The Circambulant House, 25 Years Later

Richard Foster

May, 1993

It’s hard to believe that on May 18th of this year, we will have occupied our home for twenty-five years. During that period we have watched our sons grow from teenagers to manhood, observed their college graduations, sent them off to war, witnessed marriages, and welcomed our grandchildren.

To say that these haven’t been enjoyable’ years would fly in the face of reality. They have been wonderful years! And one of the wonders has been the enjoyment of living in our house.

The pleasure of living in a home that turns is difficult to describe to one who has never had that opportunity. There were many surprises for us to absorb and some to overcome.

The very configuration of the house has given us advantages we never contemplated. First, the house sits high, relative to the surrounding landscape. We find that animals such as deer, fox and rabbits don’t seem to look up. They will graze through the field as though we don’t exist, even though we’re sitting on the deck carrying on conversations in a normal way.

The house has brought us very close to nature. With floor-to-ceiling windows, unfettered by the usual draperies, we have now witnessed twenty-five cyclic changes of the seasons. We have learned when the swallows will arrive, April 12th, and open our garage to welcome them as tenants. We know when other migratory birds will arrive, and act accordingly by cleaning out the bluebird houses and changing the type of feed in the feeders.

Only in the last two years have we felt the need for air conditioning — and then only for no more than two weeks each year. We can turn the desired room into the breeze, even on the hottest summer day, and be cooled by its wafting through the house. We can duplicate the procedure, if cold, to take advantage of the sun. By turning slowly on the coldest days of the year, the solar gain is sufficient during the daytime to.make the use of the furnace unnecessary.

And I’ve saved the best part until last. The sheer joy of being able to greet dinner guests at this time of the year, so that they can share a spectacular sunset with us while sipping cocktails. Then turning to a moon rise during dinner in the dining room. After dinner enjoy the warmth of the fire and watch a deer or other animal cross the fields and woods that are highlighted with outdoor lights.

Twenty-five Years ago, before the environmental movement took root, we considered the challenge of our impact on nature. The house is inscribed by a circle seventy-two feet in diameter, but only one hundred eighty square feet, a circle fifteen feet in diameter, supports the floor and anchors the house to the ground much as the stem of a mushroom supports the head. It achieves . the intended purpose of allowing the landscape to flow gently under and around the house with a minimal disturbance of nature. The land was a grazing meadow before we built and that is the way it is today.

Oil was five cents a gallon when the house was conceived. Why not build it with all glass walls? Two hundred twenty feet of glass, 9 feet high. Who heard or cared about solar gain or loss of heat through the glass? Now that oil is ninety plus cents a gallon, we do care! But, the house is a perfect solar trap during the day, as aforementioned, and by pulling down shades at night, we burn no more oil than a conventional house of similar size.

I’ve been asked many times if I would sell the plans and have always answered “no” for a number of reasons. First, it is our home, and I treat the design with the same respect I would treat it as though I designed it for a client. I would not repeat their plans, or sell them to another client. Secondly, the social climate has changed. I took endless is financial risks in building the house. Everything had to go right — and I had to be there every day to see that it did. That attention would be difficult to duplicate today. I also had help from a number of wonderful people — and several local corporations that made everything go smoothly. I had an understanding town government,’ and a cooperative building department to assist me. Now I believe it would be different, and I doubt that I would have either the patience or financial resources to battle the design through all the protective agencies that have been formed since those comparatively simple days.

The mechanism that turns the house should be able to travel a long way into the future. The company that built the bearing assembly reassured me that it could run continuously for eighty-five years before wearing out. How that equates to the future longevity of the structure is difficult to calculate. It was not designed to run continuously — but rather to turn intermittently when a whimsical change of scenery is desired. Yes, someone said once, that it is a most expensive way to change the wallpaper, and they might be right. Nobody, however, has ever guaranteed me that I can take anything into the next world, so why not enjoy this one to the maximum in the way I live. Wallpaper indeed! Let’s turn the living room to the pond and watch the geese when they come in to land.