Cecil Alexander’s circular house in Atlanta, on the cover of Florida Architect in April 1958. Finished in 1957, the house was featured in Life magazine in November of that year, and in Progressive Architecture in November 1959.
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Pioneering African-American architect Joseph W. Robinson designed this modernist round house in 1956, at a time when architecture as a profession was largely closed to black Americans –
The house is located in the iconic African-American neighborhood of Collier Heights, built to house the cream of black, middle-class Atlanta. Residents like the Reverend Ralph Abernathy and attorney Donald B. Hollowell organized civil rights protests, led get-out-the-vote efforts, and changed the world for the better.
“Collier Heights was built by blacks for blacks and financed by blacks,” said Juanita Abernathy, Reverend Abernathy’s widow.
Collier Heights has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. During African-American History Month, the National Register of Historic Places is highlighting some of the historic properties that exemplify African-American achievement.
That’s how Life magazine described this 1957 modernist showpiece, designed by architect Cecil Alexander, who studied under Bauhaus masters Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius at Harvard in the 1940s –
Located in Atlanta’s wealthy Buckhead neighborhood, the house was falling apart when Theodore and Susan Pound bought it in 2005. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars restoring it, relying, in part, on blueprints and advice from the original architect.
“You seem so normal to us, you don’t seem like a contrarian,” Mr. Pound told [Cecil Alexander] recently. “But this house is such a basically nonconformist idea. It’s still something of a mystery to me: why is it round?”
Mr. Alexander, a jovial raconteur with a razor-sharp memory, has an explanation for everything. “My first plans were L’s or squares or rectangles,” he told the Pounds. “But then I realized those shapes waste so much space — a circle is compact, it gives you the maximum interior room for the minimum amount of exposed wall.”
The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2010. The registration form explains that Alexander built the house for his family’s use, and that the circular plan ensured that the family would get together at least once or twice a day. As the architect told Progressive Architecture in a 1959 interview, “lt was our conception that the family should feel itself a unit — thus, the circular plan …. The central covered and sky-lighted court has constituted a constant place of meeting.”
The Orcutt House, in Worthington, Ohio, “comprises two interpenetrating circles.” Built in 1958, its design, by architect Theodore van Fossen, reflects Frank Lloyd Wright’s principles of organic architecture. Now on sale for $749,000.
Another round house is available in Dalton, Georgia, for a mere $125,000. Built in 1972, it’s a two-story house with exposed beams.