Projects   Residential – House of the Month – January 2004
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Rutkin/Teicher Residence

Photos © Steve Gross & Sue Daley

Floor plan
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Roxbury, N.Y.
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 Fuller’s geodesic dome, Rutkin’s 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 Rutkin’s 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 York.

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 world.

By Randi Greenberg

Gross square footage:
2,400 sq. ft.

Total construction cost:

View complete specs

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