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AIA Small Project Award Winners Prove Size Doesn’t Matter

Often completed on very tight budgets, these buildings and installations show the beauty of efficient, space-conscious design.

Impact isn’t always measured by the stories found in a supertall skyscraper or the square footage of a new museum. The winners of the 13th American Institute of Architects (AIA) Small Projects Award showcase impactful, unique solutions with tight space constraints and tiny budgets. From housing for medical staff to small installations and temporary shelters, these designs celebrate the virtue of minimalist aesthetics and small footprints.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Studio Hive (GBBN Architects: Photos via AIA)

A cocoon of wood and industrial felt designed via a digital modeling program to reduce construction waste, this relatively minuscule addition to the East Liberty Branch of the Pittsburgh library had an oversized impact. The introduction of this quiet escape helped increases attendance at teen programs and events by 350 percent.

Weihnacht Huts (NAD: Photos by Nik Nikolov)

Cutting a seasonally appropriate profile, these polycarbonate-clad huts for craft exhibitors at a German-themed market in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, get a lot of mileage out of structures that cost just $286 each. Foldable and reusable, they not only conserve money and resources, but due to their semi-transparent walls, emit a warm glow at night that adds to the holiday cheer.

Deployable Smocked Porch (substance architecture: Photos by Paul Crosby)

Created for a town square in Winterset, Iowa, as a means to support and bring attention to the state’s preservation alliance, this ingenious and inexpensive project, which only cost $900, utilized salvaged wood from demolished homes to create an intimate installation.

wa_Sauna (goCstudio: Photos by Kevin Scott)

A simple statement, as well as a cheap and easy way to get on the water, this floating sauna, a crowdfunding darling, features a sauna mounted on a pre-made aluminum frame. It’s a masterful example of maximizing space, cramming a small deck and wood-burning stove into a small, buoyant escape.

Girl Scout Camp Prairie Schooner (el dorado: Photo by Mike Sinclair)

An efficient, almost modular, camp system developed for Girl Scouts in Kansas City, Missouri, these colorful buildings, clad in corrugated metal and wood, offer a playful alternative to standard cabins and bunks. These light and airy bunkhouses even feature custom pendant lamps and skylights.

St. Pius Chapel & Prayer Garden (Eskew+Dumez+Ripple: Photos by Will Crocker)

Stripped-down sanctuaries built adjacent to a modernist church in New Orleans, these small spaces for meditation and reflection may lack the soaring interiors of celebrated religious architecture, but lose none of the grace.

Linear Cabin (Johnsen Schmaling Architects: Photos by Johnsen Schmaling Architects)

Clad in black cedar, this boxy escape in the North Woods of Wisconsin, both low-slung and unobtrusive, offers a perfect platform to take in the surrounding landscape. The simple knotty pine interior adds a rustic touch to the modernist box frame.

Studio Dental (Montalba Architects: Photos by Mitch Tobias)

What’s more fun to visit than a mobile dentist’s office? When it's as well-designed as this portable trailer, it makes a strong case for a mobile checkup. The 26-foot-long, 230-square-foot trailer seems inviting and spacious inside thanks to a bright interior, natural millwork and translucent, sculpted skylights.

Village Health Works Staff Housing (Bujumbura Burundi and Louise Braverman: Photos by Iwan Baan)

Embedded in an off-the-grid rural village in Burundi, this 6,000-square-foot, 18-bed staff housing complex cuts an angular, colorful profile, boasting incredible views of the surrounding mountains.