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).
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?
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).
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).
Houston TX, USA
systems and materials:
Steel Frame & Prefabricated Concrete Panels, galvanized sheet metal, wood, stone, glass
Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation
Lindy Roy with Mark Kroeckel (Openshop/Studio), Albert Angel, Karen Bullis, Chris Perry, Eric Schultz, and Paul Stewart
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)