The 2014 Watermark Project of the Year places its master—and only—bathroom at the center of this prototype house. The house was designed by the University of Maryland for the 2011 Solar Decathlon and was the architectural as well as overall winner of that competition.
Its luxurious yet sustainable design highlights the use and conservation of what’s arguably the Earth’s most at-risk recourse: water. Even the project’s name—WaterShed—evokes how both interior and exterior spaces flow around the 82-square-foot bath. “WaterShed’s two main volumes are connected by the bathroom, which bridges over constructed wetlands,” says architect Amy Gardner. She also notes how the floor-to-ceiling windows on either side of the room “maintain a visual and experiential connection with the landscape.”

Creating an elongated space that runs the width of the floor plan demonstrates how important the bathroom is to the overall house. Spanning 15 feet from end-to-end and 5 ½ feet wide, the design team opted to celebrate the rectilinear dimensions rather than downplay them. Porcelain tile planks run in a horizontal pattern on the floor and shower walls. A slotted eucalyptus shower drain and the horizontal cedar siding on the exterior also emphasize the rooms’ shape, while a bamboo-clad niche around the floating toilet and vanity adds depth to the space. The glass walls flood the space with natural light and generate an open feel.

Constructed wetlands abut those glass walls, giving bathers direct views of where water ends up after going down the drain. Graywater from the bathroom sink, shower, dishwasher, and washing machine, along with captured rainwater, is filtered by those wetlands and then used for irrigation.

“It’s as much about beautiful design as it is good and responsible stewardship,” said one juror.

Project Credits

Project: WaterShed, Rockville, Md.
Entrant/Builder/Architect/Engineer/Green Building Consultant/Landscape: University of Maryland 2011 Solar Decathlon Team
Photographers: Celia Pearson (interiors) and Jim Tetro (exterior)

The jury enjoyed lengthy discussions on WaterShed, praising the concept of showing how water can be recycled and conserved in addition to the warm, graceful design. “It’s an idea ahead of our time,” according to one panel member. They unanimously agreed that custom and production clients alike would buy into a forward-thinking design like this and it has applications across all housing types.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.