River House

Residential, Award Winning, Sustainable

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The River House is a weekend retreat located on the Rappahannock River in Virginia. Sited on a dramatic site, the 3500- square-foot house marks the intersection of three landscapes: natural forest, wetlands, and a mile-wide river.

The long and slender house is comprised of nine-and-one-half 12’ x 22’ structural steel bays (8 bays of interior space and 1.5 bays of screened porch) sitting on poured concrete foundation walls which were left partially exposed due to the steeply sloping site. By divorcing the primary skin of the house from the steel structure, large sliding glass doors could be used as the only barrier between interior and exterior. As a result, all interior spaces offer uninterrupted views out to the river.

The house is divided into three components: the main house, the guest quarters, and a multi-purpose level. To maximize interior space and privacy of the main house, the entry porch acts as circulation to the guest rooms. Translucent panels and a partial glass floor allow daylight into the lower level.

The owners appreciate the natural beauty found in raw construction materials and challenged Ziger|Snead to compose their home with simple building materials. The palette consists of poured concrete, ground face concrete block, galvanized and stainless steel, clear anodized aluminum, and cast metal industrial light fixtures.


Design Team: Steve Ziger; Douglas Bothner; Jeff Morgan; Glenn Shrum

Team: Morabito Consultants - Structural Engineer; Lazarus Design - Landscape Architect

Location: Jamaica, Virginia

Construction Cost: Withheld

Area: 3,500 sf

Completion: 2008

Program: 3 bedroom, 4.5 bath single family home with overflow sleeping accommodations in the large multi-purpose room on the lower level. Cook's kitchen, open plan, and ample storage for rowing shells and other water sports. 

Photography: Alain Jaramillo


  • 2009 Honor Award — AIA Maryland
  • 2008 Design Award — AIA Baltimore


Sustainable Design

Sustainable features of the home include sliding, low-e, argon filled glazing designed to make use of prevailing breezes from the river to passively cool the home. Indeed, the concept for the house was to provide the owners with the feeling that the whole house was a screen porch. Natural light throughout the house mean that no artificial lighting is needed during daylight hours. Even the lower level multi-purpose room is filled with natural light due to the glass floor along the south wall of the house. Simple cloth drapes at the perimeter can be drawn shut to control the sun. Ceramic tile flooring serves as a heat sink for the southern sun reducing demand on the heating system during the winter months, while large overhangs block summer sun from entering the house. The white membrane roof has a high Solar Reflectance Index to help mitigate solar heat gain from it surface and control any heat island effect that might disturb the micro-environment surrounding the house. The owners’ integrated landscape plan will restore the hill to reforest damaged woodland (developer driven) and restore habitat to the many osprey and bald eagles in the area.