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the August 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No.
A House for Every Season
Andrea Freund, Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung (conservative), Frankfurt, Germany,
May 17, 2001
Formidable, fortified, and immovable with large windows facing
southwest. This is how people built their homes more than
800 years ago in Horstmar, in Germanys Münsterland
region, back in the days when noble families resided in the
towns castle and surrounded it with some eight retainer
farms for protection. The castle was destroyed long ago, and
only four of the farms have been preserved. But recently,
at the heart of the oldest one, Borchorster Hof, a new chapter
in Horstmars residential history began.
On a plot of land on the edge of the historic town center
with its robust brick buildings, within only two days, a light,
airy house was screwed and welded together from just four
sections. Besides boasting the benefits of modular and energy-saving
homes, this one can turn to face the sun.
Margarete and Hermann Krafelds two sons called their
parents crazy when they heard their sudden enthusiasm for
this unusual construction concept. But the elder Krafelds
thought the invention was brilliant. Developed by Ernst Osswald,
a Swabian building contractor from Zoltingen in southwestern
Germany, this pivoting house consists of a steel circle mounted
almost at ground level, into which 960 30-millimeter (1.2-inch)
balls, each smaller than a golf ball, are set at a somewhat
lower level. This ball-bearing device is driven by a 1.5-horsepower
motor that consumes just 200 German marks [US$90] of electricity
a year. Together, they form the heart of a house that never
has to stand in the shade.
To make room for it, Hermann Krafeld, the owner of a local
wedding and evening-wear store, cleared the piece of land
he had inherited from his father. On the first day of construction,
more action was going on in the Krafelds street alone
than in the entire town of 6,715 inhabitants. At sunrise,
two trucks squeezed their way into the narrow street after
having traveled overnight to deliver the four house sections.
The two halves of the ground floor and two halves of the upper
floor were rendered white on the outside, wallpapered, and
equipped with lamps, power sockets, and kitchen tilesalmost
like building blocks for an oversized dollhouse, except this
one has 188 square meters (225 square yards) of living space.
At first, the construction site looked something like a playground.
A kindergarten class even took advantage of the spring morning
for an outing to watch in awe as the crane lifted the first
half of the ground floor, heaved it over a hedge, and with
a swing, slowly placed it onto the steel circle, half of which
then disappeared. The motor that drives the revolving device
is situated beneath the house, making it resemble a model
rather than a modular home. While the builders were still
busy working on the steel girders for the terrace, which of
course will revolve with the house, someone started up the
motor, and the building began to turn even before the roof
was in place.
Until a few years ago, Osswald, a site engineer and master
bricklayer by trade, worked on conventional German houses.
One day while watching his children at play, he saw them place
a plank on some marbles so that it could revolve. That should
be possible with a house, he thought to himself, realizing
that such a construction could save a lot of energy.
Itching to see if his idea would work, Osswald finally got
together with an acquaintance and developed and patented his
captivatingly simple concept. Although there are other revolving
houses in Germany, they are either suitable only for wood-frame
homes or are substantially more expensive. Above all, they
usually tower in the air on top of a support, or the support
has to be sunk into the ground, which makes it impossible,
or at least difficult, to build a basement. In contrast, Osswalds
ball-bearing frame is almost at ground level, making it easy
to add a basement.
By the next evening, the house was ready. Inside, the noiseless
revolving mechanism can be operated by a switch, forward and
backward, slow and fast. But this is no carousel: A complete
rotation requires 60 minutes. Most owners of such houses set
them to rotate slowly at a prespecified rate to follow the
course of the sun, thus taking full advantage of its rays.
This floods the house with light and enables the suns
warmth to be stored via the parquet floor and walls.
The Krafelds hope to reduce their energy consumption by 40
percent by means of the torque alone. Another 60 percent will
be gained from the use of solar cells and insulation, employed
by Germanys 1,000 or so self-heating houses. A Reimlingen
family living in an Osswald house has reduced its energy costs
to 500 marks [$225] a year. According to Osswalds calculations,
the ball-bearing frame, which costs 18,000 marks [$8,130],
pays for itself in eight years. The entire house costs less
than 400,000 marks [$180,652].
For the Krafelds, who lived in an apartment over their store,
it was not only easy to move into this house with its enormous
kitchen and a guaranteed place in the sun. It was also the
start of a new life. Since vacationing on Crete two years
ago, Mrs. Krafeld has suffered the aftereffects of Legionnaires
disease. Krafeld visited his wife in a clinic every day and
strolled with her in a wheelchair to sit in the sun, noticing
that she would immediately brighten up. After realizing that
the sun was good for her, he began looking for an appropriate
house. And now they have it.