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Byline: T.D. Mobley-Martinez TRIBUNE REPORTER
Bart Prince's houses go around the bend to break ground in architecture
You know the place. It's the giant Habitrail of steel and tile and glass, the matrix of people-sized tubes posing as a house on Monte Vista Boulevard, just south of Lomas Avenue. Stand there for a few minutes and it will shift: from a submarine to a snail, from a biodome to a mothership.
Call it whatever you want. Architect and owner Bart Prince has probably heard it before.
Late in a May afternoon, the tall, muscular man, a distant cousin to cowboys of the last century, stands in the bowels of his curious building. The studio is there, and Bart Prince is working with a member of his small staff on a model's finishing touches.
The initial plans for the California home lie unfurled on the desk that nearly encircles the round room. Look more closely and you'll see the design hardly belongs in Prince's unconventional studio: It's a boxy Mediterranean-style house so conventional Lego could have built it.
It is not, Prince emphasizes, one of his houses. His model an elegant series of pseudo-pagodas seeming to cascade down a gentle hill toward the beach is the proposed rescue of a $2 million Malibu lot that might have been saddled with such conventional thinking. It's one of the three or four commissions he's working on this year. He doesn't do more, he says, because he wants to have his hand in everything. ("I treat it more like art," he says. "Picasso wouldn't hand a portrait to someone in the back room.")
"You show people this," Prince says, pointing to the plans, "and nobody's going to say anything but 'house.'"
Prince then gestures to another model, this one a Laguna Beach, Calif., house that, once approved, will be a sprawling symphony of glass and steel more museum than home poised on a seaside precipice. In work like this, Prince toys with the duality of his craft, the twisting of the inside and the outside, of public and private, of the hidden and the revealed.
"Show them a building like that and they don't say 'house.' They say 'bird of prey' or 'whale' or something."
Prince, a native New Mexican and the subject of a new book, is arguably one of the most inventive architects in America today. He is regarded by some as the ideological descendant of Frank …