Practice makes perfect. Let’s be clear: Ranking architecture firms is equal parts art and science. We refine our methodology every year. But the goal of the Architect 50 remains the same: to reward accomplishment according to the broadest possible criteria.

The list is designed to celebrate practices of all kinds—practices that are as adept with building technology as they are in business, that can win design awards and also give back to their communities. Indeed, for the first time, this year we included pro bono work and water modeling in the survey. Given the impact that the economy, natural disasters, and drought are having around the country, how firms stack up in those categories seems especially relevant.

The overall winner? A big hand for DLR Group, which drew raves in 2011 for its Joplin Interim High School in tornado-ravaged Missouri.

Other firms that excelled: RBB Architects topped the business category; Westlake Reed Leskosky ranked first in sustainability; and perennial list-maker Skidmore, Owings & Merrill led the design/pro bono category. Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, meanwhile, was the biggest mover, finishing 5th after missing the top 50 last year. And Frank Harmon Architect showed that firms with only a handful of employees can compete with big multinationals.

We hope this year’s list will inspire energetic debates. Dig into the numbers. And don’t be afraid to tell us what you think.