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AJ Small Projects 2020 winner revealed

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Martin Edwards architects’ retrofit and extension of a house in North Wales for its wheelchair-using owner has been named winner of the AJ Small Projects 2020 award

The 75m² house, which has a 19th-century core, sits within in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near Snowdonia.

The £120,000 project reworked the original house, including the installation of a new roof, and added a new-build bedroom and bathroom and sheltered outdoor space, making the home totally accessible to its owner, who is reliant on a wheelchair.

House in North Wales by Martin Edwards Architects

House in North Wales by Martin Edwards Architects

Source: Max Creasy

The London-based practice will receive £2,500 alongside the award, which is now in its 25th year and celebrates innovative projects built on a budget of £250,000 or under.

The jury – which comprised architects Stephen Bates, Allan Sylvester and David Leech, Lendlease’s director of masterplanning Selina Mason and the AJ’s sustainability editor Hattie Hartman, chaired by AJ architecture editor Rob Wilson – praised the scheme for its ‘craft and intelligence’, done with ‘deft hands and sensitivity to place’. ‘A subtle, fine piece of work with a thoughtfulness and integrity which has taken a simple brief to another level,’ commented one of the judges. 

The scheme features new elements detailed using local materials. The extension’s highly insulated timber frame is clad in corrugated sheeting common on surrounding agricultural shelters.

Internally, new walls and ceilings are lined with painted timber boarding, with a pigmented concrete floor throughout. High levels of insulation and under-floor heating improve thermal comfort and reduce energy use. Large openings provide panoramic views.

The jury also chose to award a Sustainable Project winner to The Cass’ Unit 7 for its CASS Studio prototype project on an industrial hemp farm outside Huntingdon.

The 30m² life-size mock-up for a ‘scalable studio’, inspired by cantilevered barns and conceived within the parameters of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 (meaning in most contexts it does not require planning permission) was built on a budget of just £10,000. 

Praising its ‘spirit and ease’, judges commented on its use of ’materials in an experiential, architectural way, not just as technical requirement’, saying it presented ’sustainability as an atmospheric idea as much as an environmental idea’.

They also hailed it as a model of hands-on educational research: ‘In a world where we are dependent on the digital, this shows the importance of the analogue in educational research: this was students – who were out in a field in November – thinking and learning about being an architect.’ 

CASS Studio by Unit 7, The Cass

CASS Studio by Unit 7, The Cass

Source: David Grandorge

CASS Studio by Unit 7, The Cass

The People’s Choice award – a reader poll which drew more than 1,500 votes – was won by BÜF Architecture for Ellis House with 19 per cent of the votes. 

Ellis House by BÜF Architecture

Ellis House by BÜF Architecture

Source: Edmund Sumner

Ellis House by BÜF Architecture

Speaking after the practice’s win, Martin Edwards admitted to being ’stunned but very pleased’ at the news, adding that the project had been the result of ’a brilliant and very close collaboration’ with the client, ‘long walks in the landscape’ to understand local conditions, and had been a process of ‘collecting, distilling and editing’, rather than imposing any single big idea.

The practice’s other projects have included an artist’s studio in Stepney, east London, an extension to a house in east London, and a series of ongoing projects for Radnor House School in Twickenham.

The House in North Wales was chosen from a 20-strong shortlist selected from almost 200 entries. Each of the practices and authors of the shortlisted schemes was invited to make a five-minute video of their work. These were presented to the coronavirus locked-down judging panel, who deliberated over an afternoon Microsoft Teams conference.  

Screenshot 2020 04 27 at 07.16.37

Screenshot 2020 04 27 at 07.16.37

Judging process. Clockwise from top left: Stephen Bates; Allan Sylvester; David Leech; Selina Mason.

Past winners of the annual AJ Small Projects award include Doma Architects (2016), Carmody Groarke (2015), Chris Dyson (2014), Haworth Tompkins (2010) and Hawkins\Brown (2000).

All entries to this year’s awards are on view in the AJ Buildings Library

AJ Small Projects is run in association with Marley

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