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Enter AJ Small Projects and spread the joy

Emily Booth
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Smaller schemes are the bread and butter of our industry, often magnifying architecture’s very best qualities, writes Emily Booth

Earlier this month the AJ launched its annual Small Projects Awards at a special event at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. The awards, run in association with Marley Eternit, celebrate completed projects with a contract value of £250,000 and under.

Our expert panel, chaired by architecture editor Rob Wilson, featured David Connor from David Connor Design, Ruth Donnelly of Doma Architects and Chris Dyson of Chris Dyson Architects. All have first-hand experience of winning a Small Project award: Connor for Croft Lodge Studio, for which he won last year’s prize together with partner Kate Darby of Kate Darby Architects; Donnelly, who formed Doma Architects in 2010 to specialise in contemporary domestic architecture, and who was a joint winner in 2016 for Contemporary Lean-to in Harrogate; and Dyson, whose 13 Wapping Pierhead extension took the top spot in 2014.

Contemporary lean to doma3

Contemporary lean to doma3

Contemporary Lean-to by Doma Architects, joint winner of AJ Small Projects 2016

What united their enthusiastic and passionate presentations was belief in the sheer beauty of the carefully crafted small project. From the importance of relationships with both builder and client, to the significance of getting your hands dirty to understand the spirit and soul of a building: somehow these qualities can be magnified in small schemes. The absolute love of craft was a joy to see.

The launch discussion was a reminder of the commitment, curiosity and care that sit at the heart of architects and architecture

More broadly, the launch discussion was a reminder of the commitment, curiosity and care that sit at the heart of architects and architecture. The ability to create a place that changes perceptions and improves lives is a special thing.

Certain quotations from the night capture the flavour of the event: ‘A small building can carry lots of power’ (Connor); ‘It’s about the quality of things. Buildings are art objects’ (Dyson); and, as Donnelly explained: ‘[Small Projects are] a little piece of joy’.

Small practices, working on small projects, make up a significant and important part of the profession. Their schemes are the bread and butter of much of the industry. And coverage of buildings with modest budgets is regularly among our most-read articles.

AJ Small Projects began back in 1996 and over the passing years the intention has remained the same. From home extensions to restaurants, offices to shops, architects all over the country are busy working on projects that may not make the headlines but nevertheless give a real indication of the design talent in Britain today.

To find out how enter AJ Small Projects and have your project published in the AJ Buildings Library, please click here. The deadline for entries is 2 February. The very best of luck – we look forward to finding out more about your little pieces of joy.

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