AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTION of doma, a residential building that takes up an entire city block in San Diego's Little Italy, very much depends on your perspective. Stand on Fir Street, and you'll see an ultracool, eight-story concrete loft structure marked by expanses of glass, wide-open balconies, and hip touches of color. Go around the corner to Kettner Boulevard and Date Street, and you're presented with a series of traditional, wood-framed, softly colored brownstones—called “towns” by the developer—anchored by a Deco-flavored clock tower.

Perceptions were important to City Mark Development, which specializes in urban San Diego projects. “We decided that it was important to the community of San Diego that this building not read as a full block, but [rather] look like a few different buildings,” says CityMark vice president Russ Haley. “You can do that in a couple of different ways. Some projects do it with façade treatments and paint colors, things that are more Disneylandish in nature. We decided to architecturally break up the buildings using different construction techniques and different styles.”

Massing plays a key role when you're trying to put up a building that doesn't look, well, massive. Martinez + Cutri, the San Diego architectural firm hired by CityMark to come up with a plan for doma's 122 units, took a number of steps to mitigate density and make connections with the street. Both the loft and towns buildings employ stepped-back designs that allow for larger balconies; 44 of the 55 towns and most of the lofts are two stories with high-volume ceilings and some mezzanine levels; the walk-up towns (which include live/work “shopkeeper's” units) provide a connection to Little Italy's colorful street scene.

“One of the unique things about this project is that we have walk-ups on both the towns as well as the lofts, which creates a direct access to the street,” says Haley. “That interaction with the street is an important part of this project and all of our projects.”

Project: doma, San Diego; Size: 740 to 1,900 square feet; Total units: 122; Price: $243,900 to $700,900; Developer/Builder: CityMark Development, San Diego; Architect: Martinez + Cutri, San Diego; Landscape architect: Deneen Powell Atelier, San Diego; Interior designer: Divan Studios, San Diego

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Diego, CA.