Critic Mark Lamster on the unfulfilled promise of Texas’ utopian architecture

by | Architecture, Design, Home

When we could’ve had sexy saucers and shapes, why, in Texas, do we still build haciendas, castles and châteaux?


Austin may claim the mantle of Texas weirdness, but if you drive around enough, you’ll find that the whole state is a little bit barmy—and that’s just the architecture, never mind the people or the politics. Domes for living, flying saucers, stacked shipping containers, biomorphic structures of all shapes and sizes, communities of concrete houses that look like they’re inhabited by Smurfs: Texas is a land of architectural seekers, drawn here by its broad, open spaces and the sense of personal freedom that has been a defining characteristic since the pioneer days. These seekers are an optimistic lot; always facing west, looking toward that expansive cartoon-like horizon, and the brighter future that is tomorrow. Cliché? Maybe. Okay, definitely. But clichés become clichés because, at some deep level, they embody truths.

The Bruno House’s otherworldly interior.

Of course,the utopian dreams of utopian dreamers don’t always work out, which explains the many relics of yesterday’s future found across the state. In the early 1970s, the collective Ant Farm, perhaps best known for Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch, put up a wonky organic dwelling in lush woods outside of Houston. They dubbed it the House of the Century, but it barely made it to ours and is now a weeded-over ruin. In the Lubbock suburb of Ransom Canyon, the biomorphic steel home of sculptor Robert Bruno sits empty and incomplete after his death from cancer in 2008. In Rockwall and Royse City, you can find two Futuro houses, fiberglass-reinforced plastic bubble homes designed in Finland, in various states of disrepair. And yet we dream on. What is Dallas if not a place of the imagination? Approach it from a distance, and it shimmers, a would-be Emerald City. Arrival proves a reality that is somewhat different. But there is always tomorrow.

MARK LAMSTER is the architecture critic for The Dallas Morning News and is on the faculty of the David Dillon Center for Texas Architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington.