Inspired by the shotgun houses of the Gulf Coast, architect Zui Ng set out to create a modern version that could adapt to any lot. Calling it the Shotgun Chameleon, he built a prototype home for his family in Houston’s Fourth Ward (Freedmen’s Town).
Reflecting the buildings on both sides, it is clad in wood and metal, which are slatted to allow for light and breeze to enter while simultaneously allowing for privacy from the apartments next door. The entire home (e.g. placement of windows and angle of roof) is designed for cross ventilation and passive heating and cooling.
The “Chameleon” in the title refers both to the home’s adaptability to place as well as to moments in time. Ng designed it to divide into separate apartments to reflect his changing family. When he first moved in, he left the interior stairway open and his mother lived downstairs. Now the stairwell is closed and he, his wife and young daughter live in the 750-square-foot upstairs. The downstairs is rented out as a separate flat, now accessible via an exterior door.
“There’s different ways to live free. I’ve seen people, they move to the middle of nowhere and they move into a car or something to live free. That’s one way. Me and my wife, right now, we are kind of living free. The rent for the bottom unit actually pays for the mortgage.”
In order to keep the build affordable, Ng (ZDES Studio) and his wife created most of the interior themselves: building cabinets and furniture (some hacked from IKEA and Home Depot), staining the plywood, designing and installing steel countertops from leftover siding, and even creating wooden, sliding pocket doors.
“With the digital age we lost a lot of ability that our ancestors used to have, with your hands… This house was built $180,000 less than what the contractor asked for so this is like another master degree for me. I learned to do subcontracting.”