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AJ Small Projects: It's time to launch our favourite annual event

The search is on for this year’s best designs on a budget, writes Christine Murray

It’s that time of year again. As the leaves turn and summer fades, it’s time to launch our favourite annual event - the AJ Small Projects competition, celebrating design quality and ingenuity accomplished for a total contract value of £250,000 or less. Supported again this year by our friends at Marley Eternit, AJ Small Projects rewards ambitious architects who apply big ideas to small-scale commissions with cash prizes and publicity.

For some, small projects are a specialism; for others, a loss-leading stepping stone to larger commissions. This is the 18th year of this annual contest and now, perhaps more than ever, small projects are the bread and butter of this profession. If Ian Martin lampoons the ‘Royal Institution for the Pop-Uption of British Architects’, it is because pavilions and pop-ups and the size of their media coverage have become central to architectural practice.

These days, great practices fight over small projects. Take the Architecture Foundation’s Floating Cinema competition, won by Duggan Morris architects (see page 22) - competitions of this scale get hundreds of entries, partially because of the guaranteed media buzz. That’s why Duggan Morris, a practice now winning larger projects, clearly sees the value in continuing to compete for the kind of small-scale works that Rory Olcayto has dubbed ‘PRchitecture’.

With the AJ Small Projects competition, even more lucrative than our total prize fund of £2,500 is the chance to get your practice noticed by clients and peers. Last year, at the AJ Small Projects launch event, Ben Addy of Moxon Architects talked about how getting a small bridge shortlisted for the AJ Small Projects prize led to a string of bridge commissions. This year, every entrant’s project will be included and promoted in the AJ Buildings Library. The 24-strong shortlist will be published in two special issues of the magazine in January - our most popular issues of the year - and, for the first time, on iPad too. They’ll also be exhibited in the Small Projects exhibition: this year’s show was the longest running in the NLA’s history, then went on to the Architecture Centre in Bristol in an expanded format with live events with the winners.

Like last year, this year’s shortlist will be asked to present their project to our jury panel for a supercrit. Our jury always includes a prominent architect, client, quantity surveyor and members of the AJ team - great connections to make.

Also at last year’s launch event, Deborah Saunt spoke of how her practice DSDHA grew from designing extensions to their first skyscraper. Saunt admitted they still take on small projects, even if they are unlikely to make a profit, because they are an ideal training ground for young architects working in practice. ‘You get all the problems of a big project, without the same level of risk,’ said Saunt. It isn’t the only big practice taking on small jobs: in 2009, Hopkins was shortlisted for its smallest cinema project, and last year Carmody Groarke was shortlisted for its workshops for Antony Gormley.

Small Projects also gives the AJ the opportunity to discover new talent and fresh approaches to extending, refurbishing, in-filling, overlooking and rights to light. We had 150 entries last year. Show us what you’ve got. Entries are now open and the deadline is 19 November. Visit TheAJ.co.uk/SmallProjects2013 for more details. Email Tom Ravenscroft at ajsmallprojects@emap.com with any questions.

christine.murray@emap.com

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