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van sweden residence, sherwood, md.

When Suman Sorg began designing a country retreat for a noted landscape architect, she focused on garden walls: "They're full of mystery, since you can't see what's behind them, and over time they turn into living, vertical gardens themselves."

van sweden residence, sherwood, md.

When Suman Sorg began designing a country retreat for a noted landscape architect, she focused on garden walls: "They're full of mystery, since you can't see what's behind them, and over time they turn into living, vertical gardens themselves."

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    Robert Lautman

    "This house is like a huge porch surrounded by grasses," architect Suman Sorg says. Doors and windows in the living room look west over the Chesapeake Bay.

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    Steve Algren

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    Robert Lautman

    The concrete wall defining the eastern elevation shields a guest suite and courtyard from adjacent marshland.

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    Suman Sorg

sorg and associates, p.c., washington, d.c.

When Suman Sorg began designing a country retreat for a noted landscape architect, she focused on garden walls: "They're full of mystery, since you can't see what's behind them, and over time they turn into living, vertical gardens themselves."

A garden wall became the heart of the minimalist van Sweden residence on the Chesapeake Bay. "It's a concrete block structure that follows the edges of the house, goes right through and pokes out the other side on a very simple path," says Sorg. The exterior of the wall is painted and punctuated by marine plywood panels divided with aluminum Z-strips, chosen for practicality and affordability.

To reduce the visual weight of the concrete, Sorg elevated the house and surrounded it with 4-foot-wide decks that create the illusion the structure is floating above surrounding grassland. With its earthy materials, flat overhanging roof, and bands of windows, the building is meant to evoke an early form of Modernism, says Sorg.

The judges marveled at her vision, calling it sophisticated, clean, and "absolutely houselike."

project architect: Suman Sorg, FAIA, Sorg and Associates, P.C.
general contractor: Andy Coleman, Coleman-Meredith Construction, Easton, Md.
landscape architect: James van Sweden, Oehme, van Sweden and Associates, Washington, D.C.
project size: 3,200 square feet
site size: 6 acres
construction cost: $135 per square foot
photographer: Robert Lautman