Making Wright Right

Land Mark Documents

As we start

Where the story begins

The house was offered to my father by Herbert and Catherine Jacobs, when they were departing to California and we as a family were coming to Madison. My father was coming to be a University of Wisconsin Madison history professor. The house was only about 15 years old and in fine shape. { some history and photos } I purchased the house 20 years later from my mother and restored it based on my understanding of the needs. I did not work with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation because they could not tell me what I did not already know. I went into this to fine tune a wonderful design and home.

Solar that works

The Solar Hemicyclo is often referred to as Jacob's II. It was the second house built for Herb and Catherine Jacobs. It was built in 1948 for about $20,000. The house was just short of being one half of a donut in shape. The structure of the house was a massive limestone set of walls which were made of native limestone. They were about 3' thick since they were double. A window wall made from pine and used store glass windows filled the inner circle and faced due south.

The north walls went up about 4' above the second floor and ended in a strip of windows about 18" high which wrap all around the outer circle of the house with the only break being at the central tower. Also to the north was an earth berm. This was for winter insulation and summer cooling. Since the approach to the house was from the northeast, a tunnel was designed to run through the massive structure and allow direct access to the entrance in the south window wall.

The third very distinctive design aspect was the roof with its characteristic "C" shape. The overhang was such that the sun was kept out of the house as it went north for the summer, and came fully into the house in the winter when the sun traveled in a more southern route east to west.

The design works. On the coldest winter day, if there is sun, the house is warm and the heat does not need to run. The mass of the floor and stone allow some of that heat to be used later.

The other heat source was a radiant floor. What a wonderful way to heat! The heat rising from such a large surface allows a much lower than normal house temperature. Going barefoot during the winter on a concrete slab is a very enjoyable experience. The heat is much more even than in a house which uses radiators and humidity always stays about 50%.

Space that works

The house has a round tower about 15' in diameter which sits off-center on the east end of the house and about exactly centered on the back wall. This provides the staircase route to the upstairs and room for the main bathroom there and a utility room downstairs. It also bounded the kitchen on the bottom floor to the east, and the master bedroom upstairs.

The second floor is a balcony which is suspended by iron rods from the roof. It sits such that the ceilings on the first floor are about 6'4" high( more between the rafters ). Upstairs there are a few extra inches.

The house is one large room divided functionally in the downstairs. The dining area is just past the central tower from the kitchen and main entrance. Then you have the attraction of the large fireplace for a main house gathering point. The narrowness by the pool separates the far end into yet another functional area that has been used as anything from a TV room to an office. The downstairs is about 1500 square feet and does not force any particular usage.

The balcony total area is about 1000 square feet. Most of it is west of the tower and master bedroom. Historically, this space has adapted to those who lived there. Some combination of open space and bedrooms has always existed. The rest has alternated from all open sleeping space to the 4 bedrooms when I grew up there, to the current 2 large bedrooms separated by a large open sitting area.

The front of the balcony sits about 4 or so feet back from the window wall allowing heat to rise out of the downstairs and heat the upstairs during the winter heating season. The balcony railing is particularly well suited for sitting and watching thunderstorms roll past at night out past the window wall.

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Last modified: 3/8/2009