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Franzen House

Robert M. Gurney Architect en tant que Architectes.

This new house, located in Mohican Hills Maryland is constructed on a steeply sloping, wooded site. Distant views of the Potomac River are afforded in the late fall, winter and early spring. A simple rectangular volume, the house is revealed as a two-story structure seen from the street. This extends an additional two stories on the opposite elevation to take advantage of the steep grade, resulting in a four-story volume facing the Potomac River. The house is anchored into the earth with two concrete end walls, extending all four stories. Wood framed walls clad In Shou Sugi Ban with minimal fenestration connect the two concrete walls at the front of the house. On the woodland side, the four-story infill is mostly glass. This is articulated in the fenestration and the exterior material choices.


A series of decks and balconies extend from the glass façade to provide outdoor living experiences at each of the four levels on the wooded side. The street side remains relatively solid, with mostly service and utility core elements dedicated to that side. Corten panels and a wood fence define a private front yard. Access to the house is provided with a bridge extending from the street. The end of the bridge provides a platform with a panoramic vista towards the woods and a moment to pause before proceeding towards the front door. The path to the front door and vertical movement connecting the four levels are carefully orchestrated with selected landscape views and visual connections into a double height living space, that organizes the composition. 


The project is modulated as a series of experiences that lead you away from the street and ultimately into a tranquil environment to enjoy the serene, wooded landscape. 

Grand serenity

Western Window Systems en tant que Fabricants.

This Modern Maryland Home Is All About the Great Outdoors

The four-level abode, designed by architect Robert Gurney, embraces the environment with massive glass.

Deep in the woods of Glen Echo, Maryland, a house was falling down a steep hill. So, architect Robert Gurney razed it and replaced it with a home designed to not just overcome the challenges of the precipitous landscape, but to take advantage of it to create a perceptual surprise.

Approaching the home from the street in Glen Echo (about two miles from Washington, D.C.), the rectangular house blends in with its neighboring two-story structures. Charred wood siding and floor-to-ceiling glass form a façade bookended by concrete walls that anchor the structure into the earth. Once inside the 4,542 square-foot home, visitors are surprised by views of the woodlands on the fringe of the Potomac River through the home’s massive window wall.

“When you first get into the house, you’re looking into this window wall, and you immediately feel like you’re in a more natural and serene environment,” Gurney says. “The idea was to change your perception from the suburban community and transition into this phenomenon where you’re at one with nature.”

In the woods at the rear of the lot, there’s a steep drop, and Gurney took advantage of the dramatic grade to add two stories to the opposite elevation, resulting in four-stories with floor-to-ceiling glass. The façade blends functional multi-slide doors with fixed windows for panoramic views.

“It’s so easy to integrate Western Window Systems’ large sliding glass doors into these window wall systems with thin profiles so that you get a much more uninterrupted fenestration pattern,” Gurney says.

Balconies extend from the façade on all four levels. “It’s incredibly complex, structurally, because the previous house was built on a hill, so we basically had to go down 25 feet in the back, which also accommodated our double height of four stories in the back,” Gurney says. “We had to do that with a lot of concrete.”

The four-bedroom, three-bathroom home sits on 23 acres covered with trees and vegetation. In some places, the house is built right up to the trees, which provide natural overhangs for shade. Maximizing sunlight and providing year-round views of nature meant paying attention to energy values, and Gurney says the doors and windows are part of the project’s eco-mindedness. “Both the insulating value and the low-e capacity made Western Window Systems a pretty easy choice,” he says.

Gurney’s ultimate goal was to design a house that maximized the views from the back of the house toward the river while presenting an unassuming face to the street. Mission accomplished.

“The design objective was to capture the views, and we carefully orchestrated the design so that as you approach the house, it’s a bridge that kind of floats above the landscape,” Gurney explains. “Then, as you get to the end of this bridge, there’s a moment of pause where you can stand and have views of the river and down into the woodlands. And then you turn right to get to the front entry.”

The entry, a Series 900 Hinged Door, is the grandest glass at the front of the home, where the glazing is minimal except for some clerestory windows. Gurney says he placed all the service-oriented aspects of the home, like the laundry room and elevator, on the main floor in the front of the house so the entire backside opens up to the views.

“We carefully laid out the way you move through the house, with the stairways and things,” Gurney says. “As you move up and down the house, there’s cutouts in the stairs where you have these peeks into the little spaces and out to the views. The whole house is designed to take big advantage of the views.”

Dealer: The Sanders Company

Franzen House

Nakamoto Forestry en tant que Fabricants.

(via Architectural Record) The four-story house was designed to fit into the compact site on the footprint of a pre-existing house that was razed because it was structurally unsound. Architect Robert Gurney designed the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house to appear to be two-stories when viewed from the street. At the rear, facing the Potomac River, the steep grade allowed the architect to add two additional floors below the main house with minimum intrusion into the wooded site. The house is anchored by two concrete end walls, extending the four-story height. Wood framed walls clad in charred Shou Sugi Ban connect the two concrete walls on the street side of the house while the rear elevation, facing southwest, is largely glass.


Product: Gendai 1×6 select grade S3S
Prefinish: Black
Application: Residential – Exterior
SF: 2000SF
Architect: Robert Gurney, FAIA
Builder: Commonwealth Building and Design
Date: April 2019

Location: Bethesda, MD

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