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Member News: Thinking Small and Achieving Big

Fiona Mckay

This article has been written as part of the AIA Newsletter’s commitment to up-to- date member news. If you are aware of UK Chapter members’ involvement in other newsworthy projects or events, please bring them to our attention via a “comment” follow up note at the end of this article and we will endeavour to publish further feature articles.

Remember we won’t know what you have achieved unless you tell us!

There is nothing quite like working for major international firms on large projects to kindle a sincere interest in all things small, local and community minded. Although AIA UK Board Directors Amrita Raja AIA and Katharine Storr AIA both work for rival London firms, they jumped at the opportunity earlier this year to pool their talents, think small and enter a design competition for a one-room children’s playhouse.


For the past 22 years, an organisation called Dallas CASA has worked with “generous architects, builders, organisations, corporations and individuals” to design, build and donate “extraordinary children’s playhouses to raise funds so that Dallas CASA can provide more volunteer advocates to help abused and neglected children have safe, permanent homes where they can thrive”. (See more about Dallas CASA HERE.)

For the past 6 years, the Life of an Architect blogger Bob Borson has supported Dallas CASA’s “Parade of Playhouses” by organising an annual Playhouse Design Competition. (See more about the LOAA blog HERE.)

For the past 2 years, SketchUp – the company whose 3D modelling software has been used by almost every competition entrant – has worked with LOAA establishing a special award category and making a sizable donation to Dallas CASA to underwrite the construction of its own and two other Playhouse Design Competition winners. 

And the 2017 SketchUp Playhouse prize winner was - you guessed it – the musically themed “Playhouse Rock” designed by the team of Amrita and Katharine. Not only has the London based duo had the satisfaction of winning a design competition at this early stage in their careers, they have also had the added pleasure of seeing their creation actually built – a rare treat in their otherwise everyday world of large projects and lengthy delivery times.

Photo Credits: Boy at Xylophone by DallasCASA / Screenshots of 3D Model by SketchUp

Photo Credits: Boy at Xylophone by DallasCASA / Screenshots of 3D Model by SketchUp

While congratulating Amrita and Katharine on their win, it should be made clear that – although small – according to Bob Borson, playhouses are in fact “surprisingly complicated little buildings”. The 6 judges had to assess 26 entries based on overall design, appeal and constructability. Part of the design competition rules also stipulated that entries included both design drawings and full construction documents. (See more about the other winners HERE.)


Amrita and Katharine have known each other since their Master of Architecture courses at Yale and their friendship has continued since they both came to London and joined the AIA UK Chapter Board. Playhouse Rock itself has been well critiqued in a SketchUp interview (see HERE), which is well worth reading for more details on the concept and comments on how the Amrita and Katharine collaboration worked.

Now that they are officially “S-Lab.Space” (see HERE), Amrita and Katharine plan to continue their collaboration and are also looking for partnerships with others for design research and non-profit projects with a need for design improvements.

Written by:: Lorraine King, AIA

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