with this four-acre site that he couldn’t quite make up his mind about the house that would suit it best. The round house is his fifth.

The Fosters can go to bed looking down a long vista toward the sunset, if they like, and wake up to see the sunrise overlooking ponds, evergreens, rock walls or statuary-dotted landscape. It will be a quiet house with no vibration.

Forty-five tons of steel have gone into the house. Its truncated cone-shaped ceiling and entrance door thru a core shaped like a tree trunk makes it look like a giant mushroom at this stage. A circular stairway leads to nine rooms set in the 60-foot diameter living area. Glass panels between steel columns are to be set in aluminum frames, every other one sliding. There is a veranda on the outer periphery.

The entrance core, roof area and sofits will be finished in silver-bleached cedar shingles. Foster likes the fluidity of form that shingles permit.

Foster lives with his wife and three sons in a house not far from the new one.