Being your own developer, designer, and builder offers the freedom to align your creativity and your beliefs with your business. But there's no doubt you also take on all the risk. Pb Elemental Architecture decided to play its game of chance with this 6,000-square-foot lot located in a sketchy neighborhood and on a busy road. What hedged the bet was a new library across the street and a determination to build green in a city that embraces it. The area, principal Chris Pardo feels, is on the upswing. “South Park had a bad reputation for a long time,” he says, “but now it's becoming a little artist community.”

The building is the first in the neighborhood to earn Seattle's Built Green certification. Features such as solar panels, an insulated rainscreen, gray water recycling, stormwater harvesting, radiant heat, and sustainable materials helped the firm garner a five-star rating—the program's highest. And in sustainable design, size matters. Two pairs of 760-square-foot lofts flank a 1,250-square-foot unit. Pardo and partner David Biddle created compact footprints that function efficiently and still feel spacious. They even managed to squeeze in yards. Clever storage includes a hidden pantry behind the fridge downstairs and a flip-down countertop above the washer and dryer upstairs. An open second floor (containing bed, bath, and laundry niche) maintains the full height of the building to produce an airy atmosphere.

“You can see the entire unit from any point in the house,” Pardo says, “so it was really important to tie all of the features and materials together.” Dark accents unify and anchor two-story interiors. Chocolate bamboo flooring on the mezzanines wraps around to become kitchen ceilings. The same rich stain shows up on low-VOC cabinets and reclaimed wood window frames. A floating steel stair with dark bamboo treads defines a cozy nook underneath. Polished concrete floors and white walls contrast rich millwork. Even on gray days, natural light floods each loft through glass garage doors and skylights—both operable for ventilation.

Before construction began on the lofts, the firm snapped up six more lots and is currently in various stages on other infill projects. The architects are definitely doing their part to revitalize the area with hip, sustainable housing. These five units were completed in February and four are sold—the first one to another architect—so it seems Pb Elemental has played a very good hand, indeed.