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The 10 Top Small Architecture Firms of 2021

Building great architecture begins with practice. Structuring a firm to take on new work is an exercise in values and scale. Design is intrinsically related to individuals and their creative approach, and this is certainly the case with the designers that run the world’s best small firms. For this reason, one of our most highly anticipated categories in this year’s A+Awards — now open for entries — is the Best Small Firm category. Enter now to get your practice in the running for a prestigious global accolade, international publication and a host of opportunities for visibility throughout 2022:

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This year, we’re making the A+Awards more accessible for small architecture firms! If your firm has 10 staff or less, enter APLUSSMALL at check out to get $50 off. Valid through October 29, 2021 for up to 3 entries.

Now celebrating its 10th year, the A+Awards program gives every architecture and design firm an equal opportunity to gain recognition, regardless of their size, location or existing standing in the industry. Each of the following firms has scooped an A+Award in the past few seasons, elevating their practice and their professional reputation as a result. As you prepare your own A+Award submissions, take inspiration from these offices, each of which are harnessing new programs, material explorations and groundbreaking research to lead the architectural profession into the next decade.

Mountain House in Mist, Zhejiang, China. Jury Winner, 2020 A+Awards, Cultural – Pavilions. Jury Winner, 2020 A+Awards, Concepts – Plus-Architecture +Learning

Shulin Architectural Design

Any list of small firms to watch would be incomplete without Shulin, who scooped the prestigious title of Small Firm of the Year in Architizer’s 2021 Firm Awards. Established by Chen Lin in 2015, the Hangzhou-based studio specializes in design for rural areas throughout the Chinese countryside. This geographic context lends itself to renovation and renewal projects. As such, “the village” acts as a starting point for the firm. Alongside their insistence on small projects, throughout their portfolio,  Shulin Architectural design calls attention to rural tectonics, typology, respecting the authenticity of construction and the locality of materials, as well as researching the relationship between nature and architecture, people and the environment, and the new and the old.

Big Barn, Glen Ellen, CA. Image by Joe Fletcher Photography

Faulkner Architects

Faulkner Architects was formed in 1998 by Greg Faulkner to pursue the development of highly crafted, site-sensitive spaces. A staff of eight operate from two offices, one near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains and one in Berkeley near the San Francisco Bay. The work of the practice ranges from hospitality projects to institutional buildings (including master planning), though the firm is best known for private houses, small and large.

Often designing building in harsh, extreme environments — noted for fires, snow, and heat — the firm’s work is recognized for it’s use of low-maintenance, durable materials that minimize risk, while preserving direct engagement of the environment. Sustainability design integration is focused on use of local resources, including photovoltaics, water collection, and natural ventilation, minimizing reliance on the grid.

Assinie-Mafia Church, Côte d’Ivoire. Image by François-Xavier Gbré

Koffi & Diabaté Architectes

Founded in 2001 by Guillaume Koffi (DESA Paris) and Issa Diabaté (YALE University), the Koffi & Diabaté Architectes office is structured around a wide range of projects. Their portfolio includes everything from residences to corporate offices, housing estates and real estate programs, in Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa. As they state, the partners’ goal is to build modern, quality buildings, all the while taking into account their clients’ lifestyle and cultural identity. The firm was also named Best of the Year > Africa in Architizer’s 2021 Firm Awards. 

University of Toronto, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, Toronto, Canada. Jury Winner, 2019 A+Awards, Concepts – Plus Architecture +Climate Change

NADAAA

No stranger to accolades, NADAAA has regularly been on the list of firms in the Architect’s Top 50, as well as an Architizer A+ Award winner for the Beaver Country Day School Research + Design Center, Rock Creek House, Gwangju Pavilion and the Melbourne School of Design. They also received a special mention for the Best of the Year, North America category in last year’s A+ Awards. As a multi-disciplinary practice bridging between design disciplines, the firm continues to build upon a legacy of innovative, smart and nimble design.

Women’s Opportunity Center, Kayonza, Rwanda. Jury & Popular Winner, 2015 A+Awards, Concepts – Architecture +Community

Sharon Davis Design

Founded in 2007, Sharon Davis Design has built a portfolio of work for nonprofit organizations where social benefit underpins beautiful and transformative design. Centering on social justice, economic empowerment, and sustainability, and was a finalist in the Architecture – Humanitarian category for last year’s A+ Awards. Their diverse projects span from a hospital in Nepal to community centers in Rwanda.

Limestone Gallery, Anlong, Qianxinan, China. Jury Winner, 2018 A+Awards, Cultural – Gallery 

He Wei Studio/3andwich Design

He Wei is a professor at the School of Architecture of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, as well as the founder of He Wei Studio/3andwich Design. Using materials and existing contexts to reimagine everyday life, He Wei’s work is inventive and tied to place. Spanning design and representative architecture in the field of rural construction, the studio’s work includes projects like the Xihe Grain and Oil Museum and the Villager Activity Center, a Youth Hostel, and the revitalization plan of the ancient village of Shangping in Fujian.

Guadalupe River House in New Braunfels, TX, United States

Low Design Office

Low Design Office is an architecture studio and an integrated design practice. Bridging design and construction, they bring high-impact buildings and landscapes to life. They also have a particular focus on low carbon footprints and environmental impact with the goal of bringing life into balance for people and place. Their core idea is simple – more with less, but their work brings together diverse ideas on design, construction and architecture.

Village Lounge of Shangcun in Jixi, China. Project of the Year, 2019 A+Awards. Jury Winner, 2019 A+Awards, Concepts Plus Architecture +Community

SUP Atelier

Exploring the sustainability of natural resources and human community, SUP Atelier was founded by Prof. Song Yehao from Tsinghua University School of Architecture in Beijing. Dedicated to research and practice on sustainable urban and architectural design, they focus on natural and local materials, tectonics and contextual strategies. SUP Atelier’s projects have been recognized internationally and have won over 60 awards worldwide, including Jury winner and “Building of the Year” as part of the Architizer A+ Awards.

Casa Candelaria in Mexico. Jury Winner, 2020 A+Awards, Residential – Private House (XL>5000 sq ft)

Cherem Arquitectos

Cherem Arquitectos is an architectural design firm located in Mexico city that was founded by architects Abraham Cherem and Jose Antonio Aguilar. As the team notes, the “quality of their work is represented by the synthesis and abstraction of the ideas” to bring a range of artistic and poetic projects to life. Their projects are defined by a respect for materials and construction, as well as embracing light and space as defining elements that characterize their work. Founded in 2012, the firm’s portfolio includes single-family residences, hospitality projects, places of worship, and office buildings, architecture that’s defined by well-executed details and carefully curated formal moves.

BIT Sports Center in Beijing, China. Popular Choice, 2020 A+Awards, Sport & Recreation — Gyms & Recreation Centers

Atelier Alter Architects

Founded in 2009, Atelier Alter Architects is an interdisciplinary practice based in New York and Beijing. Their work focuses on cultural facilities after winning the competition to build Qujing Culture Center in 2009. This was followed by the Senior Culture Center in 2010. Besides culture projects, the portfolio of Atelier Alter Architects ranges from small scale furniture design to educational facilities and large urban scale projects.

We’re making the 10th Anniversary Architizer Awards more accessible for small architecture firms! If your firm has 10 staff or less, enter APLUSSMALL at check out to get $50 off. Offer valid through October 29, 2021 for up to 3 entries.

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