m.o.r.e. Cabin by Kariouk Architects

Small Architectural Firms That Made a Big Impact in 2023

Small but mighty, meet the trailblazing practices with innovative answers to architecture’s biggest challenges.

Shona Jackson Shona Jackson

The latest edition of “Architizer: The World’s Best Architecture” — a stunning, hardbound book celebrating the most inspiring contemporary architecture from around the globe — is now available. Order your copy today.  

It only takes a ripple to make a wave. For architecture and design practices with fewer employees, delivering an extraordinary project is arguably more intimate. Team members may play a multitude of different roles, dexterously swapping hats and leaving an indelible mark on each stage of a scheme.

The A+Awards program offers each office an equal opportunity to achieve acclaim in their field, regardless of their size. Judged on the strength of their portfolios, the following trailblazing practices, each with 10 or fewer employees, were all recognized in the Best Small Firm category of the 10th Annual A+Awards. These movers and shakers are disrupting the status quo, redefining best practices and pursuing innovative answers to the biggest challenges facing architects today. While they may be small in number, their impact on the global landscape is mighty.

Chiangmai Life Architects

Jury Winner, 10th Annual A+Awards, Best Small Firm (1-10 employees)

Panyaden Secondary School by Chiangmai Life Architects Secondary School Library by Chiangmai Life Architects Firm Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Pictured Projects: Panyaden Secondary School, Chiang Mai, Thailand ; Secondary School Library, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Headquartered in northern Thailand, sustainable design is at the heart of Chiangmai Life Architects’ philosophy. Their impressive portfolio, which spans educational buildings, health centers and residences, reimagines organic materials such as bamboo and earth through a bold, contemporary lens.

The result is ground-breaking structures that pair state-of-the-art technology, including air-filtration systems and facial recognition, with eco-friendly engineering. Stand-out elements in their remarkable body of work range from expertly crafted adobe structures to masterful bamboo roofs.

The Design Institute of Landscape & Architecture China Academy of Art

Popular Choice Winner, 10th Annual A+Awards, Best Small Firm (1-10 employees)

Boat Rooms on the Fuchun River by The Design Institute of Landscape & Architecture China Academy of Art CO.,LTD A leaf-shaped Boat Floating in Sky by The Design Institute of Landscape & Architecture China Academy of Art CO.,LTDFirm Location: Hangzhou, China

Pictured Projects: Boat Rooms on the Fuchun River, Hangzhou, China ; A leaf-shaped Boat Floating in Sky, Hangzhou, China

Leading with innovation, while negotiating an area’s rich topography and history, is the architects’ age-old dance. Respect for a program’s wider context is key to this Hangzhou-based practice’s considerate approach. In their hands, a harmonious dialogue between the organic and built environments is fostered, heightening the spatial users’ connection with the natural world.

Impressively, this feat is achieved across an array of typologies — their work to date includes a leaf-shaped pool that blurs into the Fuchun River, floating hotel rooms inspired by ancient dynasties and a lakefront resort that embraces wetland ecosystems.

Atelier tao+c

Finalist, 10th Annual A+Awards, Best Small Firm (1-10 employees)

Capsule hotel in a rural library by Atelier tao+c A Private Reading Room by Atelier tao+cFirm Location: Shanghai, China

Pictured Projects: Capsule hotel in a rural library, Tonglu, China ; A Private Reading Room, China

Veritable jacks of all trades, Atelier tao+c can turn their gaze to a diversity of contexts, from product conception and interior design to sprawling, multi-building developments. Their portfolio articulates a striking visual language; one that is refined, orderly and immensely impactful.

A notable facet of their work is their acuity in reviving historic structures — they’ve reimagined 1930s residences, heritage high-rise apartments and even old factories. One of their most significant adaptive reuse projects to date is the sensitive redesign of a library in the ancient village of Qinglongwu. The firm deftly inserted an unobtrusive, capsule hotel into the fabric of the building, while preserving the library for the local community.

Kariouk Architects

Finalist, 10th Annual A+Awards, Best Small Firm (1-10 employees)

Forest Retreat by Kariouk Architects

Photo by Scott Norsworthy

m.o.r.e. Cabin by Kariouk Architects

Photo by Scott Norsworthy

Firm Location: Ottawa, Canada

Pictured Projects: m.o.r.e. Cabin, Wakefield, Canada ; Forest Retreat, Regional Municipality of Peel, Canada

Problem-solving is the catalyst for this architectural practice’s daring designs. Rather than obstructions, Kariouk Architects sees a program’s challenges, whether financial or environmental, as opportunities for creativity. Their collection of work comprises adventurous commercial and residential projects, interior renovations and landscape design, with many schemes executed to meet modest budgets.

Each of the firm’s pioneering designs is underpinned by a commitment to the environment. Efficiency across materials and construction methods, alongside more high-tech sustainability solutions, is integral to their practice.

Austin Maynard Architects

Finalist, 10th Annual A+Awards, Best Small Firm (1-10 employees)

St Andrews Beach House by Austin Maynard Architects Cut Paw Paw by Austin Maynard Architects Firm Location: Carlton, Australia

Pictured Projects: St Andrews Beach House, Victoria, Australia ; Cut Paw Paw, Melbourne, Australia

Founded in 2002, Austin Maynard Architects is guided by a uniquely experimental perspective. Rejecting the conventional confines of established typologies and architectural styles, they prefer to deal in big ideas. Their work is offbeat and concept-centric, interrogating the architectural possibilities of each brief and upending the mundane in favor of the unexpected.

This subversive stance is evident throughout their portfolio. Playful and bold, they’ve masterminded an array of pioneering forms, from a residence reimagined as a village, to a circular beach house that’s void of corridors and a ‘ridiculously inside-out’ home open to the elements.

Tegnestuen LOKAL

Special Mention, 10th Annual A+Awards, Best Small Firm (1-10 employees)

Ørsted Gardens by Tegnestuen LOKAL Ørsted Gardens by Tegnestuen LOKALFirm Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

Pictured Project: Ørsted Gardens, Frederiksberg, Denmark

Danish firm Tegnestuen LOKAL may be young, but their mission is ambitious. The practice, which was established in 2015, seeks to offer an antidote to the homogenized swaths of the built environment. Their design philosophy combines three core tenets: culture, environment and community, to create unique spaces imbued with contextual specificity.

While their outlook is to the future, the firm places particular importance on heritage Nordic architecture. New construction is a natural evolution of traditional typologies, which the office regards as embodied wisdom, having been shaped by the local microclimate. Equal emphasis is placed on creating a positive environmental footprint, and the firm utilizes wood, wood fibers and recycled materials across their programs.

Israel Alba Estudio

Special Mention, 10th Annual A+Awards, Best Small Firm (1-10 employees)

Red Cross Headquarters by Israel Alba Estudio Gardening pavilions by Israel Alba EstudioFirm Location: Madrid, Spain

Pictured Projects: Red Cross Headquarters, Galapagar, Spain ; Gardening pavilions, Madrid, Spain

Few small firms have the expansive range of Israel Alba Estudio. The multi-disciplinary architecture, design and landscape practice has a varied portfolio, comprising everything from residential, retail, corporate, educational and municipal buildings, to waste treatment plants, laboratories and industrial structures. The office even offers consultancy services in waste management and energy optimization.

Sustainability is a priority for the remarkable Madrid-based firm. They examine cutting-edge technologies, construction techniques and environmentally conscious engineering to reinforce their mission statement with actionable expertise.


Special Mention, 10th Annual A+Awards, Best Small Firm (1-10 employees)

Lathhouse by Birdseye Field House by Birdseye Firm Location: Richmond, Vermont

Pictured Projects: Lathhouse, Sagaponack, New York ; Field House, South Kingstown, Rhode Island

Well-versed in realizing masterful residences, architecture and construction firm Birdseye elevates vernacular design to new heights. The Vermont practice was founded back in 1984 and prides themselves on their state-of-the-art craftsmanship and beautiful, enduring structures.

Specializing in residential spaces, the office riffs off established domestic typologies to create exciting contemporary homes that are at once progressive and rooted in the history of the landscape. Their unique perspective balances on the intersection between innovation and tradition, delivering extraordinary modern spaces informed by the past.

Salagnac Arquitectos

Special Mention, 10th Annual A+Awards, Best Small Firm (1-10 employees)

Design Studio Salagnac Arquitectos by Salagnac Arquitectos Casa Ceiba by Salagnac ArquitectosFirm Location: Nosara, Costa Rica

Pictured Projects: Design Studio Salagnac Arquitectos, Nosara, Costa Rica ; Casa Ceiba, Nosara, Costa Rica

Based in Costa Rica, Salagnac Arquitectos seeks to soften the distinction between the built and organic terrains. Their portfolio exemplifies contemporary tropical design, merging the local topography with architectural infrastructure and minimizing the impact of construction on the wider ecosystem.

From residences to schools, their work invokes bioclimatic design and energy-efficient technologies, which utilize renewable natural resources. Spatially, nature is visually present in their programs too — sprawling outdoor living areas establish a palpable connection with the wider landscape.

The latest edition of “Architizer: The World’s Best Architecture” — a stunning, hardbound book celebrating the most inspiring contemporary architecture from around the globe — is now available. Order your copy today.  

Shona Jackson Author: Shona Jackson
Shona Jackson is Architizer’s A+Awards Content Fellow. An architecture enthusiast with an MA in Journalism, Shona writes about beautiful buildings and property news for a range of publications. When she’s away from her laptop, you’ll likely find her wandering around London with her Labrador, Teddy, in toe.
Read more articles by Shona
Grillagh Water by Patrick Bradley Architects

Emerald Isle: 7 Mesmerizing Modern Homes in Ireland

Ireland’s radical, contemporary residences skillfully balance innovation with reverence for the isle 's storied past.

The Culture of Architecture Needs an Overhaul, Part I: The Necessity of Cultural Change

Architecture culture makes headlines for all the wrong reasons, and architects are recognizing the n eed for cultural change at an industry level.