Architect Gilbert Spindel’s round houses — escaping “the monotony of the rectangle”

Spindel-house-plans-retroSince moving into her round house, Sarah has been searching for more information about Gilbert Spindel, the architect who designed her “Geodesica.” In her search, she has found quite a bit about Spindel from scouring the web, finding vintage home plan books and magazines, and receiving some information from other Geodesica owners. This included a tip from reader Cathy, who shared scans of the round house design that she found in an old magazine with Sarah. Sarah was then able to track down a copy of the magazine on ebay and add it to her collection. Thank you, Cathy!!!

Round-house

Sarah writes:

I found an article about my ‘Geodesica’ floor plan in an old issue of New Homes Guide Magazine. The article goes over the floor plan and the story behind the design of the house. It features photos of the first one built in Norfolk, VA and tells how the architect Gilbert Spindel was inspired to modify the plan a bit to sell to the masses.

Main article text reads:

The home circle in the real can be most satisfying from a visual, atmospheric, and — yes, a practical viewpoint. This has been proved for many readers of this magazine who have built the round house shown or one of its smaller successors presented in the Design Section later to meet demand.

Actually, it all started with the castle-in-the-air that NEW HOMES GUIDE’s Gilbert Spindel brought to reality for the owner, interior designer Edward M. Hollbrook, A.I.D., of Norfolk, Virginia. Then Mr. Spindel, realizing the possibilities, revised the interior plan to suit more general requirements. 

While the plan has a delightful, open unity, careful designing has incorporated privacy for sleeping quarters and an orderly traffic flow. And contrary to what you might expect, there are no odd-angled, unusable spaces in any of the rooms.

From a construction standpoint this round house turned out to be economically sound. Standard unit masonry–concrete block finished with stucco–was used for the outside wall and the ring forming the living rotunda. At this central point, the house is 14 feet high, the outer circle only 8 feet. The diameter stretches to a full 60 feet.

Sarah’s efforts to learn more about Spindel’s work led her to discover his involvement with the Federal Civil Defense Administration, where he designed houses to test the affects of atomic bombs. She said:

Turns out Gilbert Spindel, the architect of my round house, worked for the FCDA after and maybe during WWII. He designed the planes and specs for the two test houses used in Operation Upshot Knothole. This was done to see the effects of atomic bomb destruction on civilian homes, automobiles etc.

You can see more about Operation Upshot Knothole on this video — the part about houses comes into view around 7:30.

This really gives new meaning to my atomic era house!

gilbert-spindel-letterAbove: Sarah has connected with other owners of round homes,who also shared their information on Spindel. Tara, who owns the Geodesica in Arkansas, shared the letter (above) from Spindel to her grandmother regarding her round house.

round-house-planAbove: Even though the house plan on the page above isn’t one of Spindel’s Geodesicas, but the text of the article further refers to the Geodesica built by Tara’s grandparents and details their excitement.

The article reads:

New approach to the circular house. As a change of pace from the monotony of the rectangle and the often box-like effect of severly modern houses, a few architects have introduced the circle into residential design. Gilbert Spindel’s completely circular Plan No. 2306 in the NHC 41st Edition has proved immensely popular. In fact, its prompted numerous letters from enthusiastic readers. (One family, the ____ of Arkansas, chartered a plane to fly across half the U.S. to see an already-constructed “round house” by designer Spindel. “We just loved it,” writes Mrs. ___. “We’ve selected our lot and plan to build this year — the first round  house, to our knowledge, in Arkansas. Thanks for giving us this unique house — and, amazingly enough, four sets of plans for $59!

In response to many requests, Mr. Spindel has designed a considerably smaller version — the one you see here. Combining a semi-circular bedroom wing and rectangular living areas, it offers a living arrangement that’s very practical. Note the covered lanai at rear, the utility “mud room” at service entry and garage storage. House is 1,620 sq. Ft.

 More house designs by Gilbert Spindel:

Gilbert-Spindel-planSarah’s research continues to produce round home plans by Spindel. She’s collected quite a few and is constantly on the look out for information on her home’s architect. Above: Spindel’s design “The Visionary”, which included two half-circle bedrooms that shared a Jack ‘n Jill style bathroom.

mid-century-round-houseplansAbove: Another Spindel plan — “the Modernist” — featured a circular dining area.

House-with-round-courtyardAbove: Spindel didn’t just make circular rooms — this plan incorporates a circular courtyard in the center of the home. Very futuristic.

mid-century-round-house

mid-century-octagon-houseAbove: Spindel added some corners in this “hexagon house.”

Sarah, thanks for sharing the results of your investigation thus far with us. And Cathy, thanks for tipping Sarah to this old reference so that she could build her library — that was so kind of you!

See all of the stories about Sarah’s Round House by clicking here.

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Comments

  1. jay says

    WAH!!! Where’s the “full screen’” button for large size viewing of these pictures. Really enjoyed this! I quickly checked the web the other day for more info on the architect and his round houses and didn’t turn up much, except for all the references to RR. Thanks so much for sharing. Another insight to MC housing.

  2. Indianatim says

    Fantastic! Super excited to see the original post and now more information about he architect – with floorplans no less! Super cool.

    • Roundhouse Sarah says

      That house is super swank! I love the round room up front and the courtyard in the back. Someone got a great deal, I hope they give it the tlc it needs.

      • Christa C says

        I do too! It isn’t in a a big tear down area…so I am hoping that isn’t the plan. It is an awesome house, I just hopes it gets the love it needs and deserves!

      • JKM says

        Swank is the perfect word – yes! What a good-looking house with tons of potential. Too bad it’s on that busy corner, near an industrial area and across from a big gas station. Who’d want to live there? With all that, the lot is better suited for commercial purposes so my bet is it’ll get scraped. Sad but true. Or (holding my breath) maybe a local professional will purchase it and revamp it for office use – perhaps a lawyer, doctor or real estate firm. The lot looks large enough to add parking.

    • Jay says

      The price is criminally insane! Sharp looking house, I didn’t see any interior pictures; I wonder if the interior was gutted. That’s a big house – 5 bedrooms & baths. The zoning probably doesn’t allow but it would make a good MCM B & B.

      • Puddletown Cheryl says

        Wow! That is beautiful. My parents built an octagon house in the early ’70′s at Pacific City Oregon with amazing views of Cape Kawanda and Haystack Rock. There was a company that sold the houses and did part of the manufacturing in a plant and put it up on site in a couple of weeks. You the got to choose your colors, cabinets, walls, carpet, wood stove etc. what a great place and views from every window.

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      Oh, wow! The best part is the round fireplace with glass doors all around. You would be able to see the fire from anywhere in the main living space–cooking, dining, sitting around with family. It’s kind of a cross between a kiva and an indoor fire pit. Oh, wow, again.

  3. Robin, NV says

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny that Mr. Spindel designed round homes? A spindle is roundish, after all.

    Love all the Spindel designed homes. The one with the round courtyard – sigh, love. The more conventional homes with round rooms (especially the round bedrooms) are whacky fantastic.

    I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more Geodesica’s. I wonder where the one in Arkansas is located? I’m an alumni of the U of A and go back every now and again.

  4. Karen says

    Here’s a link to a round house designed by Bruce Goff. It belonged to a music professor at one time. The central zone was great for playing music, an acquaintance of mine says. He also says the round shape made for an unfortunate, unintended effect: When you used the bathroom, EVERYONE could hear you! House is for sale.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoN7QHgyegA

  5. Linda Blackmore says

    My nephew and my b/i/l were builders in the 60′s through the 90′s. My nephew loved the contemporary style. He built a more “California” type round house with the cedar siding look.

  6. Drew says

    Oooh…I live in Norfolk and am going to try and track down the house mentioned in “New Homes Guide Magazine”. Coastal VIrginia is pretty traditional in terms of residential architecture, so a house like the one mentioned is a bit like finding an albino unicorn in the wild.

    Thanks!

  7. Angela says

    There’s a house similar to the “Plan 2257″ home in Fulton, Missouri. approximate address is 1717 Plaza Drive.
    I’ve driven by it many times (because I love it), and I always wondered what room was in the round part. I never would have guessed it was bedrooms! It makes sense now, that the little vertical window is the bathroom between them.

  8. Mary Elizabeth says

    A version of the round house design, the octagon house, existed in the 1850s. If you are interested in precursors of mid-twentieth century architecture, you might want to look at some examples of these houses in Connecticut:

    http://historicbuildingsct.com/?cat=37

    Octagon houses were built during the mid-19th century cultural period called “Romanticism” in music, literature and graphic arts, which grew into the Aesthetic movement later in the 19th century. Perhaps the architects were imagining a round house but hadn’t yet developed the materials and techniques that would allow them to actually produce one.

    I think the idea of living in a house that isn’t a typical box comes up in periods in which the art of living is celebrated over the art of survival. I’ve often stopped to look at the octagon houses and wondered what it would be like to live in one. I like hearing about Sarah’s work on her round house for the same reason–vicariously I can share in the kind of mystical energy her house gives her.

    Or am I being too New Age-y? :-)

    • Roundhouse Sarah says

      Not as new-agey as my mom… She insists that round houses never took off because they are bad feng shui. The energy has nowhere to rest. I know some people that have a round bed they may be getting rid of and when I mentioned it to her she said ‘oh no! You’ll never get a good nights rest in a round bed!’. Hmm… Who knows…

  9. EMiller says

    The circular courtyard reminds me of a funeral home in my area, in a good way. Their central courtyard is rectangular, but the affect is very peaceful. They enclosed theirs with a wire “roof” and made it a giant bird cage. It was really neat!

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