When Boston-based GFC Development first approached The MZO Group, a Stoneham, Mass., architectural firm, in 2007 with the idea of creating a high-end, green, and modern multifamily option amidst the time-honored New England vernacular found within the neighborhood of Somerville, Mass., neither party fully realized how successful the project would be considering its many unique challenges.

To start, numerous traditionally styled residential units were readily available for sale throughout the neighborhood, and sales were lagging. Additionally, the rectangular-shaped lot had an existing, bulky telecommunications switching station located prominently on its front side, creating an awkward and undesirable footprint to develop, thus souring most of the site’s redevelopment prospects up to that point. What’s more, environmentally inspired living wasn’t in demand in the traditionally clad neighborhood, so to create a “green” luxury condominium would be a challenge in its own right.

But obstacles or no, GFC’s vision for environmentally minded, contemporary residential units within an up-and-coming neighborhood at a comparable pricing point was firm. "We wanted to differentiate the finished product from anything else on the market while utilizing an unwanted, undeveloped site for residential purposes,” explains Charles Aggouras, president of GFC Development. “We were essentially reclaiming the unused commercial parcel while inserting a functional residential property into the neighborhood in the process.”

The result was an elegant, three-unit condominium that provides a distinctively different exterior appearance than surrounding buildings while sleekly blending the transformer behind half walls and foliage to essentially camouflage it against the backdrop of the building. “The thought was to really incorporate the switchgear [transformer] within the exterior style and actually take some styling cues from the equipment itself,” says Jim Zegowitz, senior project manager at The MZO Group. “By doing this, we were able to essentially disguise it within the overall look and feel--and obtain bonus LEED points by keeping it in tact.”

The interior of the two-bedroom, two-bathroom units, which range in size from 1,450 to 1,600 square feet and cost about $179 per square foot, takes a more traditional design approach with some modern touches. “We wanted to accentuate the exterior contemporary feel on the interior, without taking it too far and potentially limiting our pool of buyers,” adds Zegowitz.  “It was really a fine line of creating a comfortable, mostly traditional, interior feel with a subtle flair of contemporary and environmentally minded products.” 

In addition to location and parcel footprint, a combination of features contributed to the project’s eventual LEED-Silver certification, including a carefully sealed envelope with walls insulated to R-21 and the roof to R-38; energy-efficient windows, appliances, HVAC, and lighting; water-efficient toilets and landscaping; building materials made with recycled or readily renewable content; and a cool roof. (For more product and design details, click on the slide show above.)

Surmounting upfront challenges and providing ROI-boosting green features proved fruitful: Upon completion in Fall 2009, the units sold out almost immediately.

"There was a better way to build, and we took this opportunity to construct our project to the best standards we could find,” says Aggouras. “Our target market knew what they wanted; we just had to provide it.”

Stuart Hanson is a freelance writer in Kirkland, Wash.