The award, now in its 26th year, recognises the very best of smaller, lower-budget architecture. Previous winners have included David Leech Architects, Kate Darby Architects, Carmody Groarke, Haworth Tompkins, Hawkins\Brown, Mole Architects and Chris Wilkinson.

AJ Small Projects celebrates completed projects with a contract value of £299,000 and under, a limit increased this year to reflect inflation. The projects are all either located in the UK or designed by a UK-based architect. All exemplify a small-cost, big idea approach: clever, crafted and sustainable designs that answer and often go beyond their briefs, pushing the boundaries of what is possible on a tight budget.

Despite all the challenges of the past year, we received more than 200 entries and this year’s shortlist demonstrates the usual rich range of schemes, from urban acoustic barrier to remote croft.

The 20 shortlisted designers will present their projects to a distinguished panel of judges: Fiona Scott, director at Gort Scott architects; Pedro Gil, director at Studio Gil; Selina Mason, director of masterplanning at Lendlease; and Martin Edwards, director at Martin Edwards Architects, the winner of last year’s award.

A readers’ poll to select the public's favourite project is now open for you to choose your favourite. The winner will be announced at a gala virtual event at 12.30pm on 22 April, when a sustainability prize will also be awarded and the People’s Choice favourite revealed – click here to register.

All entries to AJ Small Projects 2021 are free to browse in the AJ Buildings Library.

AJ Small Projects is sponsored by Marley

Hebridean House


Returning to the Outer Hebrides, the clients commissioned this project to regenerate their vacant family croft near the south-west coast of South Uist.

The new house sits on the footprint of the former 19th century croft, its design contextually referencing traditional, low-roofed, thick-walled architecture.

Using basic construction materials, the richness comes from the expressed assembly and composition. Rendered insulated concrete formwork walls give a protective depth and durability against Atlantic winds. The walls’ concrete core is exposed at eaves level, forming a structural ring beam, lintel and rainwater trench sitting under a sinusoidal steel roof.

A single round concrete column supports the ring beam overhang, below which large sliding windows offer a counterpoint to the heavy walls and connect out to the ever-changing landscape and grassy plain beyond. The rooms inside flow one to another, with pine ply-sheathed structural timber rafters supported by a mild steel ridge beam, all exposed and expressed internally. RGW

Location Isle of South Uist, Outer Hebrides | Completion August 2020 | Gross internal floor area 145m² | Client Private | Annual CO2 emissions 2.1 tonnes | Photography Greig Penny

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Common Room, Hargeisa Town Hall


This is the first structure made entirely out of timber in Hargeisa, the capital of the autonomous region of Somaliland, whose sovereignty is not recognised internationally. A small veranda, it sits in front of a building functioning as the city administration’s land registry office.

Designed to double up as a waiting area and social space for visitors and staff, the project introduces unfamiliar materials and construction techniques to the area and was built quickly using prefabricated components. It is formed out of a series of timber frames, exposed structurally, which can be disassembled and re-used in the future. Timber mullions facing a courtyard are lined with opaline polycarbonate to diffuse direct sunlight, while the short sides of the scheme are left breezily open. The whole structure is elevated off the ground with concrete blocks to prevent storm water damage.

The scheme was constructed by Rashid Ali Architects with a local carpenter and students of the Abaarso Tech University School of Architecture. FW

Location Hargeisa, Somaliland | Completion August 2020 | Gross internal floor area 30m² | Client Hargeisa City Municipality | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Lyndon Douglas

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

The Axis on Ormside


This project occupies a two-storey brick warehouse which had been left vacant on a former industrial estate. It has been converted into a complex of 10 soundproofed music studios arranged along an internal street, with a green room, open communal space and support facilities on the first floor.

Inspired by the craft aesthetic of Enzo Mari’s autoprogettazione (self-designed projects), it employs utilitarian, low-cost materials, simply crafted and using standard sizes to minimise waste. The internal street ‘façades’ are fabricated from CNC-routed plywood cut to ensure zero waste. The green room is furnished with reclaimed furniture. New transparent roof panels bring daylight into the internal street. Working with Gillieron Scott Acoustic Design, the studios were structurally isolated for sound insulation.

The colour scheme of bright, contrasting hues applied in tessellated patterns (inspired by the art of Carlos Cruz-Diez) is informed by the company’s branding, developed by designer Joana Pereira. RGW

Location Bermondsey, London SE15 | Completion November 2020 | Gross internal floor area 375m² | Client The Axis | Annual CO2 emissions 30 tonnes | Photography Jack Hobhouse

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library



The product of collective research by the Bartlett’s Material Architecture Lab and architect Piercy&Company, Code-Bothy is an experimental, digitally designed brick shelter hand-built using an augmented reality (AR) headset at Grymsdyke Farm in Buckinghamshire.

The design is based on a bothy – a basic shelter in remote areas left open for anyone to use – but whereas traditional versions have basic geometries, this one has used parametric modelling to generate a complex structure.

This form in turn was then constructed (against intuition) by a bricklayer wearing an AR headset displaying information from a 3D model, every brick set at a unique angle without repetition. The rotation of the bricks was parametrically differentiated with code to create the overall sculpting of the bothy’s shape. On the bottom layer, for example, bricks are set at 45 degrees to one another and on ascending layers their geometrical relationship gradually shifts so that they lie parallel to one another other at the top. FW

Location Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire | Completion September 2020 | Gross internal floor area 9m² | Client Piercy&Company, Material Architecture Lab and Grymsdyke Farm | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Naaro, Guan Lee and Hanjun Kim

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

A Small Space for Living In


A young couple have renovated their one-bedroomed Victorian apartment with a self-built piece of furniture for just £291 per m². The architectural intent of the project focuses on the hard-working nature of in-built furniture and compact living. Key spaces have been connected via a central hall, finished in a dark colour to create visual depth and a sense of generosity for the whole apartment, despite its small size.

Within the kitchen, the tap, sink and oven are concealed with sliding and hinged mechanisms, allowing them to be folded away into a discreet piece of joinery, creating a calming setting when desired.

The furniture uses all natural, sustainably sourced and relatively inexpensive materials. Sheet materials have been edged with solid timber to create a higher specification; recycled burgundy clinker bricks were salvaged to create the fireplace’s hearth; and the shower room ceiling utilises off-the-shelf softwood timber. FW

Location Forest Hill, London SE23 | Completion November 2020 | Gross internal floor area 40m² | Clients Will Howard and Sogand Babol | Annual CO2 emissions 2.5 tonnes | Photography Will Howard and Sogand Babol

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Carrick Retreat


Situated at the top of a valley overlooking a tidal creek at Mylor Bridge, Cornwall, and nestling in a line of yew trees, Carrick Retreat was designed as a multifunctional space for a therapist and artist.

Accessed via a granite stair and reclaimed door, the space contains a small hallway, kitchen, office and high, vaulted room for functions such as group meetings or dance workshops.

The project uses sustainable materials as much as possible. The structure is a traditional green oak cruck frame, exposed internally and elevated on reclaimed granite pad stones. Bespoke oak windows were designed specific to each view and made in architect-cum-builder SASA Works’ London workshop. The cladding is oak, roof tiles are split oak shakes, insulation is sheep’s wool, internal walls are lined with lime plaster and the floor is reclaimed pitch pine from a Victorian town hall. An oak and yellow stained-glass window in the roof, into which occasionally a view of the moon aligns, adds a celestial side to the scheme. FW

Location Cornwall | Completion August 2019 | Gross internal floor area 30m² | Client Private | Annual CO2 emissions 0.5 tonnes | Photography Michele Panzeri

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

A12 Acoustic Barrier


Designed as a sound barrier as well as sculptural object, this shield structure is the first UK use of an innovative acoustic panel. Drawing inspiration from nearby waterways, the structure’s folded and reflective anodised ‘Silk Metal’ surfaces and flowing lines give it stiffness and texture while picking up fluctuations in light, transforming a civil engineering project into a piece of art.

Greig Penny Architecture

While most acoustic noise reduction uses soft or textured surfaces to absorb vibrations, this system uses an aluminium sheet perforated with tiny holes. Air forced through the perforations is slowed by friction, reducing the reverberation of sound. Each panel is linked and mounted on an articulated concrete footing which requires no permanent fixing and can be removed with a crane lift. The project was managed by Poplar HARCA housing association and funded by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Transport for London. RGW

Location Tower Hamlets, London E14 | Completion November 2020 | Gross area 30m² | Client Poplar HARCA | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Edmund Sumner

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Garden House


This new studio/house in the rear garden of an 1850s townhouse in Notting Hill is composed of two interlocking brick-built pavilions negotiating an awkwardly shaped plot. It provides additional accommodation to the main house, providing a flexible living/working studio and small kitchen, WC and bathroom.

The walls are built in mineral-washed brick both inside and out with exposed timber ceiling joists throughout. Large window openings are subdivided into smaller panels of a regular module with exposed galvanised steel frames and reveals. The main studio pavilion faces the length of the garden with large, glazed doors looking back to the main house and another set opening onto a private courtyard to the rear.

A second, narrower block in the corner of the site contains ancillary spaces. A bathroom sits to the back of the plan, while the front door is located at the junction between the two geometries, opening to an entrance hall off which other spaces are accessed. FW

Location Notting Hill, London W11 | Completion February 2020 | Gross internal floor area 58m² | Client Bodker & Company | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Emily Marshall

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Bags: Inside Out


The V&A’s Bags: Inside Out exhibition, currently closed due to lockdown, is dedicated to ‘the ultimate accessory’ – the bag – and features 300 items, from designer handbags to despatch boxes. The exhibition, designed in collaboration with V&A curator Lucia Savi, is intended to bring out two sides of the accessory: both their symbolism and their inherent privacy, creating contrasting experiences across the two levels of the V&A’s Fashion Gallery.

Downstairs focuses on the interiors of bags and is entered through a supersized zip with suspended, charm-like brass signage. Semi-transparent stretched fabric walls subdivide the gallery to create colourful rooms, pockets and alcoves for displays using 12 existing cabinets. Upstairs showcases the process of designing and making bags, with cabinets disguised as miniature Parisian fashion houses and a 10m-long theatrical workshop table. Existing polycarbonate cladding has been removed to open up views to Aston Webb’s 1909 dome and create media projections onto the alcoves around the space. FW

Location Victoria & Albert Museum, London SW7 | Completion December 2020 | Gross internal floor area 665m² | Client  Victoria & Albert Museum | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography French + Tye

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Nýp Guesthouse


This guesthouse and cultural retreat overlooks the Breiðafjörður Bay Nature Reserve in western Iceland. It was constructed as a farmhouse in 1936 but was deserted in the 1970s. After falling into disrepair, the new owners began rebuilding it in 2001 and, since 2006, it has become a local cultural hub, hosting exhibitions, lectures and workshops.

Its latest phase has involved the renovation of the four-bedroomed farmhouse and extension of the adjoining sheep shed. This has added a further three guest rooms with a separate entrance. The entrance hall is oversized for additional use as an exhibition space, while the farmhouse is vertically divided into two volumes for living quarters and hay barn, with an additional floor creating an event space.

Driftwood reclaimed from the beach has been used as columns for supporting the new roof, while steel handrails, timber doors and beams have also been salvaged from various building sites in the area. Local building techniques are prevalent: stone-surf retaining walls, home-made clay tiles and corrugated Aluzinc for the overcladding, to withstand the heavy prevailing winds. FW

Location Western Iceland | Completion July 2019 | Gross internal floor area 380m² | Client Þóra Sigurðardóttir and Sumarliði Ragnar Ísleifsson | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Giovanni De Roia

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Old Four Row


This row of four Neogothic estate cottages in a Lincolnshire village was designed by George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s and is Grade II-listed. The brief was to replace a utilitarian 1970s extension and stair in the end-cottage and provide dining space with a garden view. The new structure is designed like a timber ‘piece of furniture’ sitting between the stone gables. Its glulam FSC oak frame, exposed inside and out, is precision-cut from a 3D model using CNC technology and made in close collaboration with Cowley Timber. The faceted frame makes it appear more delicate, lets in more light and creates attractive shadows in oblique sunlight.

The extension is triple-glazed and has underfloor heating with an air source heat pump powering the cottage to make it both cosy and more sustainable. Other robust natural materials employed include a copper-covered flat roof and Ketley clay floor pavers. RGW

Location Nocton, Lincolnshire | Completion February 2020 | Gross internal floor area 83m² | Client Private | Annual CO2 emissions 1.7 tonnes (6.6 tonnes before works) | Photography Nick Dearden

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

House on the End


This end-of-terrace house on an infill site replaces unused garages and is a contemporary reinterpretation of neighbouring terraces. The form and proportions of the bay windows are adapted as a folded façade, with white concrete banding continuing the Victorian datums of the street.

The house is constructed with a fibre-reinforced concrete frame, so over 90 per cent of the steel reinforcement was eliminated, reducing time on site and allowing efficiencies of thinner slabs and walls. This, together with a high proportion of GGBS used in the cement mix, contributed to a significant reduction in embodied carbon. Inside, the design is future-proofed for a growing family with services ducted up to the loft so it can be converted into a further bedroom and bathroom. A palette of self-finished materials: exposed concrete, poured terrazzo floor, brass, steel and limed timber create a robust aesthetic, with 1200 Works designing all the built-in furniture. RGW

Location Crofton Park, London SE4 | Completion September 2019 | Gross internal floor area 110m² | Client Private | Annual CO2 emissions 0.64 tonnes | Photography Lily Maggs and The Modern House

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Field House


Field House is a small, timber-framed summer house. The structure’s design is intended to have echoes of a Classical temple or folly, while responding to the utilitarian aesthetic of farm buildings in the vicinity.

The project was inspired by the discovery of a half-buried brick plinth in a two-acre paddock, sparking the commission to build ‘a room within a meadow’.

Within the constraints of both the budget and permitted development, it was designed and constructed working closely with a local, family-run timber frame company and is finished internally with an insulating cork floor.

Field House has acted in the past year as a separate office away from the main house, while in summer evenings its orientation makes it a space that enjoys long late sunshine, with a vista through a gate, across to fields beyond. RGW

Location York, North Yorkshire| Completion September 2019 | Gross internal floor area 18m² | Client Private | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Eleanor Grierson

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Market Street Studios


This community space, converted from a second-hand clothes shop, is one of a series of initiatives for the local black community launched by the Badu family, which owns local businesses. It is aimed at combating the dispersive forces of gentrification in the area. The Badus themselves recently lost their own council home on the Aylesbury Estate to a compulsory purchase order, having moved there from Ghana in 1985.

The shop has been converted into a space where local residents’ groups and businesses can arrange classes and events alongside community meetings and talks.

Intended as a space of warmth and character, it is designed for flexibility, with beechwood folding chairs, tables and screens hung on the walls ready for use.

The robust cork floor, cut, dyed and laid using an inexpensive 12-inch tile, takes its patterning from the striped tarpaulins of East Street market outside and the traditional Kente cloth of the Badu family’s own Ewe tribe. RGW

Location Walworth, London SE17 | Completion November 2020 | Gross internal floor area 50m² | Client The Badu family | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Nick Dearden

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

1930s Apartment


This one-bedroomed flat in a 1930s central London block was bought by its homeowner in the 1980s and left untouched until Knox Bhavan was commissioned in 2018. With no storage, a tiny kitchen and bathroom and pokey corridor, the flat was uncomfortable and called for a reorganisation to turn it into a practical and beautiful pied à terre in keeping with the 1930s vintage apartment block.

The apartment has been stripped, services rearranged, and the plan flipped to fit in a larger bathroom with laundry and open-plan kitchen/diner. The spaces are clearly defined by their lacquered finishes: a warm cherry veneer for the living room and bedroom and sprayed white joinery for the kitchen, bathroom and curving connecting walls cleverly hiding storage and services. Everything has its own place, down to an upholstered niche for sitting on to change shoes.

Brass ironmongery designed bespoke for the project, complements the joinery, which has been inspired by fittings in the retired British ocean liner RMS Queen Mary. FW

Location Bloomsbury, London WC1 | Completion September 2019 | Gross internal floor area 42m² | Client Private | Annual CO2 emissions 0.5 tonnes | Photography Nathalie Priem

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Farley Farmhouse


This project consists of an extension to a rural farmhouse in the village of Farley in Wiltshire. The new volume echoes the form of an existing extension, which has also been restored and refurbished, creating a double-pitched internal space that opens out onto a kitchen garden.

The new extension is clad in hand-made arrowhead clay tiles, crisply detailed to complement the existing material palette of bricks and hanging tiles, while clearly marking out the volume as a contemporary addition. Slimline, black, steel-framed doors and windows have been inserted into existing and new openings, matching new powder-coated copings and sills. Internally, an expansive new floor of hand-made terracotta tiles and terracotta light fittings bring earthy tones to the kitchen and dining area. Painted timber panelling lines the walls to create a datum with the openings and unify the space. RGW

Location Salisbury, Wiltshire | Completion May 2020 | Gross internal floor area 50m2 | Client Private | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Mariell Lind Hansen

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Block West


Block West is a temporary structure with an associated public programme. Consisting of 145 plywood timber blocks made of CNC-cut sheets, it was assembled by a team of local residents in 10 days for use as an outdoor community hub, art activities and events.

It is part of an arts-led initiative enabling residents to gain skills in designing the kinds of spaces they need. This included workshops exploring new digital tools. The project was a collaboration between AUAR Labs (UCL), Knowle West Media Centre, social scientist Claire McAndrew and residents of Knowle West, Bristol.

Block West uses AUAR’s modular building system Block Type A, which can be assembled and reassembled adaptably. With its prefabrication and assembly requiring few specialised tools or expertise, the project created 25 part-time jobs in the local community during its run. RGW

Location Knowle West, Bristol | Completion September 2020 | Gross internal floor area 38m² | Client Mollie Claypool, Knowle West Media Centre and Transforming Construction Network Plus| Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Naaro/Ibolya Feher

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Lydford Road


This side and rear extension for a young family marries their cultural backgrounds, inspired by Indian modernism and mid-century British architecture.

The design opens up and expands the ground floor into a series of interconnected spaces: a playroom/study steps down into a kitchen/dining area, which opens out to the rear garden.

Pigmented sandstone blockwork inside and out echoes the red brick of the original Edwardian house, while creating a warm material palette combining clay plaster, oak and blue quarry tiles. New construction is expressed through exposed steel and oak beams without plasterboard. The dining area, lit by a skylight, is fitted with a blockwork bench topped in recycled foam and its table is made from recycled yoghurt pots and mild steel.

To satisfy building control, the opening-up of an enclosed staircase was achieved by creating a new opening between bedrooms – a pink miniature door from the child’s room into the master bedroom. RGW

Location Tottenham, London N15 | Completion February 2020 | Gross internal floor area 83m² | Client Private | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable (Electricity comes from renewables and gas is offset) | Photography Ivan Jones

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library



The National Lottery Community Funded, Grade II-listed Victorian Treadgolds building at the top of Bishop Street in Portsea was lightly restored as part of a two-phase project. Offering a glimpse back in time, the retrofitted building has retained a Dickensian feel through its preserved Victorian stock shop, ranging from tools, fittings and machinery.

The building was bought by a community trust in 2013 to develop as an extension to its John Pounds Centre healthy lifestyles facility. It is part of a ‘Gateway for a Happier and Healthier Life for All’ programme, providing inclusive activities and services for Portsea’s working people. The first phase of the project – a community garden – was completed in 2016. This second phase, completed last summer, sees the warehouse conserved and lightly remodelled to create a health and wellbeing centre that retains the historic fabric and character of the existing building. FW

Location Portsea, Portsmouth | Completion August 2020 (Phase 2) | Gross internal floor area 198m2 | Client The John Pounds Community Trust | Annual CO2 emissions Unavailable | Photography Peter Langdown

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

Secret Garden


After a neighbour built an overbearing extension, this project’s client sought to replace their much smaller extension with a scheme that would cover the full width of the site, including the extent of next door’s imposing addition.

As a result, an inner ‘hidden’ courtyard has been created between that of the neighbour’s scheme, the new extension and the house itself. The new build’s cranked geometry realigns the axis with that of the garden.

A sloping roof which opens up to the south-east-facing garden has vertical openings, letting natural light into the deep plan, while the double-curved roof surfaces are, unusually, covered in brick pavers.

The inner garden flank wall is clad in mirror, cleverly reflecting light and garden scenery into the house and new extension, as well as creating the illusion of an endless rear garden. FW

Location Finsbury Park, London N4 | Completion December 2020 | Gross internal floor area 35m² | Client Private | Annual CO2 emissions 9.07 tonnes (whole house) | Photography Peter Landers

See more photos and drawings of this project in the AJ Buildings Library

AJ Small Projects is sponsored by