Home Despots

At DiverseWorks, architects offer better living through architecture

Architects like William Williams and Archie Pizzini take a counter-position: that houses have developed the way they have for a reason. "Open plans," they note, "may place a strain on a family with children of different ages." Their Flip Flop House is a more-gorgeous-than-usual version of your basic floor plan, with skinny modernistic windows scattered throughout like an exploded Mondrian painting. He proposes to purchase materials and labor from within the Fifth Ward, thus creating a multiplier effect for the $65,835 spent to build the house.

John Casbarian and Danny Samuels, working with Nonya Grenader and Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe, have designed a stunningly simple rectangle of a house whose pitched roof allows for a vaulted ceiling in front and an attic bedroom in back, for an estimated cost of only $40,000 for three bedrooms (most architects achieved something near the target construction cost of $65,000). Their display includes a game board on which viewers or prospective clients can assemble tiny modules into floor plans to meet their needs.

For all their innovation with materials and the startling beauty of their designs, these architects will not be able to easily reinsert themselves into new systems of urban living. Architects have to continue to shave costs, yet the savings that mass production of modules and other components produces don't kick in until more than a few versions of a house are constructed. The architects have to find clients who embrace their ideas. (The CRC is applying for grant money to build the six houses on spec, but if funding doesn't come through they'll need to have buyers lined up.) And they have to adjust their designs for real, rather than abstract, sites and clients.

Yet "16 Houses" shouldn't be taken to task for its lack of airtight pragmatism. The point of this optimistic show is, more than anything else, to exercise the contemplation of possibilities. "The erosion of tradition," one Rice School of Architecture poster reads, "demands your intervention." At its warm, fuzzy, utopian core, this exhibit hopes that changing your surroundings will enable you to imagine a different life, and that kids who grow up in glass houses learn to live large and for the world, not in refuge from it.

"16 Houses: Owning a House in the City" is on view at DiverseWorks, 1117 E. Freeway, 223-8346, through December 19.

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