Houston’s West End is a neighborhood unmistakably in transition. The homes cluttering Floyd, Rose and Reinicke Street are a hodgepodge of simple one-story brick and wood-paneled houses, various tin structures born of the area's 1990s flirtation with the tin house movement, and newly-constructed, brightly-painted stucco condos. Tucked away in this neighborhood lacking in visual unity, is the Tempietto Zeni.
The home and studio of architect Frank Zeni, this metal fortress is impossible to miss. Built in 1990 and designed by Zeni himself, the house is a three-and-a-half story metal garage-like structure with an open front, offset by three large Ionic columns. The entire first floor serves as a studio, the second floor is divided between an open balcony and Zeni’s kitchen, and, finally, the third floor consists solely of Zeni’s spacious and artistically decorated bedroom.
“I wanted a loft house and the buildings at the time were too big for me,” Zeni says. “Those buildings made me feel lonely and kind of isolated so I decided to build my own loft here in this neighborhood.”
Despite its awe-inspiring exterior, Zeni says the house is traditional in its own way.
“The DNA of Houston architecture seems to be basically a bungalow with a porch. And that’s what this is, just larger. "
Because real estate was less expensive when he began building his house, ten to 15 other tin houses popped up in the neighborhood over the next year, Zeni recalls. These homes were a part of a movement that started during the 1970s with the first tin house built at 507 Roy Street, about three blocks from Tempietto Zeni. Zeni says affordability and quick construction times helped tin houses became so popular. “It took about a week to build this house,” Zeni said. “It was easy because the house was basically already made because it’s metal so we just brought in a crane to set it up. It was like erecting a toy kit.”
Since then, many of the other tin houses in the neighborhood have been razed and replaced by those lovely candy-colored stucco condos. (Houston's original tin house was demolished in 2011.)
And so the West End goes, one of this ephemeral cities most ephemeral area.
Still, Zeni says he enjoys living there.
“I enjoy the neighborhood. It’s been pretty nice for the last thirty years,” Zeni said.