Safari Drive Condominiums, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Raul J. Garcia Safari Drive Condominiums, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Census data now confirm that the housing market hit rock bottom in 2009. That’s the time frame in which most of this year’s Builder’s Choice Awards entries were built. It also describes a 12-month ordeal that ended with one speaker at the 2010 International Builders’ Show reassuring a battered and shell-shocked pool of attendees, “You are all survivors.”

Indeed. Staying afloat through that dreadful year was a formidable feat in and of itself. Which makes the accomplishments of our 2010 winners all the more profound. More than survivors, they are establishing new rules and propelling the industry forward at a time of great flux and uncertainty.

Consider that more than half of this year’s winners are infill projects at a time when population shifts and environmental concerns advocate for smaller homes with shorter commutes. Several demonstrate great finesse in knitting together historic buildings with new construction. Others seek to create new paradigms for multi-generational housing. Some are models of affordability in the aftermath of a credit crunch. Still others offer a new regionalism that savors the singularity and appropriateness of native materials and talent.

The boldest statement, by far, is made by the 2010 Project of the Year, which endeavors to “reinvent the suburban form” and counter the forces of sprawl by demonstrating just how much one can fit, comfortably and desirably, on a grayfield measuring less than five acres. A masterpiece in its own right, this project also marks the second consecutive top honor for The Miller|Hull Partnership—a firm that has proved its mettle in all kinds of climates.

One final observation is that residential architecture, on the whole, is becoming more transitional. Striking design is occurring in rural areas that applies new, high-tech materials to traditional farmhouse architecture. And in urban locations, new buildings elegantly reinterpret the rhythms and patterns of the streetscape using a contemporary vocabulary. Several of this year’s entrants articulated an express goal to design “architecture of our time.” Rather than trying to replicate a nostalgic past, they are asserting a new identity—one that blends the patina of history with the tastes, technologies, and cost realities of today.

As the old proverb goes, “change is the only constant.” And as this year’s champions demonstrate, change can be good. Make that better than good. May the 30th anniversary of Builder’s Choice mark an artful new beginning.