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worker sawing metal with a saw, sparks fly

Perched on cliffy terrain above Lake Ransom Canyon in Lubbock, Texas, it could be prehistoric; it could be alien.  But based on the preferences of its former owner, designer, and builder all wrapped up in one, it’s likely an homage to Antoni Gaudi, the Spanish architect who built but never finished Sagrada Familia.  

Like Gaudi’s whimsical church, the Steel House was never finished, and you can see in its odd curves, its arched interior spaces, its grand scale, the influence the Spaniard had.  If you’ve never seen Gaudi’s work, you’ll be alright. Just think Star Wars; envision a rust colored behemoth that is somewhere between Bantha and stegosaur. And that’s just on the outside!  The interior is something akin to a hobbit’s warren.

The Artist, the Art, and Not Much Else

The Steel House is the creation of Robert Bruno, who worked on the project for over 30 years before he died of cancer at the age of 64 and left the house unfinished.  Bruno constructed the 2,200 square-foot space almost entirely on his own as he hung from a crane he built especially for the project with a blowtorch in hand to weld together the steel sheets that form its shell.

Bruno was a sculptor rather than a trained architect, and the space speaks of someone who is less concerned with habitable space than with an artistic vision.  Huge curved buttresses swoop in and out of each other opening on stained glass or on eye-shaped windows that overlook the lake. A staircase reminiscent of the Hogwarts shifting staircase seems to have come together at odd angles and in uneven rises. 

 Because it was left unfinished, there are large gaps between levels and the huge hollow legs, where Bruno planned to build a library, stand empty.  But this is truly a steel marvel. To enter, you cross a steel bridge of sorts, holding on to a twining steel guard rail. Inside, shifting floors of steel and rolling walls lead to windows that are laced in asymmetric patterns of steel.  

Art for Art’s Sake?

The irony of this unfinished architectural wonder is that there may never have been a plan to complete it.  Bruno was less concerned with finishing than he was with creating “something that has some aesthetic value.”  

He was known to undo months of hard work because it no longer suited his artistic vision.  Perhaps, its best that the structure stands incomplete as another of Bruno’s whimsys had been to plaster the walls with the casts of naked women, a fusion between the soft body and hard steel.  

The Steel House is owned now by a former employee of Bruno’s, who, once again, in a moment of whimsy, bequeathed the house to the worker.  It is open for tours, so if you find yourself in Lubbock and want to see a visionary use of steel, stop in to explore what feels, at times, like you’re wandering through an artist’s mind.