Broadway Court's pleats and folds look like wings, lifting it head and shoulders above the stucco boxes that characterize much of the affordable housing in downtown Santa Monica, Calif. Pugh Scarpa Kodama built simply and economically so it could “splurge” on a few arty exterior elements. According to principal-in-charge Lawrence Scarpa, AIA, the perforated metal sails, screens, and stairways accounted for less than $300,000 of the project's $8.6 million budget.

The inventive forms are as eye-pleasing as they are practical. The northwest-facing building is U-shaped to funnel prevailing breezes throughout the 41 two- and three-bedroom units. Metal cladding—like a see-through bug screen—on the main façade and west-facing walls deflects the sun's rays and the chaos of the busy street below. Meanwhile, the flying stairways and the east façade's asymmetrical folds give the building visual depth—“the thing these projects most often suffer without,” Scarpa says.

As is their custom, the architects loaded the building with sustainable features—enough to exceed the state's energy code by 30 percent. Residents enjoy low utility bills, thanks to measures such as compact fluorescent lighting, double-pane windows, and dual-flush toilets. Material specs, like natural linoleum flooring and high-recycled-content carpet and insulation, are models of efficiency and good health. All told, it's a building that saves resources, giving back to occupants who need them the most.