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AJ Small Projects: 25 years of small budget, big concept winners

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Martin Edwards architects’ victory this year marks 25 years of the AJ Small Projects award, run in association with Marley. We look back on a quarter-century of winning projects

The announcement of Martin Edwards architects’ House in North Wales as the winner of this year’s AJ Small Projects award also marks 25 years of winners since a garden pavilion by Anthony Grimshaw won in 1996. Since then projects from luxury home renovations, extensions on tiny budgets, arts and cultural studios and spaces, follies and more civic and community-minded market stalls have been winners of the Award.  

Many of the winning practices have gone on to become some of the most recognised practices and architects, going on to bigger successes, including Chris Wilkinson, Haworth Tompkins, Mole Architects, Carmody Groarke and Hawkins\Brown.

As such the AJ Small Projects Award has charted a quarter of a century of Britain’s architects seeking to harness big ideas to small budgets.

In this it’s tempting to trace in microcosm trends in architectural form and ideas since then, not least in the use of material: from the glazed box of the original winner to later schemes mainlining Corten as cladding such as Haworth Tompkins’ 2010 winner The Dovecote Studio or reflecting the return to brick, as seen in 2018’s winning scheme, Wrong House by Matheson Whiteley Architects.

Nicely, this year the three schemes recognised in the Award could be characterised as reflecting three more general threads that have characterised it over the years: the increasing recognition of the value of retrofit projects, adapting and adding to – in more ways than one – existing structures: seen in Martin Edwards architects’ subtle and senstive winning scheme, which reworks a beloved home.

07 house in wales mea max creasy

07 house in wales mea max creasy

Source: Max Creasy

AJ Small Projects Award winner 2020: House in North Wales by Martin Edwards architects

The growing emphasis seen on materials and sustainability is also embodied in the impressive 2020 Sustainable Project winner CASS Studio by Cass School of Architecture students. 

Cass studio 06 david grandorge

Cass studio 06 david grandorge

Source: David Grandorge

AJ Small Projects Sustainable Project winner 2020: CASS Studio by Cass School of Architecture

And the rich furrow of extensions that has run through entries to the Award over the years  – maxing out the practical and imaginative possibilities of the UK’s house stock – as exemplified by the AJ Small Projects 2020 People’s Choice winner: the lean but light-filled Ellis House by BÜF Architecture. 

A001 9.00 01 photo after image 03 ©edmund sumner

A001 9.00 01 photo after image 03 ©edmund sumner

Source: Edmund Sumner

AJ Small Projects 2020 People’s Choice: Ellis House by BÜF Architecture

However the essential value of the Award, celebrating great architecture on small canvas – and budget – holds good. As Martin Edwards, the 2020 Award winner says:

’Small projects can be an opportunity to explore ideas, in relatively quick succession, with an intensity that is different to larger projects’, adding they offer ’more opportunities to experiment’ , while the constraints of brief and budget ’often helps bring into focus what’s essential and to distil ideas and details down to those things that make an appreciable difference to the whole.’

The 20 shortlisted projects were published in the AJ’s March 26 issue and all projects entered into the awards are featured on the AJ Buildings Library. Check them out here

The annual AJ Small Projects awards, run in association with Marley for the ninth year, celebrate completed projects with a contract value of £250,000 and under.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Love the small project awards - the best of architectural awards. It would be a great series for the AJ to revisit the winners and see how they are fairing over time.

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