For those of you who are either not worried about vertigo or who are looking for a place to film a scene for a James Bond movie, this 3000-aquare-foot revolving house, at 122 Olmstead Hill Road, Wilton, Connecticut, might be ideal.

It was designed by Richard Foster, who collaborated with Philip Johnson on other projects and who, in fact, built it for himself in 1967 and lived there until his death, in 2002.

I don't think there's a rush to put in a bid though. It sold in 2004 for $1,550,000 after being listed for about a million dollars more. In 2005 the current owner listed it at $2,295,000 and withdrew it in December of 2006, after it failed to sell. Then it was put on the market again in January of 2007, for the same price.

I first heard of it in December of '07 and now brokers are pushing it again. But the price hasn't gone down: it's still listed at $2,295,000. The property taxes are $17,000.

Here's the broker's hyperbolic description:

This truly one-of-a-kind marriage of art, architecture, and technology by Richard T. Foster, renowned architect and collaborator of Philip Johnson, is a masterpiece that captures the wonder of landscape from all angles. Totally renovated in 2005, "The Round

House" is walled in glass and floats 12 ft. off the ground rotating 360 degrees. It incorporates custom ash cabinetry, state-of-the-art Zenon interior lighting, luxurious marble & limestone baths, "Smart House" technology in the main house & studio, and a new gunite lap pool by Wagner that overlooks the surrounding landscape. A setting for both casual & formal entertaining, visitors are fascinated by this rare concept of living. -- ta

Paul Rudolph's Buildings Seem to be a Favorite for Demolition

In the dubious competition to see which modern architect's buildings get torn down, Paul Rudolph seems to be leading. A couple of years ago his Micheels House, in Westport, Connecticut, fell after an excruciating couple of weeks during which the new owner did the best he could to give himself a bad name. Then a year ago, a beach house he designed in Rhode Island went down too (everything I wrote about Rudolph on my other blog is here, if you want the unpleasant details).

And now the Times is reporting that a school he designed in Sarasota, Florida, is probably going to be razed as well. Here's how the story starts:

Of the many Modernist buildings Paul Rudolph designed in Sarasota, Fla., his stomping ground in the 1940s and ’50s, Riverview High School is among the most influential.

Not only is it a classic example of his early Sarasota style, with clean, horizontal planes; natural lighting; and inventive sunshades to cool the interiors, but it has also housed tens of thousands of students who have been schooled there in the last half-century.

This week the Sarasota County School Board cleared the way for the demolition of the building at the end of the 2008-9 school year. The board voted 3 to 2 not to proceed with a restoration proposed by preservationists that would turn the school, built in 1958, into a music conservatory.

There's a lot of back and forth in the story between proponents and opponents of demolition, and a lot of rationalization by the proponents, but to me it seems as if they made up their minds to get rid of the school some time ago and they don't want to be bothered considering other arguments or alternatives. (Coincidentally, the school our daughter goes to was designed by the architects who designed our house; the school was recently renovated extensively and any traces of the original Moore & Hutchins design was obliterated, which raised nobody's ire around here, if anyone even knew: the original school had served its usefulness and it was time for a new one.)

As the first sentence of the Times story says, Rudolph worked a lot in Sarasota and the town's architectural style became known as the Sarasota School (not to be confused with the Sarasota school that's going to be torn down). A few years ago Fred Bernstein wrote a good feature in the Times about Sarasota's moderns; you can read it here. -- ta

New Canaan and Cristina Ross Reach an Agreement to Protect Philip Johnson's Alice Ball House

alice ball house front and side

The Town of New Canaan has approved a plan by the owner of the Alice Ball House, designed by Philip Johnson, to build a new house behind it with the condition that the owner sign an preservation easement guaranteeing that the Alice Ball House not be altered.

What this means is that unless the litigious neighbors prevail in court, the Alice Ball House will be protected and will not be razed, which the owner -- Cristina Ross -- had threatened to do. This is clearly a victory for both common sense and historic preservation. Here's what the New Canaan News-Review just reported:

Cristina Ross, the owner, offered the preservation easement as part of her plan to construct a driveway over a portion of wetlands to access the 8,000-square-foot house she plans to build in the rear of the 2-acre lot. The easement will ensure the design of the Alice Ball house remains in the style of Philip Johnson, protecting the façade and the interior design as it relates to the architect's original work. ...

The development plan also calls for constructing of a pool and renovating the Alice Ball house into a pool house as well.

There's plenty of background in our previous posts, here, and on my other blog, here. -- ta

Forsake email for a little: Eames postage stamps are available

When Charles Eames died in 1978, first-class U.S. domestic postage was .15¢. 3 years later, when Ray followed, it was up to .18¢.

On June 17, 2008, in Santa Monica, California, the Postal Service™ issued 42-cent
Charles and Ray Eames stamps in a commemorative sheet featuring 16 different designs.

Honoring the husband-and-wife design team of Charles and Ray Eames, this commemorative sheet of 16 stamps was designed by Derry Noyes of Washington, DC, and represents the breadth of their extraordinary body of creative work, which includes architecture, furniture, film and exhibits.

Buy them at your P.O. or here. There's also lots to see at the Eames Gallery website. – GF

A quiet place to sort things out

These serene, spare little houses made the rounds on the shelter blogs before Modern House Notes was even imagined – so, sorry for posting something you may have seen already, but they are new to me. I love the way the outside world can be excluded by drawing shutters, but there is a narrow glassed-in slice that cuts into each house to let in light that glows from the heart of the space.

Glencomeragh House Retreat Center in Ireland, (the nearest village is Kilsheelan, which has won many Tidy Town awards – I had to include that tidbit), is run by the Rosminian congregation, who have been living there since 1960. In 2003 they commissioned the architectural firm Bates Maher to create a series of Poustinia to be located on the campus. Pousitinia seems to be used as plural and singular for this: Poustinia is a Russian word for 'desert' and it is used to designate a small cabin or room set a side for silence and prayer. In very old Russia it meant a physical quiet place where people went to find god within themselves, a place of quiet reflection, separated from the 'noise' which we deal with everyday.

Each Poustinia is orientated to capture different views over the surrounding countryside and to give a variance in sun light as the day progresses. They are set into and over the hillside, which has been planted as a wild flower meadow with a variety in the mix that will create seasonal blooming. A circular path connects the Poustinia to the Main House and a network of paths and ponds that also lead to riverside and woodland walks. The building's form creates its own trapped space of the site's limestone. With the window shutters closed an inner space is created to encourage contemplation and meditation. – GF

A Visit to an Alan Goldberg House

There's probably no limit to the number of ways you can choose an architect, but during a visit to a realtors open house in Bedford, New York, yesterday (we were invited by the listing broker, a friend who knows of our interest in modern houses), we heard this story about the house we were in:

The owner bought the land in the mid 1980s, five acres or so bordered on one side by a lake and on another by a ravine through which flows the outlet of the lake. He knew he wanted to build his family's house there but he wasn't sure what it should look like, so he began to flip through architecture books. When he came to one with pictures of houses designed by Eliot Noyes, he knew he had found what he wanted. So he made a phone call.

Unfortunately Noyes, whose firm was based in New Canaan and who was one of the Harvard Five, had been dead since 1977. However the person who took the call was the head of the Noyes firm's architecture division, Alan Goldberg. And it was Goldberg who ended up designing the house.

It's a bit big to fit my amorphous definition of a modern, and the roof is peaked rather than flat. The lake views are spectacular and it has a terrific interior gallery (shown here) with native stone walls that were beautiful and Noyes-esque. If you have almost $8 million and can pay almost 35 grand in property taxes a year, it's yours. The listing is here. -- ta

More Incremental Change in the Alice Ball House Controversy

Cristina Ross, the owner of the Alice Ball House (designed by Philip Johnson), was before New Canaan's environmental commission the other night, presenting her revised plans for the back section of her lot, behind the Ball house, where she wants to build a big house. The neighbors are unhappy because big houses are unheard of in New Canaan, where everyone lives in reasonably-sized, environmentally-pure houses and respects the property rights of their neighbors.

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating that last part. In any case, here's what one of the two local papers reported. And there's plenty of background about the Alice Ball House here.

For my part, I couldn't care less what Cristina Ross does on the back of her property, and I hope the town gives her plan the OK. That seems to be the only thing right now that will prevent her from exercising her right (her property right, although arguably not her moral right) to tear the house down.

A Visit to Johansen’s Bridge House

Purely by chance, I found myself inside John Johansen's Bridge House yesterday, receiving a condensed history of the house, from concept through materials, spending as much time as I wanted to poke around and ask questions.

Tom sent me on a reconnaissance mission to see if the house is visible from the road and to maybe get some photos. As luck would have it, yesterday was open-house day for area realtors, and even though I am not in the profession, Rita Kirby of William Pitt | Sotheby's International invited me to have a look around.

Rita explained how the owners (who are the original owners and still live in the house) asked Johansen not only design them a house, but also to find the land it would exist on. According to Rita, Johansen always had a river house "in him" to design, and this site presented the perfect opportunity to realize that idea. One of the more prescient and romantic concepts was that in crossing the water, one was purified and the concerns and distresses of the outside world were washed away, making his "Villa Ponte" truly a haven.

The house is an extended, slab-serif capital "H" (in typographic terms, extended means wider than normal, and a serif is the small line, curve, stroke, or slab projecting from the main stroke of a letter), the cross bar of the "H" being the living/dining area beneath the famous gold leaf multi-barrel ceiling, and under which flows the Rippowam River.

Each "slab serif" of the "H" is a wing, or pavilion, with a different purpose which is denoted by a unique symbol that Johansen designed which is pressed into the stucco walls, on both interior and exterior walls, in random-looking (by design) groupings: The children's wing has an egg shape, the parents' wing has an elongated 4-point star, the kitchen wing has a stylized hourglass, and the guest wing has open circles, representing champagne bubbles.

Predictably, the house has narrow hallways and rooms on the small side (with the exception of the exceptional living room), and to make best use of the small spaces, there's lots of clever built in storage throughout. Every room has a door and windows to the outside to let in the sound of the river and make the woods immediately accessible.

I noticed that Johansen also designed the garage. Must have been a lot later, since the feel is so different from the main house. It's not bad from the outside, but the inside is uninteresting.

I was not permitted to take photos, but there are plenty here. To give you a better idea of the configuration of the house, I scanned the outline with its measurements from the Wm. Pitt packet on the house. I was told that an actual floor plan will be up on the house's website in about a week. – GF

OK – just indulge me

It's summer – finally! – and we're drawn outdoors until dark has fallen, and then some. I have always, always wanted a summer house or tree house – a place to be separate from the cacophony and clutter of the full-time house. When I was little, I finished many a good book high up in the cradling branches of a huge white pine. I rigged up a basket on a rope looped over a cup-hook screwed into the soft flesh of the pine so I could hoist up my supplies: a loaf of raisin bread, my book of the moment, who knows what else. Sun going down. Pine needles outlined in orange sunset colors. The smell of the pitch from the buds on the branches and all over my hands . . .

baumraum (yes: tree-room in German) is a company that builds beautiful, comfortable, safe, and spacious places to clamber up to and even spend the night – which is something I could never do in my precarious little aerie. – GF

John Johansen's Classic Bridge House In New Canaan Is On the Market for $5 Million

John Johansen's Bridge House, one of New Canaan's truly classic mid-century modern houses, is on the market for $5 million. 

Johansen, of course, was one of the Harvard Five -- in fact he's the only one still alive (Philip Johnson, Eliot Noyes, Landis Gores and Marcel Breuer were the others).

The house, which is on Louise's Lane, a tiny dead-end road near the Pound Ridge border, is called the Bridge House because it spans the Rippowam River, a small stream the eventually drains into Long Island Sound. The Bridge House was built in 1956 and is still owned by the person who commissioned it.

There's surprisingly little about the Bridge House online, and I'll have to go to the library to refer to Bill Earls' Harvard Five book or Christian Bjone's First House book for more, but here's what the real estate listing (by Gillian DePalo, of the William Raveis agency) says:

The Bridge House ... is the culmination of a great modern architectural genius .... The house has expansive walls of glass & gorgeous sunlite rooms; both dramatic and intimate interior spaces, including the gold leaf barrel LR ceiling, the Star, Champagne, Egg and Hourglass Pavilions, and many signature designs executed personally by the architect...

It hasn't been shown on either of the Modern House Day tours I've participated in, and I'm fairly certain it wasn't on the 2001 tour that Gina worked on but I didn't. Johansen spoke at the 2004 and 2007 symposiums that preceded the tours and showed slides of it both times, so he's clearly proud of it. I wrote a long post about the tour and symposium and included much of what Johansen talked about, for my other blog; you can read it here

Johansen, by the way, is 91 and lives in Dutchess County, New York, with his wife, Ati, who is Walter Gropius's daughter. -- ta

Just what you needed: a few great architecture websites to lose yourself in for hours . . .

Nextroom, which I may have written about before, was started by the Swiss architect Juerg Meister in 1996. “At nextroom's core lies the databank, with thousands of buildings, images and texts, as selected by independent institutions. nextroom acts as the central interface for all this information. This provides us with a matrix of information, the quality and density of which are without equal.” I'll say. I go to the single-family homes tab on the list of building types, which is under the larger heading of Index Listings where you can also peruse projects by the name of people involved with the project, location, and chronology.

Then, there's World-Architects which gives you access to hundreds of mini portfolios of architects all over the globe, links to their own websites, and lots of other links to related businesses, events, publications, resources and even jobs.

Got more time to spare? There's Archinform which is a database for international architecture, originally emerging from records of interesting building projects from architecture students. It has become the largest online-database about worldwide architects and buildings from past to present. There is information on more than 18,000 built and unrealized projects from various architects and planners. The architecture of the 20th century is the main theme of this database. You can search for projects by architect, town or keyword or by using a query form. For most entries you get the name, address, keywords and information about further literature. Some entries include images, comments, links to other Websites or internal links.

Then, if your eyes have not yet melted from their sockets, there's always Danda's links list and gallery.

OK - that'll keep you busy for a while! – GF

The best of both: Melding the old architecture and the new

I have always admired the talent and restraint that some architects use when presented with a project that involves working with a preexisting structure. Here are just a few examples of mixing the ancient (or at least old) and the new, that I think are beautifully done. – GF

1 – Devanthery & Lamuniere: Suite alpestre, Grange-écurie au Val d'Hérens, Evolène VS - CH, exterior and interior; 2 – Andreas Fuhrimann Gabrielle Hächler: Alphütte Blattistafel near Gstaad, CH exterior and interior; 3 – Laurent Savioz: dwelling, Chamoson, CH, exterior and interior.

Ouch! Too much Concrete

Everywhere I look – albeit in my fairly limited areas of interest: modern, mountain, European, houses in amazing natural settings – I am seeing way too much hard, cold, boring concrete used in monstrous quantities. Sometimes I really like the design, but feel there just needs to be a break from the monolithic monotony with the introduction of another complementary material – wood, raw stone or stucco. Sometimes, even color works, as in the last 2 images here. – GF

Photos: 1 – Architect unknown, Sent, Switzerland. Photo by Gina; 2 –
Haus Presenhuber; 3 – Haus Steinegg, 4– Haus W in Frauenfeld; 5 – Baumgartner house; 6 – Einfamilienhaus S, Feldkirch