2022 RDAA | Custom Urban House | Franzen House | Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, Architect

Located on a tight suburban lot, this new, modern house replaces one that “was built on fill and falling down the hill,” says architect Robert Gurney, FAIA. And quite the hill it is. When the real estate agent sold the client the lot as a teardown, Robert recounts, “They told her, you need to hire an architect. You need to hire someone who can really do something with this site.” There was a desirable vista to harness, a heavily wooded one with seasonal views of the Potomac River.

To capture those opportunities, Robert devised a plan that keeps the house in scale with others on the street side but climbs down the hill at the back. A custom fence in the front yard claims the only available play space for children, while a bridge along the side of the yard provides just enough elbow room to get visitors to the front entry, as the ground drops away.

Arrival through the quiet, low-slung front of the house is at an upper level. Once inside, it suddenly becomes apparent that the house is really a dramatic four-story glass box, accommodating nearly 5,000 square feet of domestic program set against a verdant natural landscape. 

Our judges were amply impressed. “It’s a really hard problem to have four levels and a coherent entry façade—and to get so much square footage into such a small footprint,” said one judge. “And I am a personal fan of the front façade—it’s quite serene and beautiful.” 


Custom Urban House

Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, architect
Franzen House
Bethesda, Maryland

Project Credits

Architect: Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, principal in charge; Nicole de Jong, AIA, project architect; Sarah Mailhot Solander, project architect, Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, Architect, Washington, D.C.

Builder: Commonwealth Building and Design, Clifton, Virginia

Structural Engineer: United Structural Engineers, Sterling, Virginia

Project Size: 4,850 square feet

Site Size: 0.20 acre

Construction Cost: $264 per square foot

Photography: Anice Hoachlander

Key Products

Cladding: Shou Sugi Ban Siding, Nakamoto Forestry; fiber cement rainscreen cladding

Door Hardware: Häfele (cabinetry), Baldwin (doors)

Elevator: Savaria

Faucets: Dornbracht (kitchen), American Standard

Finish Materials: Abet Laminati, OKITE

Garage Doors: Clopay Avante

Lighting: Hinkley, Sonneman, Lightolier, Sempria, Access Lighting

Paints: Sherwin-Williams

Sink: Julien (kitchen)

Toilets: Kohler

Tubs: Porcelanosa (primary bath), Wetstyle (secondary)

Vanities: Porcelanosa

Weather Barrier: VaproShield 

Windows: Western Window Systems