AJ Small Projects

A small-scale yet undeniably interesting little exhibition at Belfast's PLACE architecture centre

A celebration of big-time ingenuity on a small-time budget, the latest exhibition in Belfast’s PLACE Built Environment centre is likely to appeal to architecture enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

Running until the end of June AJ Small Projects 2013 is an opportunity for punters to see 24 of the best new small-scale architectural gems, courtesy of the Architects Journal. Or at least see pictures of them – each structure is honoured with a square foot or so of wall space, including photographs, blueprints and accompanying blurb.

While models of at least a few of the projects would have given the show a satisfyingly tangible pay-off the city centre exhibition is still a delight to pop into and wander around, akin to leafing through a particularly interesting book. The structures are varied and appropriately innovative – a true testament to the fact that great work can be completed on a miniscule budget.

Although a cap of £250,000 was imposed to qualify for the exhibition many of the projects clock in at significantly less, such as a Venetian mobile gallery which cost just £2,800. Designed to celebrate and explore the significance of everyday functional objects that enhance a sense of collective identity this diminutive space focuses attention on the wellheads located throughout the city that, for many centuries, were the only source of fresh drinking water.

At the other end of the spectrum is the winner of the AJ Small Projects award, Laura Dewe Matthews’ ‘Gingerbread’ box house. Costing £245,000, Matthews converted an 1800s London box factory into a small yet generously proportioned house by building another box inside the structure. The Russian doll effect successfully retains the openness of the original workshop while remaining exuberant in its inventiveness, with rounded cedar shingle cladding and galvanised steel gutters setting off the redevelopment.

Other structures include a primordially inspired aluminium diving tower in Croatia and a Hampshire forest pond house which draws on the contrast between dark drama of the forest and still serenity of a pond to make a small space used as both a children's den and a space for meditation. However, my personal favourite is The Great Eye, a Norfolk art installation. Largely plywood based (clocking in at £10,000) this diminutive tower acts as a camera obscura, casting an image of the surrounding landscape onto the ceiling.

Designers Hudson Architects purportedly were interested in the memory of lost coastal buildings and sought to demonstrate the shifting nature of the Norfolk coastal landscape. Not only does the tower itself reference the nearby Cley church but its photographic/documentarian element serves as a reminder that the church itself is not immune to the ravages of time.

Appropriately enough given the subject matter, AJ Small Projects 2013 is a small-scale yet undeniably interesting little exhibition. While it is easy to wish for a few more pictures or even model reconstructions it remains a charming and refreshingly different distraction that is sure to raise a smile. Now if only they supplied earplugs to drown out the busker outside...

AJ Small Projects 2013 runs in PLACE Architecture and Built Environment Centre until July 29.