Housing starts and building permits edged up significantly last month, suggesting the industry may be slowly creeping its way toward a rebound. But if the winners of this year’s Gold Nugget Awards are any indication, the new projects coming off the boards don't look much like the homes that were fueling architecture and design competitions at the height of the housing boom.

The latest crop of winners, announced Thursday during a ceremony at PCBC in San Francisco, are playing by different rules, it seems. Generally speaking, they are smaller, greener, more urban, and more affordable. Many of these winning houses make ingenious use of what’s already there, be it an existing building shell, an adjacent transit station, or a beach. Context has never mattered more.

Below we offer a sneak preview of the 2009 Gold Nugget Awards in pictures. Watch for more winner profiles in the August issue of BUILDER.

Yanonali Court
Santa Barbara, Calif.

The Trend: Green infill

Jim Bartsch

The design review process in Santa Barbara is about as stringent as they come, but that didn’t stop architects Barry and Jeff Berkus and builder Steve Berkus (yes, they are related) from turning this quarter acre into something special--special enough to be named 2009 Project of the Year. The five infill units that make up this little pocket village are organized around a central courtyard and share an outdoor fireplace and fountain. With their crisp stucco walls, red tile roofs, wrought iron railings, arched windows, and decorative tile, the homes revere the city's local architectural tradition, which blends Spanish, Mediterranean, and Moorish influences. But they aren’t cookie cutter. Each residence is thoughtfully oriented with its own unique entry and arrival sequence.

Furthermore, these delightful little gems (which range in size from just 954 square feet to 1,989 square feet) are more than just a pretty picture. The project as a whole scored LEED Platinum certification and went on to become a pilot for the city’s “Built Green” program. Water-conserving features such as on-site rainwater collection, pervious paving materials, and xeriscaping with sustainable irrigation practices are central to its drought tolerant mission.

Herein lies an impeccable model for good architecture and craftsmanship, not to mention sustainability.--Jenny Sullivan

Award: Project of the Year and Grand for outstanding sustainable residential neighborhood, attached
Builder: Berkus Construction, Santa Barbara.
Architects/Land planners: Jeffrey Berkus Architects, Aspen, Colo. and B3 Architects, a Berkus Design Studio, Santa Barbara
Developer: Del Mar Development/Berkus Construction, Santa Barbara

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Santa Barbara, CA, San Francisco, CA, Los Angeles, CA.