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Ingenious work at the AJ Small Projects Exhibition

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Jess Bowie reviews a collection of ingenious bread-and-butter work at the AJ Small Projects show

AJ Small Projects 2009, sponsored by Ramboll Whitbybird. Until 26 February. New London Architecture, 26 Store Street, London WC1E 7BT

A small project, in the case of this exhibition,is one completed for a contract value of under £250,000. Currently on show at the Building Centre are the 24 schemes shortlisted for this year’s AJ Small Projects Awards. To reach them, one must first walk past Pipers’ huge model of London, a 3D map of present and future mega-developments. Against this grand-scale urbanism, the Small Projects could be dwarfed. But, as this exhibition proves, it’s often the more modest schemes – a bike shed, an extension, even a birdbox – that have the most spontaneity, creativity and humour.

Take, for example, Joseph Faycal’s chapel in Zahle, Lebanon. Costing £75,000, folding partitions allow it to expand to 10 times its normal capacity, making room for 200 people. Consarc Architects has taken a break from redesigning stations for London’s Docklands Light Railway to create a series of ‘palaces’ for the wildlife of King’s Wood, Kent.

But playfulness isn’t confined to smaller practices: even big names like Hopkins have a cheeky side. For just £20,000, Hopkins built ‘The Smallest Cinema in the World’, created in collaboration with Swedish artist Annika Eriksson for public art project Portavilion.

On a different tack altogether is the Tarlungeni Children’s Centre in Romania. For £43,000, charitable organisation Voluntary Design and Build created a structure entirely in tune with its function. The centre’s rainbow colour scheme and different-sized windows make it look like a child’s toy writ large.

Small projects may be bread-and-butter work for many firms, but what this exhibition celebrates is the level of ingenuity that can be achieved even when working on a tight budget.

Resume: Economist EF Schumacher was right: small really is beautiful

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