Architecture as a profession has implications far beyond designing habitable spaces. It is responsible for shaping humankind, and it also has an impact on the psychology of people using the designed space. The scale of spaces, the shape of spaces, and the materials used are a few of the aspects that directly impact the users. While monumental buildings usually are intimidating, small-scale designs, on the contrary, have a liberating effect. 

Small scale designs have spaces that are created to function with respect to the human scale, and for the same reason, it leaves a comforting imprint on the mind of the user when he/she is in that particular space. It may be a public pavilion, community center, habitable pod, a public toilet, or a repurposed structure. 

As long as the design contributes towards uplifting living conditions it can be considered as a project that changes lives. Several such thoughtful small-scale designs have large scale impacts, a few of which have been listed below:

1. Bavillion, by Studio Ardete

A3898_10 Small scale designs_Bavillion
A3898_10 Small scale designs_Bavillion

The Bavillion is a ‘Bus’ repurposed into a ‘Pavilion.’ This 30-square-meter structure has been designed by Studio Ardete for Doaba Public School in Parowal, a remote village in Punjab, India. The design brief was to creatively reuse a 20-year-old school bus into a usable structure. Taking this as an opportunity to create a meaningful small-scale design, the architects reimagined the premises of open spaces in a school. 

They designed a pavilion, a triangular prismatic volume, over the outer structure of the bus with the roof of the bus acting as a deck. The inner space of the bus was designed into a display area exhibiting the four-decade-long journey of the school. 

This strategy has helped in creating a multi-purpose open space for children – a play area, an open-air theatre, and a gallery. The students now look up to the ‘Bavillion’ as a source of inspiration to always find ways to reuse resources and promote the habit of up-cycling things.

2. The Garden Library for Refugees & Migrant Workers, by Yoav Meiri Architects

A3898_10 Small scale designs_The Garden Library
A3898_10 Small scale designs_The Garden Library

The Garden Library for Refugees & Migrant Workers is a 50-square-meter urban community project designed by Yoav Meiri Architects. This project was conceived as an afterthought of considering the right to book as a fundamental human right that allows users to escape from daily misfortunes and find shelter amongst stories. 

This library is located in Levinski Park near the Tel Aviv central bus station, making it easily accessible to migrant workers who meet in this park on weekends. Designing this library as a part of public space was important to the designers as they wanted the people to look up to this space as a safe place where the lack of a door meant that they would not have to fear being questioned by anyone. 

The designers have thoughtfully incorporated transparent shelves in the structure which illuminate at night. They have also made sure that the books are catalogued according to the feeling they arouse rather than genre so that people emotionally connect themselves to this space. 

3. Manav Sadhna, by Yatin Pandya

A3898_10 Small scale designs_Manav Sadhana
A3898_10 Small scale designs_Manav Sadhana

Manav Sadhna is a 515-square-meter community upliftment center designed by one of the renowned architects of Gujarat, Yatin Pandya. It is located amidst the largest slum in the city of Ahmedabad, and it functions as a multipurpose activity campus. A lot of activities take place in Manav Sadhna – it has a school for the young, a gymnasium for the men, and a vocational training center for ladies. 

The architect developed this design as a sustainable structure built from waste materials such as crate packaging, plastic water bottles, glass bottles, metal scrap, and broken ceramic wares. Reusing waste as building materials also conveys the message of sustainability to the underprivileged – teaching them that they can reuse household waste into useful products.

4. The Story Pod, by Atelier Kastelic Buffey

A3898_10 Small scale designs_The Story Pod
A3898_10 Small scale designs_The Story Pod

The Story Pod is a 64-square-feet library designed by Atelier Kastelic Buffey. It is maintained by the community and is located on the edge of a prominent civic square in Toronto. The cuboidal volume seems like a tight reading space when viewed from a distance but it is a comfortable space that can accommodate up to four people. 

The opaque walls maintain privacy whereas the walls with vertical slits ensure ventilation within the pod. The pod was aesthetically designed using wood as a material. The small details were kept in mind and the pod was developed as a structure that allows everyone ranging from small kids to adults to spend some private reading time in this space.

5. Zero Impact Mountain Hut in Swiss Alps, by ON

A3898_10 Small scale designs_Zero Impact Mountain hut

The Zero Impact Mountain Hut is a compact hotel pod in the Swiss Alps, 2500 meters above sea level, designed by the hiking shoe brand ON. It is a reflective mountain cabin, that has been clad in corrugated material to minimize visual impact, that accommodates two people. It was designed as a tribute to the awe-inspiring landscape of the Alps, and as a minimalistic approach towards hotel design. 

This simple and small geometric pod allows it to be made in larger numbers and placed around the Alps to enjoy its remarkable views. It is a perfect place to retreat for a weekend and return to normal life after a refreshing getaway. 

The choice of sustainable materials, that make the design zero-waste, in designing this Hut is an attempt towards creating positive awareness about cleanliness in such popular tourist destinations.

6. Langbos Children’s Center in South Africa, by Jason Erlank Architects

A3898_10 Small scale designs_Langbos Children’s Centre
A3898_10 Small scale designs_Langbos Children’s Centre

The Langbos Children’s Center is a 217-square-meter community center designed by Jason Erlank Architects under funding from a non-profit organization named Intsikelelo. This organization worked directly with the Langbos community and learned about their needs. They then funded several projects to empower and uplift the community, one of which is this community center. 

This center was responsible for employing the local community members in its construction process, thereby training and educating them with the vocational skill of Superadobe construction. 

The center was designed as a multifunctional space allowing some community-driven initiatives to take place here. It comprises a communal hall, a girls’ dorm, a boys’ dorm, a supervisor’s room, and an outdoor play area. This small-scale design shows how initiatives made for a particularly underprivileged community can involve the people of that community and help them in supporting themselves. 

7. Center for Rural Knowledge, Halwad, by Neelkanth Chhaya

A3898_10 Small scale designs_Center for Rural Knowledge
A3898_10 Small scale designs_Center for Rural Knowledge

The Center for Rural Knowledge is a non-profit organization located on the border of a semi-desert area, 7km from Halwad which is a small town in the Surendranagar district of Gujarat. Founded by the Indian Center for Environmental Education, the Center for Rural Knowledge was designed by architect Neelkanth Chhaya to aid local farmers by creating spaces that allow the study, research, and development of new technologies of sustainable agriculture. 

The Center also promotes various women empowering activities by educating them in the fields of micro-banking and home & village industries. Such initiatives ensure that the rural areas are empowered with self-sustainable tools of livelihood. This also ignites an urge to succeed in the minds of children who accompany their parents to such centers.

8. The Tokyo Toilet Project, by Shigeru Ban

A3898_10 Small scale designs_Tokyo Toilet
A3898_10 Small scale designs_Tokyo Toilet

As a part of the Tokyo Toilet Project, renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed two public toilet modules for the Yo Yogi Fukamachi Mini Park and the Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park. This innovative design for a public toilet takes into consideration two key points – Cleanliness and Security – both of which are factors we keep in mind before entering a public restroom. Both these factors are solved by using the latest technology of a glass that turns opaque when the doors have been locked from within. 

This essentially means that when the toilet isn’t being used the glass will be transparent allowing people to ensure cleanliness and safety before entering it, and once they enter the washroom the glass turns opaque making sure that their privacy isn’t compromised.

This small technological intervention in design allows the possibility of having clean and safe public restrooms all over the country. More such small-scale designs can make sure that we all feel better about our public spaces and are encouraged to use them daily.

9. The Courtyard House Plugin, by PAO

A3898_10 Small scale designs_The Courtyard House Plugin
A3898_10 Small scale designs_The Courtyard House Plugin

The Courtyard House Plugin is a 60-square-meter house designed by the People’s Architecture Office in Beijing, China. This is essentially a prefabricated modular system of a house within a house. It has been designed to incorporate modern living standards into buildings that are centuries old without disturbing their structure. It is part of an Urban Regeneration Project that aims at conserving the traditional Chinese courtyard houses that are only partially occupied. 

In some regions of China, the cost of renovating or rebuilding courtyard houses is unaffordable to their owners, and this alternative allows them to live in comfortable spaces within their premises without losing a fortune. 

Such small-scale design alternatives for the poor can help in reviving the traditional architecture of the city without hampering the living standards of the people.

10. Maya Somaiya Library, Sharad School, by Sameep Padora & Associates

A3898_10 Small scale designs_Maya Somaiya Library
A3898_10 Small scale designs_Maya Somaiya Library
A3898_10 Small scale designs_Maya Somaiya Library

The Maya Somaiya Library is a fine example of how architecture can be instrumental in solving problems innovatively. The brief for this project was to design a reading space between the existing building and school boundary which implied that the structure would have to be restricted to a linear footprint. This challenge was taken up as an opportunity to create an extension of the ground through the right material and construction technique. 

The architects designed an organic form below which the library was sheltered and above which the children could play. This would encourage students to spend more time in and around the library. The architects designed a Catalan vault structure in Rhino and executed it on-site using bricks as the building material. 

The final product turned out to be a design that ensured innovative reading spaces without compromising on the connectivity within the site. Such creative ideas in small-scale design can lead to the manifestation of thought-provoking spaces for children, and they will learn to combat problems with an innovative mindset.



Gautami Menon is a final year student at the Institute of Architecture and Planning, Nirma University. As an aspiring architect, she is passionate about expressing design through the written medium. She believes that architectural design is a platform where intellect meets art and her designs are an attempt at justifying the same.

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