Self Directed: A Modern House Angled for 288’s Best Freeway Views

A little Midcentury Modern, a little Galveston: Except here, there’s a view of the oil-stained freeway and Downtown’s skyscrapers in the distance, instead of oil-stained beaches and faraway platforms. UH architecture professor and Renzo Piano Building Workshop refugee Ronnie Self‘s house for himself and MFAH museum shop book buyer Bernard Bonnet is perched on the edge of 288, just north of 59, on the Third Ward’s western freeway frontier. All the living space in the 1,600-sq.-ft. box (HCAD scores him with an extra 256 sq. ft. for that open-air central stairway, but not for the ground-floor utility room) is raised 8 ft. above ground level on a tapered slab, just high enough to peek over the sound wall. Which means that even when 288 fills up with water, Self’s house will still stay dry, above it all.


There are views in all directions from the roof deck, but only one view of Downtown inside — from the living room’s corner window. 20 lanes of usually fast-moving traffic just below mean that there probably won’t be anything to block it for some time. Closer to the bedrooms, the freeway-side wall is packed with insulation and a row of closets, to muffle the sound.

The house sits as close to the freeway as Self could get it. At the front of the house there’s a wild, grassy yard; windows on that side face the rest of the Third Ward.

Photos: Ronnie Self

26 Comment

  • I’ve often wondered about that place.

    Oh yeah and G-Town’s beaches aren’t oil stained. Those beaches are in Alabama and Louisiana and parts of Mississippi and Florida.

  • That is fugly.

  • I discovered this place a few months ago, and it instantly shot to the top of my “coolest house in Houston list.” Thanks for filling in the gaps.

  • The place must be noisy as the windows don’t appear to be double pane, just thick glass I guess. I always thought it was a small office building.

  • Creative stuff. I wouldn’t want to live there but I certainly can appreciate it.

  • Seeing it from the freeway every day, I always thought it looked unfinished and abandoned, another victim of the housing crash. Had no idea it was finished and occupied. I’m a big fan of modern, but that place could look a liiiiittle less stark and uninviting from the outside. On the plus side it’s pretty defensible given its location.

  • Every time I’ve seen this house from the freeway I’ve wondered what the inspiration was. I’m glad about this post.
    A tip of the hat to designer and residents alike! I think it’s a great, ballsy, architectural statement and certainly unique. I would love to hear stories about sound attenuation and comfort after living in it for a while. It’s inspiring! Hope it lives up to it’s wonderful first impression.

  • Looks like a really nice prison warden’s office.

  • Nice article in the New York Times Magazine. Thanks for the link.

  • That location is awful to be honest. You couldn’t pay me to live next to 288, I actually looked at some townhomes on the same street next door and the noise and pollution of the freeway was so apparent, it was a major no. Constantly hearing cars and inhaling all the car by products, never.
    However they are completely right about the views, absolutely incredible from that location and specifically from the town home that I looked at.

  • I see traffic too much each day as it is and that’s the last thing I want to look at when I’m home. Even if I’m not in it, I don’t want to look at it. I want greenery, I want comfortable chairs, I want privacy, I want warm colors instead of stark white surfaces, I want no freeway lights shining in my eyes, I want art that’s soothing, I want my windows spread out for natural light throughout the house, I want fences that don’t make me think of border security, I want a peaceful yard to walk barefoot in on a nice day, I want enough space for a family not to kill each other, and I want a roof that helicopters don’t mistake for a landing pad. Other than that, it’s pretty much the perfect house for me.

  • I drive by this house everyday to and from work. I’ve always admired it from 59 and am thrilled to see some pics of the inside. I understand this house and its location isn’t for everyone, but at least it’s unique, which is more than can be said for the McTownhomes going up in EaDo (my neighborhood) or the McMansions in the burbs.

  • Very cool house. I saw the NYT article… the photos and plan here really filled in the gaps. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Such a great house, I’ve always wondered about it! Now, will you fill my need for knowledge about the “crazy house” on Wichita near 288 and Southmore? You know the one-with the very tall spires, and maze of decks on the outside.

  • As “cool” as it may be I keep thinking it must be really:

  • Beautiful! But I can’t deal with that many stairs… can you imagine how long it would take you to unload after a run to Costco???

  • I think an architecture professor would certainly have taken all of the obvious problems with this cite into account.

    It is a very nice and seemingly comfortable house, and choosing this particularly undesirous location probably saved the owners a bundle.

  • Seeing as how they consciously excluded a garage or even parking inside the fence, I wonder how often their cars have been jacked. I know the townhomes at Bastrop and Hadley nearby have seen their fair share of property crimes, especially car breakins.

  • @marmer You have just made my day!!! Thank you so much :-) I pass by this house every day on the way to work and I’ve made up all these stories about it, so now I have some facts lol

  • I like the ‘idea’ of this house, and the view of downtown is very nice. However, what about the well-documented health affects of living near (or extremely near, in this case) freeways? Are the increased risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma, premature births and so on a worthwhile trade-off for living in a conceptual design statement? Maybe they have some kind of cool air-pollution filtration system….

  • i love it. it can be hard to find small yet refined spaces in houston without ending up at condo towers which have a whole variety of pro’s and con’s compared to surface living.

    i really like how they raised the building up off the ground as it really opens up the ability to make better use of the space in your lot, but i imagine this isn’t an affordable option for the average person and is kind of lost on a lot that close to the frwy.

    as for the highway, you’d be surprised how easy is to deal with excessive noise, but i doubt it’s really that bad inside (specially designed to insulate and all) and certainly no worse than the avg street facing apt in paris or NYC. as for health effects, i’d imagine they have a filter on the a/c and being near a freeway isn’t going to be nearly as damaging to your health as working in the construction industries are and many of those folks live to ripe old ages.

  • Love to see all the differing opinions on this house. Keep it coming!

  • @joel
    Standard home air conditioning filters will filter out larger particles, but not ozone, hydrocarbons or other chemicals. And unless the house is completely sealed, and has an outside air intake (like in a commercial building) with an upgraded type of filter system, the inside air would essentially be just unfiltered air from outside.
    As for construction workers, you are right that ‘some’ live to a ripe old age. Of course, it is also true that ‘some’ people have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived…Reality is that construction workers have a comparatively high mortality rate, and a high rate of respiratory ailments (which varies depending on their specific trade).

  • Another “hidden gem”

  • I’ve been wondering about this place for awhile! It’s great to see pics of the interior. Thanks for covering it!