The House of the Century, designed by San Francisco design collaborative Ant Farm, as it stands today.
Credit: Chip Lord
The House of the Century was built in the wrong century. Designed and built by Doug Michels and Chip Lord of the avant-garde San Francisco design collective Ant Farm, with architect Richard Jost, this lakeside retreat near Houston, commissioned by an art patron, has an evocative, organic shape, with round living and kitchen spaces flanking a ladder-accessible tower that contains a bathroom and stacked bedrooms. Constructed from steel mesh and layers of chicken wire that were plastered, waterproofed, and coated with the cement, sand, and water mixture known as gunite, the structure has large porthole windows and an interior of wood floors and built-in wood counters and tables. A fireplace with an exposed flue was used to heat the house; the TV antenna atop the tower poked fun at a then-popular, Pop Art reference.
The structure lasted about a decade, when a flood in the mid-1980s largely destroyed the interior, leaving the structure in its current, semi-ruined state. Like all great architecture, this one evokes several interpretations: as an homage to Houston’s Apollo program, as the front of a 1930s Ford, and even as a phallic symbol of the 1960s sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll era. It also foretold 21st-century interests, such as the creation of biomorphic forms now done on the computer, the construction of buildings using design/build methods, the experimentation with low-cost materials borrowed from other industries, and the reduction of a dwelling’s size for sustainability and affordability reasons. Well-documented in several YouTube videos by Richard Jost, this house is as much, if not more, of this century as the last one.
The House of the Century, located just outside Houston, before it was ravaged by flood waters.
Credit: Chip Lord
1973 P/A Awards Jury
Hugh Hardy, FAIA
Donald Stull, FAIA