An architect builds himself a house celebrating a great Houston highway

November 28, 2010

Most American architects are boringly attached to the progressivist dogmas of transit-oriented development (TOD), and sustainability (environmental that is, not financial), and they lament automobiles and roads.

So it's refreshing to discover an architect outside that tedious mold.

He's Ronnie Self of Houston TX and Paris, France where he got most of his training and was was the Architect in Charge of the Atelier Brancusi Reconstruction for the Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou. He teaches architecture at the University of Houston, and he's just built himself a spectacular house in the Third Ward an artsy, industrial, minorities area just southeast of the downtown. He bought a small lot on the 3300 block of Saint Emanuel Street which parallels the US59 Eastex Freeway close to the merge with the TX288, and forms a highway complex that is about 20 lanes wide.

Rather than cower down below the freeway's soundwalls Self has stuck his house up on pylons on a concrete slab to get a full view of the freeway, and of the Houston downtown skyline. He has a wall to ceiling window in his living room facing the traffic to get the full view of the moving vehicles. And the roof is a deck for an outside view.

New York Times picked up on it

A New York Times T-Magazine piece reports:

"The visuals are especially dramatic from the rooftop deck. Out in the open air, you are even more struck by the constant coming and going of cars, the sounds of traffic and the view that stretches from the buildings in the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the world, to Philip Johnson's Williams Tower (formerly the Transco Tower) at the Galleria.

"Self's design stresses the connection with the neighborhood as well as the site, which is covered with lovegrass and tropical plantings.

''And it's not like being 12 or 20 stories aboveground,'' he explained. ''There are very few places where you can have a relationship with the ground and the fabric of the city as well as the sky.''

"The house's interior is much quieter, largely because the wall that runs along the freeway has insulation to block most of the traffic sounds. Spend time there, and the freeway takes on the sense of a natural element, like a fast-moving river or the ebb and flow of the ocean.

"Self has even lost some of his initial misgivings about being quite that close to the highway.

''At first, I thought that we had this extraordinary view that's probably not going to be compromised and then we had this downside, the freeway,'' he said. ''Now I see it as a positive thing too -- that it is a permanent animation, something that's interesting in itself.''

TOLLROADSnews 2010-11-28

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