OH, TO BE 75 AND ABLE TO LIVE IN such a terrific Santa Barbara, Calif., environment. That's the sentiment that was shared by all the (younger) judges, who admired the campuslike setting of Maravilla's sensitively scaled buildings and its traditional Santa Barbara–style architecture (deep-set, arch-top windows and doorways; wrought-iron balconies; clay tile roofs). Reinforcing all that great design is an equally sensitive approach to the courtyards and gardens, which use a wide palette of native vegetation.

But Maravilla is more than just a collection of handsome buildings. This 20-acre project includes scores of amenities plus 92 senior apartments, 155 independent-living apartments, and 116 assisted-living units, all designed to meet the needs of retirees no matter their quality of health.

The project succeeded despite some pretty severe entitlement restrictions. The first large-scale senior housing community to be built in Santa Barbara in more than 30 years had to adhere to a 32 ½-foot height limit. And construction had to be halted during winter months to protect butterflies.

Photo By Brad Anderson

Award: Grand award for best seniors housing project; Builder: W.E. O'Neil Construction Co., Los Angeles; Developer: Senior Resource Group, Solana Beach, Calif.; Architect: Mithun, Seattle; Land planner: Cearnal Architects, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Santa Barbara, CA.