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.
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.