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AJ Footprint's pick of the greenest Small Projects

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From retrofit to temporary structures, from a floating tidemill to a cowshed, green ingenuity shines through in many projects this year

Compiling the shortlist for the AJ Small Projects Sustainability award was tougher than ever this year. A higher number of entries overall – 229 – combined with an ever-increasing number with sustainability either implicit or explicit in the projects also made the winnowing process for Footprint’s pick of the Best of the Rest much more arduous. Almost 50 projects, or 20 per cent of the projects, made my initial cut.  Just five years ago, I could count them on two hands. Even though this makes the task more complex and time-consuming, it is proof that more and more small practices are honing their green design skills.

An increased number of retrofit projects are starting to take sustainability seriously.  Juice’s thorough overhaul and overcladding of a double-fronted Chiswick home is one example.  Sanya Polescuk’s mews conversion in Belsize Park is another. Powell Tuck’s refurbishment and extension of an Islington terrace reduced the overall C02 emissions of the property by two-thirds while increasing the floor area by 20 per cent. Granted these are high-end jobs, but they lead the way by showing what should be common practice with any refurbishment project. 

Kobayashi Architects elegant glazed extension in Magdala Mews, Edinburgh takes a different approach with over 70 per cent glazing to floor area ratio, not inherently a ‘sustainable solution’ but made more so by utilising NBT’s perforated fired clay block Thermoplan as the main construction material, triple-glazing throughout and a sedum roof.

Temporary projects are always peppered throughout the submissions, their short life spans in keeping with small budgets.  But the design quality of the temporary projects stood out this year. From Sheffield University students’ inspired use of bamboo to shade a garden centre to Studio Myerscough’s Movement Café commissioned by the Cathedral Group, there was no shortage of clever temporary projects in this year’s batch. Nicholas Kirk’s floating tidemill in Newcastle was perhaps the most ingenious, while Me & Sam’s inhabitation of a Hackney rooftop demonstrates a simple approach to exploiting underutilised roofs.

One of the more charming projects is the Callan Cowshed in County Kilkenny, Ireland by The Cowshed Collective, a group of recent graduates from University College, Dublin. Salvaged bricks, telegraph poles, plywood and galvanised sheets were incorporated into the project. The roof gathers rainwater which is fed into a tank which sits partially inside and outside the shed, serving both shed and yard. But mostly, it is beautiful to behold like vernacular barns of yesteryear.

Two projects of note from further abroad are Child Graddon Lewis’ Siwa House in Egypt and Kilburn Nightingale’s short-listed reception building at the Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation in Uganda.

Green infrastructure, public realm and garden projects remain surprisingly few and far between. What If’s Vacant Lot programme and Marchmont Community Garden by the Architects Network are welcome exceptions. It would be good to see more submissions of this type next year.

Below is Hattie Hartman’s pick of the Best of the Rest:

Callan Cowshed

Callan Cowshed

Architect: Cowshed Collective

Location: Ireland

Total cost: £2,415

Constructed by reusing existing materials, the Callan Cowshed was constructed in three weeks with an emphasis on skills exchange by volunteers as part of an architectural summer school.

Emigre Studios Rooftop


Architect: Me & Sam

Location: London

Total cost: £8,000

By transforming a redundant rooftop space over an arts studio building in Hackney, this temporary bar features timber clad sheds and furniture made from reclaimed materials.

Carrick Mill

Carrick Mill

Architect: Tom Jenkins

Location: Fife, Scotland

Total cost: £175,000

The studio follows a minimalistic approach using materials of high thermal mass such as stone and well-insulated timber. The building achieves
10.9kgCO2/m². South-facing windows admit plentiful natural light while blinds prevent overheating.

ContemPLAY pavilion


Architect: McGill School of Architecture

Location: McGill University, Canada

Total cost: £25,155

The pavilion is a socially sustainable public infrastructure project that questions the current trend in public space furniture through digital fabrication techniques.



Architect: Nicholas Kirk Architects

Location: Newcastle

Total cost: £220,000

A floating structure comprised of a floating hull, waterwheel and millhouse to exhibit instruments and artwork, this project was open to the public for six months during 2012.



Architect: Juice Architects

Location: London

Total cost: £223,000

This extension and remodelling of a family home features highly insulated timber frame construction, rain water harvesting, deep cantilevered soffits and solar water heating panels.

Magdala Mews

Magdala Mews

Architect: Kobayashi Architects

Location: Edinburgh

Total cost: £130,000

Extension of an outshoot to a Grade B-Listed garden dwelling into a living space, the main construction material is perforated fireclay block which prevented the addition of extra insulation. Heat loss is minimised by triple glazing and a sedum roof deck.

Movement Cafe

Movement cafe

Architect: Studio Myerscough

Location: London

Total cost: £150,000

Eye catching temporary cafe designed and built in sixteen days with shipping containers and hand painted exterior plywood cladding. The work surfaces and all the furniture are made from reclaimed laboratory tops.

Siwa House

Siwa House

Architect: Child Graddon Lewis

Location: Egypt

Total cost: £25,000

Using a wise selection of local materials and craftsmanship to survive in the harsh desert climate, this dwelling also features a traditional wind tower to induce passive cooling.

The Shade House

Shade house

Architect: Sheffield School of Architecture Live Project

Location: Manchester

Total cost: £1,154

A collaborative project between students from The University of Sheffield and Hulme Community Garden Centre. The curved timber structure and bamboo cladding is designed to attract attention to the Garden Centre.

Town House Islington

Town House

Architect: Powell Tuck Associates

Location: London

Total cost: £150,000

The refurbishment and extension of a terraced house with increased natural daylighting, internal wall insulation, roof & ground insulation and double glazing. The refurbishment resulted in a 20 per cent space increase and CO2 emissions reduced by 66 per cent.

Victorian Mews House

Sanya Polescuk

Architect: Sanya Polescuk Architects

Location: London

Total cost: £240,000

A successful retrofit of a former Victorian mews house into an architects’ studio space by integrating old and new and wrapping up with insulation.

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