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SPP Journal: Small Project Awards | Issue number 54 | Fall 2011

Letter from the Chair

Welcome to the annual Small Project Awards issue of the SPP Journal.

Once again what we have always known has been proven to be true: design excellence does indeed exist in small projects. This year's award choices are demonstrations that scale and budget are not hindrances to the creative mind.

Some of the projects you will see on these pages are clearly laboratory demonstrations of higher concepts at work. A series of folded planes becomes a bus shelter. A low-cost constructed house demonstrates elegance and creativity beyond its perceived scope. Some small projects are superbly executed as demonstrated by a suspended tea house and an elevated meditation hut. A wonderful project with no clear function identifies and gives “place” to an otherwise anonymous suburban location.

The jury said they looked for unique solutions to ordinary situations, or ordinary solutions executed extraordinarily well. We feel they chose projects that do indeed reflect those values to a high level.

We thank our jury for their diligence and wisdom. Out of over one hundred entries they chose to honor eight projects.

We thank jury chair and former SPP Advisory Group chair Deborah Pierce, AIA, Wendy Evans Joseph, FAIA, Randy Brown, FAIA, Lance Hosey, AIA, and Obie Bowman, FAIA for their time, diligence and wisdom.

The Small Project Awards were established to recognize an overlooked group of practitioners in the AIA. Many, if not most, small project practitioners are also small firms, promotion budgets tend to be limited, and the traditional AIA awards programs were financially out of reach, both in entry fees and in the requirement for professional photography. The SPP established these awards with a very low entry fee, and banned professional photography to keep costs down. As one former AG chair put it, “the cost of professional photography could exceed the fees received on some of these projects.”

As a testament to the Awards' success, watch for the forthcoming retrospective book, Small Projects, Big Ideas:   The AIA Small Project Design Awards 2005-2011, which features all of the program's awardees.

Jim Cline, AIA
SPP Advisory Group Chair, 2011

Small Project Structures

PS 234 Manhattan Walkway
New York, New York
Macrae-Gibson Architects P.C.
Photo: Frederick Charles

A new walkway is completed at PS 234, The Independence School, a K-5 facility in the TriBeCa neighborhood of downtown Manhattan. The main school facility, a three story brick building, is separated by a playground from the kindergarten Annex, which is located in the adjacent aluminum and glass condominium building. The new walkway provides access the playground as well as shelter and handicap accessibility as kindergartners and teachers pass from one part of the school to the other. The walkway is L-shaped, following the property outline, and consists of a steel framed structure varying in height from 12’ to 20’ that rests on the concrete ramp. The structure is made of 4” x 4” red steel posts with red steel connecting beams, and is roofed with a standing seam red metal roof. The structure is enclosed with rectangular perforated metal panels in four colors. The panels are arranged in a rhythmic undulating pattern that produces triangular slivers of space in the facades. Views into the playground as well as through the structure are offered by this arrangement, resulting in a light, playful structure expressive of movement: both the movement of the children as well as the dynamism the city itself.

Layton Pavilion
Greenfield, Wisconsin
Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Photo: John J. Macaulay

A small architectural intervention embedded in the spatial vacuum of suburbia, the Layton Pavilion connects a large parking lot and a walled-in, undevelopable brownfield site used as a provisional public green space at a busy highway intersection. The crisp, austere concrete structure, a skim-coated apron hovering over the southwest corner of the brownfield site, links the two spaces, its unapologetic blackness a stark contrast to the beige cheerfulness of its surroundings, leaving an unexpected sense of gravitas rarely found in the weightless monotony of the suburban landscape. Leading from nowhere to nowhere, the pavilion itself becomes the destination, a reinterpretation of the archetypal folly in the park offering a series of visceral and corporeal experiences: spatial compression when entering; sightlines framed by slits, walls, and the roof; an occupiable object carefully scaled to be encountered by walking people, not speeding cars; the polished concrete planes, their solidity and material authenticity a rare exception in an environment dominated by thin veneers. Spatiality, scale, materiality – the pavilion reintroduces these fundamental concepts to the experientially impoverished realm of the urban periphery. Empty and ominous as it sits in the suburban void, it serves as a quiet monument to the richness of the human condition.

Meditation Hut III “Victor”
Champaign, Illinois
Jeffery S Poss Architect
Photo: Jeffery Poss

"Meditation and water are wedded forever" - Herman Melville.

The owners of a forested property wanted a quiet space to observe the surrounding nature. A naturalized understory leads to a visually kinetic approach ramp that contrasts to the subtle interior. Entry to the hut is through an obscured door detailed like the cedar walls. Inside an oversized window opposite the entrance immediately pulls the view back outside to a composed view of mature trees. Adjacent to this is a miniature tea cabinet. A raised platform in the main space supports three tatami mats. The location along the north pond edge allowed the development of several effluvial sensations. Throughout the day water reflections are projected onto the soffit. The roof channels rainwater to a central spout over the pond. A horizontal window in the tatami room frames a meditative fragment of water. The floor of glossy ebonized birch has the sensation of a deep still pool - the grass tatami mats become an island within an island. The result is an interior volume that is protective and serene but alive with subtle energy.

Tea House
Bethesda, Maryland
David Jameson Architect
Photo: Paul Warchol

A hanging bronze and glass object inhabits the backyard of a suburban home. The structure, which evokes the image of a Japanese lantern, acts as a tea house, meditation space, and stage for the family's musical recitals. After experiencing the image of the lantern as a singular gem floating in the landscape, one is funneled into a curated procession space between strands of bamboo that is conceived to cleanse the mind and prepare one to enter the object. After ascending an origami stair, the visitor is confronted with the last natural element: a four inch thick, opaque wood entry door. At this point the visitor occupies the structure as a performer with a sense of otherworldliness meditation.

Kiwi House
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Plus One, LLC
Photo: Kevin Duffy

The Kiwi House is a 1195 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2 bath house with an additional 500 square feet of covered porches. The master, with private bath and walk-in closet, opens up to the backyard and private porch. The laundry and storage room are located in the center, dividing the public space from the private space. At the front of the house is a living room/kitchen combination featuring a full glass facade connecting the Mitchells to their community. On the interior, a metal riglet detail eliminates the need for baseboards. Two different products were used to sheath the house, galvanized metal panels and fiber cement board, chosen for their durability, thermal properties and resistance to termites and mold. The metal roof and siding are 100 percent recyclable with the entire house designed in 2 foot increments minimizing the amount of overall material waste. The layout and placement of porches and windows avoid thermal heat gain. Overhangs and protruding exterior walls shield all exposed windows preventing direct sunlight. Operable windows were installed to allow cross ventilation without sacrificing privacy. Sitting above the flood plain, built on a concrete slab, serving as a large thermal mass that moderates temperature swings common to this region.

The E.D.G.E. Experimental Dwelling for a Greener Environment
Bayfield, Wisconsin
Revelations Architects/ Builders Corporation
Photo: Dan Hoffman Photography

What are the fundamental needs of life, and what is Architecture’s role in interpreting those needs? The functions of life can be distilled to eating, bathing, sleeping, and communal gathering. All design decisions were based on enhancing these activities without over consuming. How can we evaluate the work we do as Architects in a wider social and environmental context? To answer that question, we created an experimental dwelling, which would demonstrate these concepts, and could be used as an educational tool, to transform the way we presently create our homes. The EDGE was built three times in six months, first in our office parking lot, then at the 2009 Midwest Renewable Energy Association Energy Fair where 7,000 people viewed it, and its final destination in Bayfield, Wisconsin overlooking Lake Superior. Every inch of space was studied. Transformable furniture makes the space multi functional. Sleeping lofts use the minimum volume to achieve an ‘in the womb’ feeling. High quality results were accomplished economically with the use of CNC machining. EDGE features: rainwater harvesting, passive solar; kinetic insulated doors; hydronic geothermal HVAC; air-to-air heat recovery ventilation; local white oak rainscreen; and CNC interior fabrication. The EDGE transformed our team.

Small Project Objects

Gordon Square Bus Shelter
Cleveland, Ohio
Robert Maschke Architects Inc.
Photo: Eric Hanson, Hanson PhotoGraphic

The project consists of two bus shelters designed for the Gordon Square Arts District within Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. The brief called for the creation of functional and iconic elements to be incorporated as a part of an ensemble of new pieces of public art slated for the highly anticipated Detroit Avenue Streetscape project. Conceptually, the design is conceived as a single stainless steel surface which wraps and folds to create the shelter. The singular material enhances the sculptural quality of the modestly scaled shelters. Folds in the surface are determined by the accommodation of functional, contextual, and structural variables, which merge to generate the shelter’s shape. A pattern of perforations moves across the surface of the shelter which responds to localized conditions of sun, wind and view. In the evening the shelters will be internally illuminated, projecting a subtle dithered pattern on the surrounding buildings and surfaces transforming the existing context and incorporating it as a part of this new vibrant installation.

Empire, Michigan
Salmela Architect
Photo: Undine Prohl

This pavilion is an outdoor center for bocce ball tournaments, picnics, conversation and even summer night sleeping under safari nets. It is also a counterpoint of form to the orderly house, black out-buildings, fireplace and sauna of this retreat. The walls/roof are constructed on a flat concrete slab. The structure consists of two flat trusses of diagonal chords of stock 2x lumber. A 16”on-center 2x4 stud frame stiffens this 1 1/2” flat truss and the recycled paper-resin sheathing/siding/roofing makes a stiff 36 foot long plain. Three structural bends hold the flat surfaces in position and reflect its organic form. Using stock lumber and materials, it has been reduced to minimum number of pieces, just enough to maintain structural integrity.

Learn more about the AIA Small Project Awards Program.

Call for Submissions to SPP Journal

The AIA Small Project Practitioners (SPP) requests articles (approximately 500 – 800 words) and practice tips (approximately 100–400 words) for upcoming SPP Journals. Please share an experience, an anecdote, a failure (lessons learned the hard way), or a proven best practice. We always need “tips”—the little gems you can share to make our work easier and our practices more successful.

Upcoming topics are listed below, followed by submission guidelines and deadlines.

How to Take a Holiday

Preparing to take a vacation can be a lot of work, which is compounded for architects in small firms or solo practices. What strategies have you used to make leaving the office go more smoothly? And how have you avoided catastrophe upon your return? If you work with others, how do you keep the work progressing in your absence while still “getting away”? Or if you work alone, how does your firm manage in your absence? And finally, if you keep your cell phone on and bring your laptop—is it still a vacation?

Adding the First Employee

For small architecture firms, adding the first employee is an enormous step. What advice would you give to firms who are thinking of hiring employee(s)? How do you find the right employee? How do you evaluate what you need and attract someone to fill that need? How do you alter the work flow to best make use of a new person? What are the pitfalls to be avoided in making this transition?

Personal Security & Safety

When working alone some or all of the time, personal safety can be an issue. How do you deal with security issues? If you work out of your home, what do you do to keep yourself and your family safe, especially when your home address is so public? If you work in a separate office, what procedures do you use to keep yourself (and/or your employees/partners) safe, especially when working alone or late at night? What precautions do you take when visiting a potential client’s home, when all you might know about them is their address?

We know there are a lot of stories out there, and we look forward to receiving your articles.

Submit by November 18, 2011. Submissions on multiple topics will be accepted.
Submit to wit hthe subject line “SPP Journal.”

Images and Submission Guidelines

Please visit the Guidelines for Authors.

We are visually oriented people so please include graphics, drawings, or photographs that enhance your submission. We want to see behind-the-scenes construction photos, sketches, detail drawings and their transformation in the field. We even want cartoons.

The online SPP Journal is set for color images. Please submit images of at least 150 DPI as .JPG files integrated into your text, and include image credits and caption information.

Submit all text as MS Word documents and include a two- to three-sentence description of the author. Title your work, and include a signed copy of the Copyright Permission form listing the article and all images.


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