Big Is Not Always Best

13 Stunning Small Scale Architecture Projects

Written by David Teravagimov, Program Director – Architecture MasterPrize

Not every architectural wonder has to be vast.  Scale is just one part of appreciation – and small can be simply wonderful.  Increasingly, an interest in projects such as tiny houses and little homes has led to innovation and development of this form of architecture.  This is reflected in a glittering array of new ideas and forms, utilising both cutting-edge and ancient materials.

These thirteen projects represent small architecture from every corner of the world, all winners of the international architecture award, the Architecture MasterPrize, and all doing remarkable things at the smaller end of the scale.  With each year of this architecture award there are more and more beautiful designs, competing across all the categories, and small scale architecture is no exception.  These may be tiny, but they stick in the mind, each perfectly designed and brought to life by architects and design teams who appreciate and willingly share the beauty of the smaller things.

RF.C9 – Chile

RF.C9, designed by Gonzalo Iturriaga Arquitectos, is a refuge for mountaineers.  The commission consisted of a roof, a kitchen, a bathroom, and one room.  Using a ventilated facade on all sides and a system of piles, the shelter functions as a hermetic element suspended on the ground – through specific openings, this allows the rising current of the mountain to ventilate its interior.  RF.C9 is the point of arrival and departure to each course defined by the mountaineer – a monitoring and rest station that gives the opportunity to contemplate and visit a privileged and special place.

August Moon Little House – U.S.A.

Nestled into the hillside, floating amidst the treetops over a stone and cedar plinth, the August Moon Little House, designed by SPAN Architecture, celebrates the rural Maine landscape and is a modern reinterpretation of the intersection between architecture and furniture in the Craftsman Style tradition.  Making every surface flexible in the compacted spaces, the dining table folds out of the wooden shiplap wall, a lightweight concrete shower wall opens to the exterior for outdoor bathing, and windows replace art.  Interior boundaries visually meld together merging the built and the natural, expansive views of the forest and Great Western Bay.

The Village Lounge – China

The Village Lounge in Shangcun, by Sup Atelier, is a renovation project turning a ruined courtyard into a public space – providing leisure and multi-use space for both local residents and tourists.  The project is marked by the government as an exercisable and regional approach; a starting point for the preservation and sustainable development of the traditional village.  Six bamboo umbrellas are inserted to create a semi-outdoor space with a covering, in order to approach the regeneration with minimal impact on the environment.  Most of the materials for the lounge are produced locally, or collected from old houses.

Bavilion – India

Bavilion, designed by Studio Ardete, takes a 20-year-old school bus, which ended its permitted lifetime as a vehicle and had to undergo mandatory disposal, and turns it into something new.  Doaba Public School is located in a remote village in Punjab, India.  The school has over 2,500 students from over 100 villages — and school busses are the primary mode of transport for all of them.  This bus was special to the school as it belonged to the first fleet of buses. The brief was to explore a possibility to reuse it in a way that it could once again be made useful to the school.

Splow House – Indonesia

Splow House, designed by Delution, is an answer to the problem of congestion in Jakarta, which inflates the price of land in this city soaringly high, until it is no longer possible for the millennial generation to purchase an ideal house; unless they choose to move to the outskirts.  We tried to solve these problems and counter that paradigm with the ‘Splow House’ concept.  This Splow – Split-Grow – concept allows the owner to build their ideal home with a growing house scheme that can be adjusted with their budget.

Freycinet Lodge – Australia

Liminal Architecture was commissioned to deliver nine pavilions for Freycinet Lodge on the East Coast of Tasmania, Australia.  The Coastal Pavilions provide a point-of-difference to the 60 cabins established as part of the 1990’s development.  Inspiration taken from the unique coastal setting in Tasmania’s preeminent National Park has influenced the architecture and interior of the pavilions.  The siting and form-making takes its cue from the fluidity, layering and interplay of the coastal rock formations, while the materiality responds to context and place.

Sommarhus Nabben – Sweden

This summer house, designed by Enflo Arkitekter, and located on the Swedish Baltic Sea island of Gotland, is surrounded by open fields to the north and low forest in the south. The slim volume invites light into the house and makes nature always present. A tarred pine roof adds character to the sheer volume and spans the private bedrooms and bathroom, the indoor and outdoor living room and the guest room. The outdoor living room is designed for the unstable Swedish summer climate with rain, wind, and sun.  Exterior sliding shades stop the wind, protect against sunlight, and are used to close the house.

Coffee House – South Korea

Coffee House, by ANM, is located in a quiet suburb.  The main space has a bar in the center and is just 4.6m x 4.1m with a 4.6 metre ceiling height.  Physically it is small, but contains big ideas and values.  ANM thought it should not be just a coffee-selling store but a spiritually resonant place for the guests — like religiously sacred places.  The space was elaborately finished with natural stones, bamboo sidings, cedar shakes and a concrete enclosure, in order to contribute to the sense of the calm and sacred.

Butterfly Studio – U.S.A.

Inspired in part by the closing of a butterfly’s wings, Butterfly Studio, by Valerie Schweitzer Architects, is a 300 sq ft art studio and private office for a family home in Connecticut.  Like shards protruding from the earth, the studio’s angles are panel-clad in stucco and recycled teak, imparting a primitive and futuristic quality at the same time.  The structure exploits the potential of glass, wood, and steel.  The expansive skylight of steel and thermally- insulated glass eliminates the need for day lighting, even for an artist, and creates an airiness despite the small footprint.

R No Onkai – Japan

The location for R No Onkai (Rの音階), by Sside Architects, is a small plot of land measuring 40.2 square metres in a densely-developed area, surrounded by three-story residential buildings.  The client was concerned about the difference in the environment that would come with the lifestyle change of moving from an apartment building to a detached house.  Specifically, the concern was the sudden emergence of levels within the client’s lifestyle.  For that reason, planning started with the knowledge that in order to make this new lifestyle an enjoyable one, the house needed to be bright and to allow the client to have a sense of their family’s presence.

Oikos, Breakneck Gorge – Australia

Set on a striking elevation just outside Hepburn Springs, Oikos, Breakneck Gorge, by Robert Nichol & Sons, is named after the ancient Greek word for home and is an indulgent short-stay retreat.  Oikos evokes the red centre of this great southern land – its dramatic, sculptural form both complementing and disappearing into the rugged precipice on which it stands.  The retreat is subtle in scale yet rich in design, offering the best in-built architectural form and natural landscape setting.

He Tohu Document Room – New Zealand

He Tohu Document Room, by Studio Pacific Architecture, exhibits Aotearoa New Zealand’s fundamental founding constitutional documents, including the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and 1893 Suffrage Petition.  The Document Room is a building within a building: it sits in the National Library of New Zealand and is conceived of as a ‘waka huia’ – a vessel containing ancestral treasures.  The room is a singular rectilinear block of timber carved out on the inside to create a curvilinear interior – a special place where all people can reflect on the narratives and meanings of each of the treasures within.

Ribbon Chapel – Japan

Ribbon Chapel, by Hiroshi Nakamura & Nap, is set midway on a hill enjoying a panoramic view of Seto Inland Sea of Japan.  Mainly used for weddings, the chapel stands in a garden of Bella Vista Spa & Marina Onomichi.   By entwining two spiral stairways, a self-supporting structure that architecturally embodies the act of marriage in a pure form was realized.  In this chapel, a wedding ceremony takes form as the bride and groom climb separate stairways to meet at the top, ask for heaven’s forgiveness to join as one, and declare their marriage.  The two who used to walk separate paths unite as one at the top, and descend the stairway together.

With increasing awareness of the benefits of smaller scaled architecture, these 13 projects are only a tiny fraction of the incredible designs around the planet. As interest in minimalism combines with growing populations, the future holds many more wonderful small works of architectural art such as these.

The Architecture MasterPrize 2019 is open for submissions.  The Winners’ Gala, celebrating the greatest architectural projects, firms and products, will be taking place at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in the fall.  Enter one of the world’s most comprehensive architecture awards now, at

Big Is Not Always Best – 13 Stunning Small Scale Architecture Projects

About the Author

David Teravagimov overviews the marketing related activities of the Farmani Group, including all projects and new business development.  He has a MA in Social Sciences (with Honours) from the University of Glasgow, and spent a year at the University of Miami Business School.
David gained marketing experience working in a media agency in New York City and in 2014 he joined the Farmani Group as Head of Marketing.  Under his supervision the company grew threefold. Since July 2018, David has taken the Program Director role for the Architecture MasterPrize.