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Simplicity of small projects highlights the pitfalls of the expansion addicts


'Grow or die' is an underlying tenet of most businesses, but it does not always apply so well to more subtle organisations. London's Serpentine Gallery established itself as a patron of architecture and garnered great publicity with its series of charming and surprising summer pavilions by international architects. Then it decided that it should do something bigger and better.

First, it delayed its 2004 pavilion to the winter, and then announced the commission of the MVRDV 'mountain' and shifted on to summer 2005 - complete with a new exhibition programme that acknowledged that the gallery would be in the dark for the duration of the pavilion. Now it has moved the MVRDV project to 2006, commissioning lvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura to fill the gap - doubtless they will do an excellent job. Cynics suspect that the MVRDV proposal is just too ambitious and will never materialise. Whatever happens, the gallery has certainly skipped a year and lost momentum through its desire to inflate the idea of a delightful addition into something literally all-embracing.

The Guggenheim has also run into trouble through its belief that if having one museum is good, and two is better, then having two dozen would be ideal. Although director Thomas Krens has survived his showdown with major donor Peter B Lewis, and it turns out that satellite museums such as the one that Zaha Hadid is designing in Taiwan are not in danger, the museum has hit controversy and financial troubles. This is a case where expansion is certainly diluting the brand rather than enhancing it.

In this issue we publish the second half of our selection of small projects (see pages 22-33). With schemes of this size, all the clients are private, and many are individual householders. The buildings that we selected for publication are adventurous and imaginative but, above all, they are appropriate. Clients for buildings of this scale, even if they are relatively wealthy, have a limited budget and a sense of what they want and need. For these clients the best solution is the one that provides just enough.

Bigger and more ambitious would not be better. This is a lesson that patrons of architecture in some cultural institutions would do well to learn.

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