By Stephanie Sims
In a country where bigger has been better for so many years, finally, recognition is being given to the little guys.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Chicago started its first Small Projects Awards last year, with the intent to recognize small firms and their small projects.
“The goal of AIA Chicago was to raise awareness of how even the smallest projects of high design require an architect,” William Bickford, AIA’s chair of residential design and principal designer at Northworks Architects, says. This year marks the contest’s second year, and he predicts the AIA will receive double the number of submissions.
All submissions must be done by an architectural firm made up of nine licensed architects at the most; the maximum budget must be $750,000; projects must have been completed after January 1, 2001; all projects must have been commissioned by a client; and they can’t exceed 3,000 square feet if they are commercial projects, 6,000 square feet for residential.
The organization chooses a few winners per category – last year, seven or eight awards were given out per three categories: small project structure, small project unbuilt and small object – and choosing winners is no easy task. “How the architect addresses the challenge as presented by the client with the small scope and square footage, and that done well with high design techniques, is how we choose the winners,” Bickford says.
He adds there is validity to the small homes trend we talk about in this issue’s cover story; clients are going to firms with tear-downs or a structure to gut and requesting smaller floor plans. “Their intent is to hire architects to find out how all rooms can be used on a daily basis,” he says. “They ask us, ‘how much backyard space can I achieve on this lot?’ ‘How much natural light can we bring into the house?’ ‘Can I have a rooftop terrace and make it livable for six to seven months?’”
One new construction winner of last year’s awards, the Retreat House, demonstrates what clients are asking for today – a smaller space that allows natural light and creates a playful space. “As opposed to larger homes built from the ‘80s to 2008, there are rooms in some of those homes used about 10 times a year,” he says. “Now, when a client builds a house for $300 to $500 per square foot, they want to make sure every square foot is used every day of the year.”