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McLaughlin: ‘Through small projects you discover yourself’

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Stirling Prize-shortlisted architect Niall McLaughlin joined Studio Weave’s Maria Smith to discuss the trials and tribulations of working on small projects

The pair gathered in front of a 200-strong audience at the NLA to launch the 2015 Small Projects Award.

‘Small projects allow you to do something singular and very memorable’, said Niall McLauglin, director at Niall McLaughlin Architects.

He described one of his first projects – a photographer’s hide which he built for £15,000. The client had asked for a patio and McLaughlin ended up building a timber hide at the bottom of the garden which took four years and was built entirely from models.

Niall McLaughlin photographer's hide

Niall McLaughlin’s photographer’s hide

Smith, who has built around 25 small projects at Studio Weave, said: ‘There is something wonderful about creating great architecture with very little resources’.

McLaughlin went on to describe the important role of the quantity surveyor. Each year a quantity surveyor forms part of the judging panel for the awards, which recognise the best architecture built for less than £250,000.

McLaughlin said: ‘I have only not used a quantity surveyor twice. You have to be very careful in case something goes wrong. You could find yourself in a lot of trouble. We always advise clients to use a quantity surveyor.

‘But I would argue for a much more proactive relationship between the architect and the quantity surveyor. Architects need to have a sense of how much things cost.’

He warned: ‘You are much more likely to get into a dispute on a small project. Clients can be so much more naive.

‘Always have a contract and have insurance. Dodge the bullets.’

Yet Smith said the use of quantity surveyors could be difficult for small projects.

‘Small projects are so bespoke. £10, 000 makes all the difference. You can’t apply a rule of thumb. Quantity surveyors are brilliant for large projects but no good for small ones’, she said.

Maria Smith’s five reasons why architects have a special place in their hearts for small projects

  1. We like to thing constraints demand extra creativity. Small projects often have less defined briefs and can cause us to have to think more broadly.
  2. Lower budgets pose lower risks. This gives more room for experimentation but you should always remember even though the budget is small it is still 100 per cent of what the client can afford. Cost planning for small projects is very difficult.
  3. On small projects there is a closer relationship between the client and the architect – the client is less likely to be a professional client.
  4. Small projects progress really quickly. One person can understand everything. Job satisfaction is really high on small projects.
  5. You have a much more intimate relationship with the people actually building the project.

Maria Smith at Studio Weave's Lullaby Factory

Maria Smith at Studio Weave’s Lullaby Factory

A long-established showcase for emerging talent, the AJ Small Projects Awards is the Architects’ Journal’s annual search for the best architecture built for less than £250,000.

Entries are now open for this year’s awards.

All of the projects entered into the awards will be featured in the AJ Buildings Library with the 24 shortlisted projects published in the AJ, exhibited at the NLA in Store Street, London, and presented in front of our top-flight judging panel in a crit.

How to enter the Small Projects Awards

You will need to submit 150 words describing your project, along with at least eight photographs, five drawings and one working detail. Entry costs £60 + VAT. All entries must be made digitally via the AJ Buildings Library.

Email Tom Ravenscroft at ajsmallprojects@emap.com for a unique AJBL login.

Deadline: 28 November 2014

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