Seymour Rutkin, Architect/Consultant
After attending and lecturing at architecture
and housing conventions all over the world for 15 years, architect
Seymour (Sy) Rutkin came to a conclusion. "After years
of lecturing on the importance and flexibility of uses of
shell-shaped structures", explains Rutkin, " I realized
I needed to turn the theoretical into the aesthetic."
And thus he began the labor of turning a lifetime of interest,
theory and planning into a 2,400 square foot curved shell
residence for himself and his wife in the Catskill Mountains.
Different than Buckminster Fullers
geodesic dome, Rutkins curved shell is a more organic
form and breaks out of the bonds of a dome. Rutkin explains,
"This is an example of a free-form double-curve construction.
It resembles shapes found in nature like those found in a
leaf. This type of structure allows for the development of
non-conical shapes that create stronger buildings."
Since the creation of a shell shaped
house is not the customary brick-and-mortar type construction
found normally in the Catskills, Rutkin found it difficult
to obtain a general contractor comfortable taking on the job.
So, he took it upon himself. Working closely with manufacturers
from the Monolithic Dome Institute, Rutkin was able to design
an air-form shell to his exact specifications. The shape of
the house is formed within Rutkins reusable air shell.
The form was sprayed on the interior with foam insulation.
Next, steel reinforcements were attached to the interior side
of the insulation and sprayed with concrete. Once the air
form is removed the exterior of the concrete shell is sprayed
with what Rutkin refers to as its "protective skin."
The arched south façade looks
onto the surrounding hills and valleys. Constructed almost
entirely of glass, the wall is 85 feet long and 24 feet high
at its highest point. Rutkin points out that New York State
energy codes precluded him from making the southern wall entirely
glass as he had originally envisioned. Ever the optimist,
Rutkin did not see the restriction as a setback --"The
porcelain-finished panels allowed me to play with a range
of colors to give an accent to the design." Rutkin has
found that the double glass and the panels keep his home comfortable
during all forms of extreme weather endured in upstate New
Almost all areas of the house benefit
from the glass wall. The 45-foot living/dining area benefits
from the light as does the lofted studio reached via the spiral
staircase. All three lower-level bedrooms of the Rutkin residence
are enclosed by the glass southern wall. Rutkin and his houseguests
have more than simply the view from their bedroom windows,
each room has its own door that leads out to the 1,800-square
foot terrace. Placed on tamped earth, the sprawling terrace
is constructed of terracotta-colored concrete.
Cross-ventilation became a creative challenge
to tackle. With the glass-section completed on the south façade,
Rutkin had to consider his options for apertures on the opposite
side of the house. Due to this section of the house being
rounded, Rutkin worried that rectangular windows could ruin
the aesthetic of the shape; however, the cost of round windows
was prohibitive. With a little nautical-themed inspiration,
he found a way to circumvent the cost. "Did you know
that one small round window can cost upwards of $2,000?"
Rutkin muses "but if you order them from a ship supply
catalog it costs less than $300 per window."
With the successful completion of his
house, Rutkin is now, with more authority, able to teach from
his own experience. Rutkin envisions this as the beginning
of "a new vocabulary of shell buildings appropriate for
housing, schools, theaters, religious buildings, and commercial
spaces." He can now speak from his own hands-on practice
about building shell forms for any purpose, anywhere in the
2,400 sq. ft.