Fig. 1 – Cross section through the Vhouse extends from the front porch on Lyons Ave to the rear yard.

The VHouse is an affordable single-family prototype for the Houston non-profit Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (FWCRD). It was initially commissioned in 1999 for ‘Sixteen Houses: Owning a House in the City’, an exhibition at Houston’s Diverse Works gallery. Working in collaboration with the FWCRD, architect Michael Bell asked sixteen design teams to propose cost effective residences for Houston’s Fifth Ward, a once-thriving, historically Black neighborhood (figs. 2 and 3). With results ranging from highly conceptual to quietly traditional, six of the projects, including VHouse, were selected by jury to be constructed under a new United States federal voucher program providing down-payment assistance to qualifying families (ref. 3).

Fig. 2 – The Fifth Ward with downtown Houston skyline in the distance.

Fig. 3 – Semi-abandoned shotgun-style houses in the Fifth Ward.

Fig. 4 – Fifth Ward intersection (source: Michael Bell, Sixteen Houses, Owning a House in the City).

Fig. 5 – Overhang collects air streams which would otherwise escape, enhancing incoming air flow.

Houston’s hot, humid subtropical climate is one of two key drivers of our design: Most available housing in this market requires air conditioning for much of the year and small, often inoperable windows, give families no options when over time, many are unable to keep up with the cost of electricity to cool their homes. The second driver is the perceived – and actual – lack of security resulting from the disintegration of a cohesive street edge in many Fifth Ward blocks including Lyons Avenue (fig. 4).


Given the affordability of long, narrow single-story shotgun style homes that made them accessible to generations of families, we asked: Could the traditional shotgun type be ‘tweaked’ to better address both climatic and community security concerns?

Fig. 6 – Cross section through the Vhouse extends from the rear yard to the front porch on Lyons Ave.

A single gable roof is tilted up, and extended out toward the street forming a double-height porch on Lyons Ave. A smaller fold at the rear draws air flow through the house (fig. 5). An armature of ceiling fans enhances cross-ventilation, extending from the front porch, through the living room and hallway terminating with a bug zapper at the back porch (fig. 6).

Fig. 8 – Four VHouses on Lyonns Ave

Fig. 9 – VHouse components

Fig. 10 – View of back porch

Fig. 11- Front porches of four VHouses create a semi-public arcade along Lyons Ave.

Conceived of in series running along Lyons Ave. (fig. 8), on hot summer days, a row of  VHouses  produces a shaded, semi-public arcade along the sidewalk, and at night, is a well-lit, visibly interconnected zone of neighborhood life (fig. 11).

Fig. 5 – Roof plan, upper level plan, first floor plan and 3-D projection showing ceiling fans (top to bottom).

Fig. 6 – East elevation (top), west elevation (bottom)

Fig. 7 – North elevation (top), south elevation (bottom)


Houston TX, USA




1450 sqf


Single-family house

systems and materials:

Steel Frame & Prefabricated Concrete Panels, galvanized sheet metal, wood, stone, glass


Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation

project team:

Lindy Roy with Mark Kroeckel (Openshop/Studio), Albert Angel, Karen Bullis, Chris Perry, Eric Schultz, and Paul Stewart

related projects:



Diverse Works, ‘16 Houses’

Henry Urbach Architecture, ‘X-Roy Projects’

SFMoMA, ‘ROY Design Series 1′

selected press and publications:

Michael Bell, 16 Houses: Designing the Public’s Private House (Monacelli, 2003)

Julia Hasting, ed., 100 Architects 10 Critics (Phaidon, 2005)

Joseph Rosa, ROY Design Series 1 (SFMoMA, 2003)

Architecture (January 1999)

Business Day (December 12, 2007)


Ref. 2 - Single family house construction components (source: Michael Bell, 16 Houses, 'Owning a House in the City').

Ref. 3 - Diverse Works community comment card.