The developers of GreenCity Lofts had the unenviable task of dealing with two different zoning jurisdictions to get the project built, but the hard work was well worth it. The 62-unit project now stands as one of the greenest multifamily projects in the San Francisco Bay area.

Located in a predominantly industrial neighborhood that is transitioning to residential, the site straddles the dividing line between Oakland and Emeryville, Calif. This context —along with a strong commitment to sustainability—became integral to many of the design decisions.

As part of its green strategy, Swatt Architects first deconstructed a brick factory that was located on the site and recycled 95 percent of the waste. In its place, the team designed five residential buildings with single-loaded circulation to allow daylight from at least two sides of almost every unit. The buildings, which house a combination of flats, town-homes, and lofts (62 units in all), are clustered to create an outdoor courtyard. Underground structured parking includes 10 electric car–charging stations and 46 spaces for bicycles

Commercial storefront windows and doors, standing seam metal roofs, and fiber cement on the upper portions of each building hint at the site's industrial past, while reverse bay windows, front balconies, and stairs on the lower levels convey a residential vocabulary. Bright orange bay windows make the street scene lively and exciting, says architect Robert Swatt.

See all 2007 Builder's Choice Award Winners

Designed using the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED principles, the super-efficient buildings incorporate a number of progressive systems, such as fly-ash concrete; formaldehyde-free wheat-board cabinets; and in-floor radiant heating, among others. The result is a project that exceeds California's energy-efficiency standards.

Category: Green/Sustainable project;

Entrant/Architect: Swatt Architects, Emeryville, Calif.;

Builder: Cannon Constructors, San Francisco;

Developer: GreenCity Lofts, Oakland, Calif.

RULE BREAKERS Designing a building in two jurisdictions with different codes can be a nightmare. The developers of GreenCity Lofts wanted to build up to 75 feet, but the height limit in Emeryville, Calif., is 30 feet, while the limit in Oakland is 65 feet. “We needed a variance for height,” says architect Robert Swatt, but “we needed to have compelling ideas” to justify breaking the rules. Fortunately, the project's green ethic and contextual sensitivity were plenty compelling. Up to 30 feet, the buildings' eave line is set to align with neighborhood buildings; then the massing steps back and climbs higher. “The form reflects [the industrial/residential trend] happening along the street, and the cities appreciated that,” Swatt says.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA, Los Angeles, CA.