The building industry has gotten serious, and it may be fair to say the trophy home has lost her crown. As the echo of popping champagne corks subsides, we now find ourselves facing the sobering realities of an affordable housing crisis, rising energy costs, sluggish sales, material price increases, and land wars in our most populous metro areas.

What the housing landscape needs right now are some visionary alternatives to the status quo. Fortunately this year's Builder's Choice award winners deliver mightily on that tall order. Take the Project of the Year, an infill venture that is at once traditional in its homage to East Coast colonial architecture, and yet revolutionary in its marriage of public housing and luxury townhome units, proving that the two can happily coexist—shared walls and all—in one of the nation's hottest real estate markets. It's a prototype that, with some tweaks to the aesthetic vocabulary, could be replicated in countless other locales.

This year's judges were apt to reward builders, developers, and architects pursuing long-term solutions and not just a quick fix. That sentiment played out in projects ranging from the panoramic to the intimate: live/work units that breathe new life into a decaying no man's land. Small urban pockets of whose site plans anticipate eventual connectivity to contiguous revitalization efforts that are yet decades away. A century-old farmhouse renovation that enhances (not obliterates) the original footprint and that leaves a phantom space in the floor plan for the next logical addition to come. Our jurors were even moved to do a little creative brainstorming themselves, imagining how one modest pool house might be recast as a fresh model for merchant-built housing.

All told, this year's award winners are not just big on looks, they represent big ideas. And in many cases, their back stories are as fascinating as their front elevations. Dig in and ponder the possibilities.