“Steel House”, an iconic piece of Panhandle architecture, is on sale
At the edge of a canyon in the suburb of Lubbock, Robert Bruno’s “House of Steel” stands. It looks a bit like a rusty steel spaceship on four slender legs. Bruno worked on the house for over three decades until his death in 2008. The house has been vacant ever since. Now, it’s for sale.
Marc Lamster, architecture critic for The Dallas Morning News, spoke to Texas Standard about Bruno’s work and the future of the house. Listen to the interview in the audio player above or read the transcript below.
This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: Can you describe where the house is and what it looks like?
Mark Lamster: It’s set up, perched on a ridge cliff in Ransom Canyon, which is sort of a suburb of Lubbock. And Ransom Canyon is around some sort of recreational man-made lake. And the house has this fabulous view of this lake. And you approach the house by this winding suburban-style street with very conventional houses. And then all of a sudden, as you come around the curve and reach the top of this hill that it’s on, you see this amazing patch of steel from a house, this biomorphic masterpiece sitting there on four slender legs perched above the canyon.
When did Bruno start building this house?
Bruno started working on it in the early 1970s. He then became a Texas Tech faculty member at the school of architecture. He was not really an architect; he was there to sort of teach art, and he would also become independently wealthy through his own inventiveness. His wife was interested in environmentalism and now worked at the local water board. And for her, he invented this kind of irrigation valve that became very popular in Texas and the Southwest, and the small business that he and his wife started to sell it had become very, very successful.
So that gave him the means to do whatever he wanted, and what he wanted to do was build himself a house by hand. And that’s what he did. It was truly a sculpture he worked on for 30 years, until his death in 2008.
He only lived in the house a few months before his death, although construction was not completed. Do we know anything about these few months?
Bruno only lived there for the very last months of his life at that time. He had developed cancer, and I think he really wanted to experience the home while he could at the very end of his life. But it was never really about having a house in itself. The house has always been an artistic sculptural project, so it was never completed. Many pieces are left incomplete and unfinished. So it was hardly a house, even when he lived there.
Why is this a piece of architecture that deserves our attention?
First of all, it is an extraordinary artistic achievement and a work of immense individuality – great individuality, attention and creativity. And it’s amazing, he has a unique and really engaging presence, and he’s truly an icon of his moment. It is an icon of the region with a long history of being a tourist magnet and a magnet for the community.
But it is also a very important achievement of his period in the 1970s and beyond. But it’s a little out of the 1970s, this idea of a biomorphic architecture located in the West. And I think there is something incredibly pure and beautiful about it, as well as the innocence and inventiveness with which it was created.
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