Robert Bruno, architect and sculptor of the Steel House, 1945-2008

Robert Bruno’s Metal Mansion  |  Ransom Canyon, TX
On-going  sculpture/home since 1973
(On April 12 of 2008, I had a great afternoon at the home of Robert Bruno.  This is an excerpt from my blog that day )
I headed to Ransom Canyon to meet the Rare Visions (RVRR) guys and renowned sculptor/architect Robert Bruno for lunch.  After the guys headed on to more Texan attractions, I headed to Robert’s home known as the Metal Mansion.  Woah.  Another one of those “there it is!” moments.  
Robert began his sculptural home in 1973, with a very fluid and organic plan.  Trained as a sculpture, he moved to Lubbock from Mexico to teach at Texas Tech.  A bit dismayed by the flat local landscape, he soon discovered an anomaly at Ransom Canyon. Even as you near the canyon, you can’t truly see it, as it is carved into the flat landscape.  But here you will find a vista with more drama, while keeping all of the incredible vast Texan sky.  This proved to be a perfect setting for his home.
Over the years, the look and structure of Robert’s home has changed dramatically.  Originally intended to be 1 story,  he kept adding on, carving away, adjusting walls, etc.  All of the walls in the home are either welded metal, or original glass/stained glass creations.  All designed to optimize light and his visual experience.  Walls were removed to increase visual vistas, stained glass added to create contrast to the rusted metal (with a subtle nod to his love of catholic iconography and visual language, as well as the old churches of Mexico).  Not limited to expressions in glass and metal, Robert also created a beautiful wooden entry table of fluid lines and delicate grace.  And he does it all himself, setting this home apart from a typical architectural project with other draftsmen and craftsmen contributing.  (unlike another famed architect known for his fluid organic style.
After 35 years of  work, he just moved into his masterpiece last month.  When asked what was the tipping point for the move (thinking it was something structural, mechanical, etc.)  he simply said the his lease was up at his old place.
I spent a way-too-short-few hours visiting with Robert, a most gracious host and kind, creative soul.

(all photos ©2008-9 Kelly Ludwig, Detour Art, all right reserved)
AIArchitect November 2007
Against Interpretation: Robert Bruno’s house of welded steel conjures up many meanings, but it arose without any of them

“For 33 years, Robert Bruno has meticulously designed and built his welded steel house on the edge of a canyon outside of Lubbock, Tex. But, somehow, he’s not sure how many square feet it is (his guess is 2,700) and he can’t explain the influences that have informed his design over these three decades—despite the fact that the house’s otherworldly shape seems tailor-made for free association. A brief jaunt through any design-oriented mind brings you to: an insect’s carapace, an alien spacecraft, M.C. Escher’s hallucinogenic maze-scapes, and perhaps Deconstruction’s ongoing War on the Rectangle. But Bruno isn’t an entomologist, a science fiction writer, or even a Koolhaas/Gehry acolyte. He’s an artist, and not a conceptual one. “This house doesn’t deal with concept at all,” he says. “I’m not trying to have something re-emerge in the guise of my house.”The house hitches itself to no stylistic wagons and has been spontaneously designed and revised over the course of its 33-year construction. “What you’re seeing is 33 years of design, not three months of design and 33 years of labor,” Bruno says. If he would have had to design the house in full initially and then build to this exact standard, “I would feel as if I were working for somebody else,” he says. This is a literal distinction for Bruno. He began the house when he was a young man, age 29. Today he’s 62, and the majority of his years have been spent working on the house; an open film exposure documenting his aesthetic development and intent.Bruno says this type of spontaneous, whimsical design is what creates the aesthetic complexity people crave, missing from most of the built environment around us, and largely absent from the practice of architecture itself. “It isn’t that we’re looking for the silliness of a maze,” he says. “We’re looking at a higher order of complexity.” The crux of the problem: Market realities demand that architects communicate to clients what a project will be before it exists through imperfect, distorting mediums like models. From this point on, Bruno says the scale is manipulated and details are whitewashed in the transition. “Inadvertently, what ends up happening is that the resolution at the model level is potentially quite different from what you would resolve at full scale. I would venture to say that almost all the large buildings we see around us are the replica and the original is the model,” he says.”