Conceived in 1791, Pierre L'Enfant's vision for Washington was one of a broad, horizontal skyline, punctuated by steeples and domes, with the Capitol building at its apex. The low-lying nature of the city, which brings light and air to the pedestrian level and allows its most prominent landmarks to stand tall, has been protected for more than a century by a building height limit of 160 feet.

Looney Ricks Kiss Architects faced a similar constraint (albeit on a smaller scale) when designing the structure that would occupy a small wedge of land on Rosemary Beach's most prominent civic square. The maximum roof-peak height was 50 feet, and they needed to shimmy a four-story, mixed-use building under that line in the sky, so as not to overshadow the adjacent town hall.

Making the most of its prime quarter-acre site, the 44,000-square-foot Mercado neatly stacks nine office suites over four retail spaces, and then tops things off with eight light-filled condo units—each with its own, unique floor plan. And none of it feels like a tight squeeze.

Much of the art is in how the space is allocated in the building envelope. Retail quarters at ground level spill onto a broad arcade facing the civic square, enjoying covered outdoor space for café tables. Second-floor offices radiate out from a compact circulation core, with each space receiving natural light from heavily glazed exterior walls.

The residential units, which occupy the third and fourth floors (some units are two-stories) are carved into the roof structure to maximize every square inch up to the vertical limit. But with their crisp mill-work, vaulted ceilings, deep dormer windows, and open balconies, there isn't even a whiff of claustrophobia in these upper-story abodes. And the vantage point in plans ranging from 1,500 to 3,200 square feet expands the psychological feeling of spaciousness with ocean and town-center views.

The building's complex roof configuration, inspired by historic plantation structures on the island of Martinique, caps off what architect Darrell Russell refers to as a “Dutch West Indies” architectural vocabulary, marked by refined timber detailing and curved stucco profiles. “The Dutch roof provides maximum top-floor interior volume and creates the umbrella-like hipped roof form needed to screen the mechanical elements that are located within the roof well,” he explains.

Ground-floor commerce notwithstanding, The Mercado (a word that means “market” in Spanish) also includes a community entertainment room, secured entry, and covered parking for residents, at the rear. It becomes, in essence, a village within a single structure. “Of all the buildings we've done as a firm, this one feels the most successfully European,” Russell says. “Our thought was that it should have the timeless feel of a European marketplace.” L'Enfant would be proud.

See all 2007 Builder's Choice Award Winners

Categories: Project of the Year; Condos, for sale (grand);

Entrant/Architect/Interior designer: Looney Ricks Kiss Architects, Memphis, Tenn.;

Builder: Brasfield & Gorrie, Birmingham, Ala.;

Developer: South Barratt Square, Rosemary Beach, Fla.;

Land planner: DPZ & Co., Miami

SPLURGE AND SAVE With its authentic stained wood shingles, copper downspouts and gutters, and gas lanterns, The Mercado wears a handsome face that is built to last. But achieving that timeless elegance while staying on budget was a balancing act for Looney Ricks Kiss Architects and the builders at Brasfield & Gorrie. This project wasn't without its value engineering. The trick was deciding which elements in the program to cut.

The architects' initial big-ticket dream item—a copper shingled roof—was among the first indulgences to go. Reclaimed wood floors in residential units were downgraded to faux-stained floors. Original plans for a ground-floor promenade detailed in ipe were nixed in favor of more economical brick pavers. And steps leading to the rear parking, originally specced in granite, were swapped for stained concrete.

Per code requirements in Rosemary Beach, all of the building's first-floor windows and doors are wood (mahogany and Spanish cedar) but the upper casements are aluminum clad, which makes for easier long-term maintenance.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Memphis, TN.