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Inversion House – Houston, Texas

When a building gets towards the end of its useful life, the natural instinct is to tear it down and start again. This happens with buildings all over the world, because we want to start out with something new and fit for purpose. A building may be in poor repair or what it was built for has gone, so we start again. Urban renewal is often in the news. It is an important part of keeping the towns and cities we live in fresh and vibrant. But at times, there are buildings that we might want to protect – even though their use has gone.

And that is what the Inversion House – Houston, Texas is. These were a pair of buildings that had served people well as homes for a number of years, but were at the point when their useful life had come to an end. Or that is what everyone thought. Losing these buildings probably wouldn’t have made a massive difference to the neighborhood. They would have been replaced with similar homes and everyone would have just got on with their life. But what happened next was quite remarkable. And it did make a vast difference to the neighborhood.

What to do with disused property

There are times when property should be torn down, so we can start again. We totally get that. But sometimes a little change to the way we think can make a massive difference. Artists Dan Havel and Dean Ruck decided that they could make something different out of these buildings that were already scheduled for demolition. They decided that this didn’t have to be the fate they faced. It was a bold move for a couple of artists, to showcase their talent in a residential neighborhood, but that’s the route they chose.

Using boards reclaimed from the outside of the two buildings, they constructed something that has become iconic – and not just in Houston. These buildings were known across the globe for the unusual and innovative way they were converted and salvaged for the local people. The boards were used to create a vortex (kind of like a funnel) between the two houses. One of the magical elements of this was the fact that the hole at the center of the funnel was only small enough for children to fit through. It became a mystical place for adults, but somewhere of immense fun for the kids. The legend of the Inversion House – Houston, Texas was starting to form.

A place in the community – for the community

The buildings themselves were renovated and made safe for people to use. In fitting with the way they looked, the two homes that became the Inversion House – Houston, Texas were transformed into an exhibition space and held art classes. What an inspiring place to learn all about art! The vortex led to a courtyard where kids could play and spend time in the outside world to fire their imagination.

The Inversion House did more than just salvage a couple of old buildings that were heading for demolition. It became an icon and inspiration for art in the community. It is easy to measure the cost of demolishing and rebuilding. Quantity surveyors and architects do this all the time. What is impossible to measure is the impact of an amazing building on a community. The Inversion House continues to inspire, long after it actually ran out of time and was demolished in 1985. But in between these times, the building got people interested in art, looking at this beautiful design and wondering what they can achieve. Isn’t that what human spirit is all about?

The movement continues in Houston, Texas with the Inversion Coffee House an extension of the original idea that we can all still visit today. A quote from their website says –

“The eye of the artist turns everything upside-down. New perspectives. Fresh ideas. Uncommon inspirations.”

If the Inversion House has had at least something to do with this inspiring way of looking at the world, then we have conformation that a building can truly make a difference. Saving every building from demolition isn’t possible – or even practical. But making a difference with the ones we save should be the guiding principle behind this.

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