On November 11, 2010, New York artist Mary Ellen Carroll rotated a single-family home in Houston’s aging first-ring suburb, Sharpstown, a neighborhood characterized by rows of post-WWII dwellings. Lifted from the foundation, the 1,400-square-foot house was turned 180 degrees, so the front facade now faces the backyard. The complex physical and metaphorical gesture, of suburban structural inversion in a city with a lack of land-use policy, is a call for the reconsideration of how we live. After the catalytic moment, the retrofitted home, called Prototype 180, will be maintained as a place to study itself, and the surrounding area.
The original orientation of the house at 6513 Sharpstown Drive in Houston. With a group of art collectors and architects, Carroll formed an LLC to purchase the property in 2007. Because of the city’s extremely liberal land-use ordinances she says that Houston selected itself for the location for prototype.
Carroll getting ready for the rotation. With this work, the artist asks: Is architecture the protagonist or the performer in the conversation about the future of our built environment? Can a building study itself?
The artist’s neighbor surveys preparations. Working with civic groups, like neighborhood protection and business associations, and the county parks and recreation department, Carroll is going to use the house as a think tank about public and private space, the limitations of the municipal grid, and ideas that can benefit the community.
In order to complete the turn, the structure had to be lifted off of the concrete slab foundation. Unlike pier-and-beam construction, the nature of the slab made the logistics particularly complicated.
The hydraulic grid that controlled the jacks, which lifted the house up five feet to get it on the trailer for the move.
Carroll and architect Charles Renfro greet the spectators the morning of the rotation. Renfro likened the project to the tradition of monumental land art projects in the 1960s by artists like Robert Smithson.
Under the supervision of Cherry Structural Movers, the house glides out of the narrow lot. During the rotation, the action streamed live; the site will continue to monitor the project's process.
To make the rotation, the house had to make a three point turn in the street.
As the house moved down the street, there was a moment when the architecture completely disappeared from the view of the audience seated at the south end of the lot. Here you can also see how the property backs into Bayland Park. When Carroll first sited the project, this was a critical aspect because a reorientation here allows punctuation, a place for the public sphere to physically seep into private space.
A dedicated crowd watching the final moments of the rotation. As a collaborative work, many people there have been a part of the project, and will be in the future. The diverse group includes policy makers, park workers, beekeepers, museum curators, corporations, and architecture students and professors at the University of Houston, Rice University, and Columbia University.
The house glides back into the lot. In the coming months, everything from the architectural fixtures to the landscaping will be a site for conversations about prototyping, sustainability, and innovative design. Carroll has already patented a hydroponic curtain wall for growing plants, worked on rainwater collection systems, and helped develop a ceramic exterior paneling for the building that will help cool the house in the damp and hot climate.