mcinturff architects, bethesda, md.

The 113 entries in the custom home category were liberally appointed with marble floors, granite countertops, climate-controlled wine cellars, and luxurious master baths. But the judges chose as project of the year a modest structure covered in asphalt shingles and corrugated metal, built for a bargain $80 a square foot. "This is a very, very beautiful home," said one juror.

The beauty of the house, by McInturff Architects, lies in its simplicity, economy, and humility. It wasn't meant to steal the show itself, but to focus attention on its primal, wooded site and on a delicate work of art commissioned by the client, an art history professor at the University of Maryland. Having grown up in a house designed by renowned landscape architect Dan Kiley, she wanted her new house to recall that intimate relationship with nature she'd come to love. And she wanted it to serve as a backdrop for a light sculpture by artist Janet Saad Cook. Principal Mark McInturff, AIA, and project architect Stephen Lawlor, AIA, responded by modeling the house after the simplest structure they could think of: a bridge.

The house looks like a pulled-apart cabin, with the private rooms on either end and a two-story living room in the middle. Hoisting it up off its sloped site not only achieved the "bridge" reference, it also eliminated the need for installing a costly drainage system. Instead, rainwater flows right under the house and down the hill.

On one side of the living room, a blank white wall stretches out like a canvas for the owner's sculpture, a dance of light that follows the sun's progress through the day. Horizontal rows of windows sandwich the wall so that light can still enter that side of the house. The opposite wall is all metal-framed glazing, bringing in views of the woods beyond. A pedestrian bridge spans the room to link a second-floor bedroom and study.

The house won points with the judges for its masterful orchestration of the indoor-outdoor relationship. "I especially like the idea of using the asphalt shingles and corrugated metal inside," commented one. Decks on both ends of the home allow the client to fully enjoy her private setting; the project's one concession to luxury, an outdoor spa, is embedded in the entry porch. Maple flooring and cabinetry inside, as well as a wood-burning stove, create a rustic feel without resorting to log-cabin stereotypes.

A superb conduit between landscape and artscape, McInturff's bridge house accomplishes everything it set out to do and more. Like the best bridges, it elevates function to a fine art.

project architect: Stephen Lawlor, AIA, McInturff Architects
general contractor: Joe Barry, Joe Barry Builders, Waldorf, Md.
project size: 1,700 square feet
site size: 10 acres
construction cost: $80 per square foot
photographer: Julia Heine, McInturff Architects