A DESIGN COMPETITION SUCH AS BUILDER'S Choice is best seen as a snapshot of the building industry, a moment in time when clear themes emerge and trends bubble up to the surface. With this year's Builder's Choice awards there are no doubts: Affordable rules!

Time and time again, as the judges sifted through the merits of hundreds of great designs, affordable projects beat out market-rate entries for inventive architecture and site-sensitive design, especially in urban areas. A dozen affordable projects were winners in this 24th annual Builder's Choice competition. Even the Project of the Year, a seniors community center and apartment complex in San Jose, Calif., proudly touted its affordable status.

“It's time to throw out all that Tuscan farmhouse stuff,” is how one judge summed up the general feeling. What made the most sense—and the most news—were projects that took into account a variety of factors: social concerns, density requirements, and urban realities such as crime.

But there are lessons to be learned that go beyond strictly urban concerns. The best projects, whether they're in gritty West Oakland, Calif., or picture-perfect Harbor Springs, Mich., all have something in common: great design, great construction, and, above all, a great sense of community.

Project of the Year and Grand: Northside Community Center + Mabuhay Court, San Jose, Calif.

Grand and Merit: Markethouse Lofts, San Jose, Calif.

Grand: The Cortile Collection At The Bridges, Residence 3, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

Grand: Bay Street Cottages, Harbor Springs, Mich.

Grand: Magnolia Row, West Oakland, Calif.

Grand: Mayacama Golf Clubhouse, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Grand: Rollins Square, Boston

Grand: Harper Court: Seven Fountains, West Hollywood, Calif.

Grand: Bougainvillea Courtyard Homes, Vero Beach, Fla.

Grand: Linden Court, West Oakland, Calif.

Grand and Merit: Kokoro Assisted Living Center, San Francisco

Grand: The College Park Neighborhood, Phase 2, Memphis, Tenn.

Grand: Rivera Barn, Napa, Calif.

Grand: Alexan Lofts, Houston

Grand: Arlington Bungalow, Arlington, VA.

Grand: Arbor Park Village, Cleveland

Grand: The Titan, San Diego

Merit: Pivot.Slide House, Tempe, Ariz.

Merit: Riverwood Place SRO, Santa Clara, Calif.

Merit: Goodson House, Raleigh, N.C.

Merit: Private Residence, Washington

Merit: Private Residence, Atlanta

Merit: Italian Gardens, San Jose, Calif.

Merit: Mossburg Building, Harbor Springs, Mich.

Merit: Ross Woods, Belmont, Calif.

Merit: The Courtyards At Market Street, Plan 2, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Merit: Sunrise of Lincoln Park, Chicago

Merit: 10th Street Townes, Charlotte, N.C.

Merit: Summit Roosevelt, Washington

Merit: Island House 2, Balboa Island, Calif.

Merit: Soma Studios and 8th + Howard Apartments, San Francisco

Merit: Mirasol at Celebration, Celebration, Fla.

Merit: Southampton Timberline, Plan 5, Birmingham, Ala.

Merit: Winslowe's View at The Pinehills, Plymouth, Mass.

Merit: Ogeechee Clubhouse, Richmond Hill, Ga.

Merit: The Sycamores at Shady Canyon, Plan 3, Irvine, Calif.

Merit: The Metro, Denver

Special Focus: Private Residence, Summerland, Calif.

Special Focus: Berkshires Guest Cottage, Richmond, Mass.

Special Focus: Private Residence, Connecticut Shore

Special Focus: Dennis Residence, Columbus, Ohio

Special Focus: Lenzen Square Apartments, San Jose, Calif.

Special Focus: Connecticut Studio, Western Connecticut

Meet The Builder's Choice Judges

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Jose, CA, San Francisco, CA.