Photography: Maxwell MacKenzie

Floors + Windows + Doors: Case Study

Rooms with a View: Architect Robert M. Gurney shapes views through innovative use of windows and glass

In his design of a Glen Echo, Maryland, home, architect Robert M. Gurney employed walls of glass, windows and doors to shape the way people experience the property. From the rear of the house, visitors enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding woods and the Potomac River below. “Where we have windows and why we used them were really driven by the site,” he says. “We tried to take advantage of the views.”

In many cases, windows were installed on opposite ends of a room to engage viewers with the landscape and the outdoors. Though he likes the clean look of large expanses of glass, in this project Gurney framed out windows and doors using products from Hope’s Steel Windows & Doors so they would be functional. “We needed to provide ventilation and egress,” he explains. “This led to the design of a Mondrian-like pattern using rectangles—horizontal, vertical and square—as a way to fit operable windows into the design.”

Just as the architect used windows to frame certain views, he also used them strategically to mask others. On the second floor
, panels of translucent Kalwall let in light while obscuring a neighboring house. Within the panels, a horizontal strip of clear glass precisely frames a cross-section of foliage rimming the house.

A two-story bridge constructed with glass floors, walls and roof connects the home’s two main volumes. In this glass cube, which “expands over a water feature we created,” says Gurney, “you feel like you’re literally walking over water.”

ARCHITECTURE: ROBERT M. GURNEY, FAIA, principal, and BRIAN TUSKEY, project architect, Robert M Gurney, FAIA, Architect, Washington, DC. CONTRACTOR: Bloom Builders, Bethesda, Maryland. PHOTOGRAPHY: MAXWELL MacKENZIE.

ROBERT M. GURNEY’S TRADE SECRETS:

  • Window placement should be determined from the inside out, as opposed to trying to make a composition from the outside. It’s far more important to control what you see from the inside. Select insulated, low-E glass to optimize energy efficiency.
  • A lot of people sacrifice functionality for visual effect. Even within window walls, it’s best to install operable windows on opposite sides of a room for ventilation.
  • People can be afraid to use too much glass. But when you install glass from the floor to the ceiling of a space, it can manipulate scale and totally transform what that space feels like.
  • When selecting a material for window frames, consider how the material pairs up with the other materials used on the house.