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Bridge Houses

Bridge Houses

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    Julia Heine, McInturff Architects

    Residential Architect
    2000 RADA
    Withers Residence, Accokeek, Md.
    Project of the Year
    McInturff Architects, Bethesda, Md.



    The client for this rural Maryland house wanted a no-frills design that would live in harmony with the forest around it. McInturff Architects responded with a plan based on a simple bridge structure.
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    Julia Heine, McInturff Architects

    Hoisting the building off its sloped site allowed for a low-tech drainage system; rainwater flows right under the house and down the hill.
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    Julia Heine, McInturff Architects

    A custom light sculpture by artist Janet Saad Cook takes pride of place in the living room.
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    Courtesy McInturff Architects

    The house looks like a pulled-apart cabin, with the private rooms on either end and a two-story living room in the middle.
  • A three-dimensional truss of thin, high-strength steel members supports a cantilever of 45 feetapproximately half of the buildings length.

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    A three-dimensional truss of thin, high-strength steel members supports a cantilever of 45 feetapproximately half of the buildings length.

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    Alan Karchmer / Sandra Benedum

    Residential Architect
    September-October 2010
    Case Study
    House in the Berkshires
    Schwartz/Silver Architects, Boston


    The 45-foot cantilever of this Massachusetts summer house resembles “half a bridge,” according to architect Warren Schwartz, FAIA.
  • The main living space offers an aerial perspective on the Berkshires landscape.

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    The main living space offers an aerial perspective on the Berkshires landscape.

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    Alan Karchmer / Sandra Benedum

    Views of the bucolic Berkshire mountain range permeate the home’s interiors.
  • Long cantilevers often seek to impress by staunchly resisting gravity. This building, instead, seems simply to have slipped its earthly bonds and taken flight.

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    Long cantilevers often seek to impress by staunchly resisting gravity. This building, instead, seems simply to have slipped its earthly bonds and taken flight.

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    Alan Karchmer / Sandra Benedum

    A steel frame and a massive concrete foundation provide the heft that enables the cantilever’s featherweight, floating look.
  • Brazilian teak flooring segues onto the deck.

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    Brazilian teak flooring segues onto the deck.

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    Timothy Hursley

    Residential Architect
    2010 RADA
    L-Stack House, Fayetteville, Ark.
    Grand Award / Custom, 3,000 Square Feet or Less
    Marlon Blackwell Architect, Fayetteville



    The first floor of Marlon and Meryati Blackwell’s own house sits atop concrete piers, the better to span a creek on the property.
  • Blackwells linear two-part design cleverly traverses a stream bed.

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    Blackwells linear two-part design cleverly traverses a stream bed.

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    Timothy Hursley

    The home consists of two rectilinear forms, one set on top of the other at a 90-degree angle.
  • The L-stack configuration makes the most of a trapezoidal lot.

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    The L-stack configuration makes the most of a trapezoidal lot.

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    Courtesy Marlon Blackwell Architect

    Its “L-Stack” configuration makes the most of a trapezoidal lot.
  • Exterior louvers are made of dense, fire-rated Brazilian redwood. They're stacked, as one might find them in a lumberyard, to create 50 percent transparency.

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    Exterior louvers are made of dense, fire-rated Brazilian redwood. They're stacked, as one might find them in a lumberyard, to create 50 percent transparency.

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    Timothy Hursley

    Only the first floor and the short end of the second floor are visible from the street, helping the project fit into its context of one-story cottages and ranch houses.
  • The family room and kitchen, which features wenge cabinets and quartz counters.

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    The family room and kitchen, which features wenge cabinets and quartz counters.

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    Timothy Hursley

    The kitchen, which features wenge cabinets and quartz counters, opens into the dining area and the living room.
  • The stair is like a chute that goes outside.

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    The stair is like a chute that goes outside.

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    Timothy Hursley

    The main public rooms open onto terraces, which make maximum use of the 0.2-acre site.
  • The glass-walled stairway hinges the two volumes together.

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    The glass-walled stairway hinges the two volumes together.

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    Timothy Hursley

    A rainscreen cladding of Brazilian redwood provides a textural contrast with the glass-enclosed staircase.
  • Elevating the second story carved out almost 1,000 square feet for terraces and an outdoor kitchen.

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    Elevating the second story carved out almost 1,000 square feet for terraces and an outdoor kitchen.

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    Timothy Hursley

    A view from the rear of the house, looking back toward the creek-spanning, one-story portion.
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    David Wakely Photography

    CUSTOM HOME
    2010 CHDA
    Private Residence, Sebastopol, Calif.
    Merit Award / Less than 3,000 Square Feet
    Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects, San Francisco



    Architects Mary Griffin and Eric Haesloop placed this northern California house over a slight dip in the landscape, so that it acts as a bridge between two existing stands of redwoods.
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    David Wakely Photography

    Douglas fir ceilings and cabinetry, along with ipe floors, lend a sense of richness to the interior spaces.
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    David Wakely Photography

    Clerestory windows on the entry side of the house assist with cross-ventilation.
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    David Wakely Photography

    The home’s studio/garage.
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    David Wakely Photography

    A glass rear wall permits valuable solar gain and daylighting.
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    Courtesy Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects

    The home’s floor plan.
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    Courtesy Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects

    The home’s site plan.
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    Courtesy Turnbull Griffin Haesloop Architects

    The project in section.
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    Undine Pröhl

    Residential Architect
    2007 RADA
    Artist Bridge Studio, San Diego
    Merit Award / Renovation
    Safdie Rabines Architects, San Diego



    This art studio addition by Safdie Rabines Architects spans a shallow arroyo. Steel cross-bracing adds extra support without detracting from the studio’s delicate appearance.
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    Undine Pröhl

    Sliding doors on either side let the owner open up her studio to the rugged natural environment.
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    Undine Pröhl

    A little library forms one end of the workspace.
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    Safdie Rabines Architects

    The project’s floor and site plan.

Visual lightness and transparency are dear to the heart of many an architect. But it’s not easy to achieve a building that perches delicately on the land, especially when pesky seismic, flooding, and other regulations come into play. Using a house to form a bridge over a waterway or landform can help an architect attain this coveted sense of weightlessness.

Bridge houses may look poetic in the landscape, but they also boast practical benefits. Their sensitive siting eliminates the need for invasive (and expensive) earth-moving tactics. Rainwater flows right underneath them. They provide a way of handling the idiosyncrasies of local topography. And on a more philosophical level, they implicitly acknowledge the primacy of nature by deferring to the existing site.

To ensure structural stability, the design and building of a bridge house can involve intensive engineering. But in the best ones, the effort never shows. All you notice is the lightweight look and the feeling of living within the landscape, rather than on it. Step into our collection of bridge houses to find that oh-so-bearable lightness of being.