Habits of Mind

  • Synthesize
  • Communicate

Trespass 4416 (ELA)

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

  • Plan a piece of writing appropriate for various purposes and audiences 
  • Develop drafts into a focused, structured, and coherent piece of writing
  • Compose argumentative texts using genre characteristics and craft



This work of art would work best with analyze/synthesize when discussing the connection of structure. During discussion talk about the point of structure and analyze how this structure was made to stand/not fall and then connect to the importance of a structure of an essay. This is important because students learn better when an analogy or connection to something they already know is created. It gives students a visualization point and allows them to understand the material at hand.

  • Observe the work of art according to the following art elements: line, color, shape, value, texture, form and space (do not reveal the title).
  • Read all about it! Havel and Ruck trespassed onto a condemned property in the process of being demolished. The process involved cutting and collecting large sections of the walls and rooftop of a garage on the property, The building remnants were brought back to studio, stacked, shaped, and stuffed with debris from the site. After the exhibition the sculpture was returned to the site and placed on the corner as a heavy trash pile. Lasting six weeks on the street without being removed, the piece was collected and is now part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
  • Upon securing this work of art for the museum, the MFAH curator who accessioned this object, said “Should the artists be considered trespassers for scavenging the materials from a building site? Or are the developers who are transforming the neighborhood the trespassers?”
  • Compose an argumentative/persuasive essay in response to the curator’s questions.
  • Reveal the title: Trespass 4416.  How does this impact the viewpoints shared in the argumentative essays?

  • As you observe the sculpture, what materials can you identify? What types of objects or structures do you associate with these materials?
  • Describe the shapes that you observe in the sculpture? How does the shape of the overall form compare to the individual shapes of the materials used to construct the sculpture?

  • What other objects have you seen that have similar shapes as this sculpture? Why might the artists have chosen to use this collection of materials to form this particular shape?
  • How does the setting in which we see this object impact our interpretation or response to it? How might the experience of looking at this sculpture in a museum gallery be different from seeing it on the street corner of a demolition site?
  • How does this sculpture and its title challenge us to think critically about the role of trespassing?

This work of art fosters positive risk-taking as there is no inherent feeling of a “right vs. wrong” observation.

Painted and raw scrap wood, plastic sheets, metal wires, nails, screws, and other found objects form an egg shaped structure. With a height of 7’ 8” (92 inches) and width and depth of 4’ 3” (51 inches), the scale of the sculpture requires viewers to walk around the form in order to observe the complete structure. Close examination of the object reveals the careful organization of the sculpture, which was required to create a stable structure from this diverse selection of materials with varying sizes and textures. A piece of painted scrap wood placed at approximately eye level for the average height adult prominently displays the numbers 4416.


The title given to the sculpture, Trespass 4416, alludes to the context in which the artists, Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, created this object. The materials and inspiration for this sculpture came from a nineteenth-century wooden bungalow that was being demolished in Houston’s historic Magnolia Grove district near Buffalo Bayou located between downtown and Memorial Park. As demand for centrally located housing in Houston rose in the early 2000s, development and housing prices rapidly increased throughout this small neighborhood south of Washington Avenue. When Havel and Ruck created Trespass 4416 in 2007, more homes were sold in the district that year than in any other year on record between 1997 and 2019.[1] Havel and Ruck scavenged the condemned property to gather wood and other fragments, which they brought back to their studio and used to construct the sculpture. The resulting sculpture documents the erasure of the architectural past of this historic neighborhood and its community.


Trespass 4416 was first exhibited for a group show at Diverseworks, Houston. After the exhibition, the sculpture was returned to the corner of the demolition site as a trash pile where it remained for six weeks without being removed.[2] The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, then acquired the sculpture, which became the first monumental work by the collaborative to enter an encyclopedic museum collection rather than remaining a site-specific or ephemeral project.


The two Houston based sculptors began working on projects together informally in 1994. They formalized their partnership in 2009 by forming the artist collaborative Havel Ruck Projects, LLP.[3] In an interview with Havel and Ruck for Glasstire in 2009, the artists responded about how the setting of Houston and particularly its rapidly changing built environment described as “hyper-impermanence” informed their practice. Havel commented:


“We’re both preservationists. I understand that a built site has an inherent soul or memory. It’s fun to play with that dialogue about houses disappearing. We’re interjecting ourselves in that dialogue, at a point where the house is going to go away and we’re going to give it another chapter.”


While Havel emphasizes how their work acts as a means of preserving the memory of impermanent sites by creating a new form, Ruck’s comments focus on the importance of their process as opposed to the context:


“I think there’s a bit of an applied context, one applied by others. Certainly, we have a sensibility. And I consider myself a preservationist. But the context of that being, the cue or key to the work is not in the forefront of our thinking. For me, it’s more a matter of process. As a formal approach, it’s a three-dimensional formal exercise as a means to a process which is more an element of the work than the context of the Houston environment of tearing things down.”


Throughout the interview, Havel and Ruck’s discussion of their collaborative projects both build upon each other’s ideas while also complicating singular interpretations of their work. Following Ruck’s commentary on the importance of process, Havel describes their interest in creating work that surprises their audiences and poses provocative questions:


“I like any opportunity where I can make art in the path of an unaware public. It’s fun to play with that element of surprise. We’re not really about architecture. It’s more about space, altering space and taking spatial relationships and tweaking it slightly and hopefully getting the audience involved or not. Salvage is closest to what we do. We salvage. One of the things I want to make sure that we don’t get pigeonholed is that we deal with only architecture… I think there’s a self discovery that happens that I’m much more interested in than telling everybody the answers. We’re just asking the questions-what if? What if we do this?”


Trespass 4416 raises innumerable questions deriving from its form, materials, process, and contexts. The provoking title itself prompts questions about the nature of trespassing. Did Havel and Ruck trespass to collect materials from the site being demolished? Or did the builders who transformed the site by destroying the earlier building trespass? By viewing the remains of a demolished building as a sculpture in a museum, are we trespassing?


[1] Real-estate trends in the Magnolia Grove district are publicly available through the Houston Association of Realtors at har.com: https://www.har.com/pricetrends/magnolia-grove-realestate/349

[2] Details of the project and a photograph of the sculpture on the corner of the demolition site are available online with a list of projects by the collaborative: https://havelruckprojects.wixsite.com/havel-ruck-projects/projects

[3] More information on the history of these collaborations and the forming of Havel Rucks Projects, LLP is available on their website: https://havelruckprojects.wixsite.com/havel-ruck-projects/about

The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider