MERIT: Low-Rise

European Flair: Village Grande

The sounds of clinking martini glasses and partygoers quickly fade as you walk though the decorative archway of this beachside community into a European-style village, complete with classical Old World estate features such as tumbled marbled courtyards.

MERIT: Low-Rise - Village

Village Grande, developed by Delray Beach, Fla.-based Coastal Design & Development Group, was designed to attract empty nesters and young professionals who want the excitement of urban living in downtown Delray Beach without sacrificing luxury or elegance. The 3,000-plus-square-foot units–which sold for $799,000 to $925,000–feature three or four bedrooms, two-car garages, private elevators, 11-foot ceilings, marble and limestone flooring, and gourmet-style kitchens with stainless steel appliances. French doors, Juliet balconies, arched window openings, and garden patios not only add European flair, but also create natural light and let the warm tropical breezes circulate through the homes.

To take further advantage of the Florida sunshine, each unit features a private rooftop terrace with decorative trellis structures, a summer kitchen, and a splash pool since the project's small footprint didn't allow for a community pool. The pool doubles as a fountain. How's that for charm?

–Rachel Z. Azoff

MERIT: Low-Rise

Sweet Spot: Railroad Spur Block

Nestled between a sugar manufacturing facility and railroad tracks heavy with tanker cars, the .11-acre parcel at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Doyle Street in Emeryville, Calif., sat vacant for decades until local developer Doyle Street Lofts saw its potential.

MERIT: Low-Rise - Railroad Spur BlockMatthew Millman

Today, the site houses Railroad Spur Block, a multifamily project with five loft units, each three levels tall, situated around a center courtyard. With a total cost of less than $500,000, the complex was designed and constructed within a strict budget.

Designed by locally based Philip Banta & Associates Architecture, the complex is organized into a pair of metal-clad blocks flanked by bright stucco boxes and thick courtyard walls, linking residential use with the large industrial boxes built years ago. The deep walls and metal cladding protect the project from railroad noise.

The townhomes, which average 1,275 square feet, were designed for artists and other people who work in creative fields. They offer open floor plans with the ground floor intended as work space and the second and loft levels for living quarters. Today all of the units, which lease for $1,000 to just over $2,000, are occupied by artisans and other entrepreneurs.

–Jennifer Popovec

MERIT: High-Rise

Old Meets New: Cristalla

MERIT: High-Rise - CristallaSteve Keating Photography

How's this for juxtaposition? A modern, glass high-rise tower meets an ornate terra cotta historic building below. Architecture firm Weber + Thompson skillfully blended these two distinct façades to create Cristalla, a 193-unit luxury condominium community in Seattle. The property is the first residential high-rise to be built in the city in more than 13 years.

Cristalla incorporates the original facades of the 1915 Crystal Pool Natatorium–a saltwater bathhouse designed by renowned theater architect Marcus Priteca and a cherished community landmark. Atop the historic façade, a layered palette of Italian limestone and copper aluminum panels combine with cascading blue glass to evoke flowing water, reflecting the site's original use. A replication of the Natatorium's original dome (demolished in the '60s) sits above the building's entrance with a steel pergola to unify the two historic façades.

MERIT: High-Rise - CristallaCourtney Rosenstein

But the preservation of the terra cotta proved to be the biggest challenge for the project. The team took extraordinary measures to brace the façade during demolition to prevent movement of the fragile and fractured terra cotta. Next, a concrete wall was constructed to support the façade from behind, securing the terra cotta and allowing it to stand on its own. Once a sufficient number of floors were built, the façade was then attached to the new building. These meticulous efforts paid off: More than 100 units sold in only two weeks.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

MERIT: High-Rise

Old World Charm: Acqualina Ocean Residences and Resort

This Sunny Isles, Fla., high-rise stands worlds apart from its more contemporary neighboring beachfront properties. The towering 51-story Acqualina is decked in European-style Old World charm with its iron gates, Baroque fountains, bas relief applications, and a grand porte-cochere with a domed cupola replete with imported mosaic tiles. The property, on the site of the former Pan American Hotel, includes 215 luxury condos and the 35-unit five-star Rosewood Hotel.

MERIT: High-Rise - Acqualina Ocean Residences and ResortCourtesy Acqualina, A Rosewood Resort

The building is unique not just for its architecture, but also for its interior layout. Robert M. Swedroe Architects & Planners had to develop the hotel component in the center of the building vertically (with four rooms per floor) rather than horizontally, because the hurricane-strength mammoth sheer walls prevented the horizontal distribution of the rooms. The end result permitted east or west views for all guests and through-views for all hotel suites.

The affluent condo buyers (condos are priced at $1 million and up) share the five-star hotel's amenities. Acqualina, developed by the Williams Island, Fla.-based Trump Group, features a 20,000-square-foot spa, four outdoor pools, direct beach access, and 24-hour concierge service. Plus, the units tout private-entry elevators and ocean views from each living room, dining room, kitchen, breakfast room, and master bedroom.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

MERIT: Mid-Rise

L.A. Architectural: MetLofts

The original plan for MetLofts looked nothing like the finished rental building that graces downtown L.A. The design, which called for a traditional product with a four-story wood frame building and a two-story parking garage below, was nixed for its lack of density. After much thought, developer Forest City Residential decided to make the units longer and narrower, raise the ceiling height up to 11 feet, and connect the parking structure to every floor of the building. The team took a step back and realized the quest for density had led to the creation of a loft-style structure.

MERIT: Mid-Rise - MetLoftsJohn Linden

Lofts proved to be just the right offering to attract the project's targeted demographics: Gen Xers and established singles and couples working downtown. The 264-unit project, designed by Los Angeles-based Johnson Fain, was inspired by 20th-century Dutch Modernism; its concrete, steel, and glass structure meets the street at all three frontages to create a strong urban fabric. Inside, units feature 10- to 14-foot floor-to-ceiling windows, vibrant accent colors, open kitchens, and exposed structural and mechanical systems.

MERIT: Mid-Rise - MetLoftsJohn Linden

MetLofts' modern, edgy personality is topped off with a unique interactive public art display. Visitors walk and dance on more than 200 LED light tiles embedded into the entry walkway; the movements are mimicked by lights mounted on the façade of the building. Even drivers on the 100 Freeway can enjoy the show.

–Rachel Z. Azoff

For more on the display, see "Fancy Footwork" in the August 2006 "Direct Reports."

MERIT: Mid-Rise

Industrial Evolution: 720 Lofts

Not long ago, Fourth Street North in Minneapolis's emerging North Loop area wasn't a safe place after dark. But that's changed thanks to 720 Lofts, a fresh, hip, 99-unit condominium that's helping transform the previously deserted district into a thriving urban neighborhood. The units, targeted at the first-time homebuyer, are moderately priced at $225,000 to $275,000.

MERIT: Mid-Rise - 720 Lofts Bob Perzel

720 Lofts not only looks to the future, but also artfully pays homage to the history of its warehouse district surroundings. The project was built from scratch on a vacant parking lot, but the interior easily resembles an adaptive reuse of an industrial warehouse. Living areas tout exposed ductwork, large columns, and expansive plate-glass windows. The architect, Minneapolis-based UrbanWorks Architecture, selected black concrete kitchen countertops and sealed concrete floors to mirror the materials used in loading docks, a common feature of warehouses. To capture the loading dock's form, the decks of the first-floor units open onto flat concrete dock-like platforms.

While 720 blends well with its surroundings, it does bring a new architectural feature to the area. The project, developed by SchaferRichardson, offers plenty of green space–unlike its neighboring lots of blacktop and concrete. A green roof sits atop the parking garage (doubling as a storm water management system), and green space surrounds the building.

–Rachel Z. Azoff