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Small Projects: Viewpoint

‘Small projects are a founding principle of our practice’, Jude Barber, director, Collective Architecture

At Collective Architecture, we consider there to be an inherent value in undertaking small works. We all carry out a significant number of small projects for a practice of 24 people. There are a variety of reasons for this. The economic and political ones are rather complex, but it is always worth bearing in mind that £250,000 is still an incredible amount of money. Few people or organisations could individually generate this level of wealth. So, the principle that everyone should benefit from good design, regardless of budget or scale, is an important one.

In fact, some projects begin with no budget at all - yet there is an important need for intervention and ideas within a specific place at a particular time.

Small projects allow us to experiment with ideas, forms and materials, and to work with builders and craftspeople in a more artisanal way. We have the pleasure of working with intriguing organisations and people such as arts charity NVA (Glasgow Harvest 2012), the FUSE Café (young people’s music centre), Glasgow Women’s Library (archive, library and meeting space) and the Britannia Panopticon Trust (the oldest surviving music hall in the world). Small projects can also be a way of generating new work, or moving into different territories or typologies.

Small projects are a founding principle of our practice. Chris Stewart, who established Collective Architecture in 1996, undertook a series of fantastic grassroots projects, such as the lighting of derelict water towers in Garthamlock and Drumchapel. This body of work sought to strengthen the identity of socio-economically challenged communities in the periphery of Glasgow. These projects laid the foundations for other lighting and building work, which included the refurbishment of the fabulous Titan Crane in Clydebank, carried out with Adrian Stewart, now of DO-Architecture.

This initiative from Clydebank Rebuilt sought to ‘light up’ this incredible industrial landmark within the former John Brown’s Shipyard. Over time, and with hard work, fundraising and dedication on the part of the client, the project developed into a full restoration of the Grade A-listed crane structure with new access, visitor facilities and interpretation. The overall project, by architect Ewan Imrie, was recognised internationally and received a Civic Trust Award. A following phase introduced a new café and exhibition pavilion at the base of the crane, and this was shortlisted for the 2012 AJ Small Projects Awards.

Typically, in the mainstream practice of architecture ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’. In this respect small projects can be a celebration of the bespoke and original. They remind us of who we like to work with and the cultural pursuits we might enjoy.

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