2023 AIA Small Project Awards: The Perch by Nicole Blair, AIA

n Austin, a couple’s quest for a flexible studio space to accommodate a blend of work, hobbies, and guests has resulted in The Perch, a freestanding 660-square-foot structure that hovers along the existing bungalow roofline and just below the city’s setback tent. With its striking exterior form, the project is a surprising and delightful addition to the community.

“This project is whimsical, and the team was very thoughtful about its presence on the street. Kudos to them for being innovative.”  – Jury comment

The clients, one a hairstylist and the other a landscape architect, originally considered expanding their main home but balked at having to relocate during construction. They returned to the team with the request for a flexible space that would allow them to remain on the property while preserving their yard and existing mature landscape. The Perch meets all of the clients’ needs while sitting just two feet above the existing home.

It is clad in corrugated Corten siding, chosen for its low maintenance and similarity to existing site elements. A barefoot- and paw-friendly open grate stair, which shares a landing with the main home, leads to The Perch, allowing light to filter through to the landscape below. As someone climbs the steps, those inside can feel slight movement from the front cantilevered room, a gentle reminder of wind and gravity.

Structurally, the project sits atop four steel columns, three of which pierce the existing bungalow’s walls to tie the foundations together. Its steel frame was built off-site and was installed via crane in a single day, minimally disturbing the site.  

Throughout the space, the structural steel is exposed and painted white, while bent copper plumbing fixtures and recessed finger pulls echo the siding’s warm tones. Much like the exterior, the interior’s materials were selected for economy and durability and include tongue-and-groove walls and ceilings, off-the-counter butcher block countertops, and standard porcelain sockets and pendant lights the clients had already purchased. The project’s wood floors are a blend of pre-finished plain and rift-swan white oak, overages from a larger project.

The design team also served as the general contractor, which allowed more control of the budget and design opportunities in the atypical project. As the project neared completion, its first use was as a pandemic workspace since the client’s hair salon had been forced to close to the public. By acting as both architect and contractor, the team was able to respond nimbly to the shift in program.

The Perch

General Contractor: Nicole Blair

Owner: Dylan Robertson and Annie Cobb

Location: Austin, Texas

Category: Three

Project site: Previously developed

Building program type(s): Residential – single-family detached

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2021

Gross conditioned floor area: 660 sq. ft.

Project team

Structural Engineer: Structures 

General Contractor: Nicole Blair 

Landscape Architect: D-Crain

Photography: Casey Dunn

AIA and it’s Small Project Design (SPD) Knowledge Community present the annual Small Project Award Program to raise public awareness of the value and design excellence that architects provide regardless of the limits of size and budget.

Submissions are welcome in four categories:

  • Category one: Small project construction, object, work of environmental art or architectural design element up to $250,000 in construction cost
  • Category two: Small project construction up to $2.5 million in construction cost
  • Category three: Small project construction, object, work of environmental art or architectural design under 5,000 square feet 
  • Category four: Unbuilt project award: any unbuilt design that meets any of the category requirements above. This award is for projects that will not be built in the future (speculative work, conceptual work, competition work, student work, etc.)

In 2023, only recipients from Categories 2 and 3 won awards.

The jury evaluates entries based on how successfully projects meet their individual requirements. Entries are judged individually—not in competition with each other. 

All projects must demonstrate design achievement, including how the project fits into its environment and how the project connects to the Framework for Design Excellence. 


  • Open to all architects, designers and projects that meet our category criteria below. Additionally, the U.S.-licensed architect must be a major contributor on the project.
  • Built projects must have been completed after January 1, 2017.​
  • There is no requirement for professional photography.
  • Any size firm may submit a project.
  • Maximum of four entries per firm—(a single project may be entered in two different categories with applicable fees for each entry).

2023 Jury:

Chandra Robinson, AIA, Chair, LEVER Architecture, Portland, Ore.

Madhubala Ayyamperumal, Assoc. AIA, Gensler, Oakland, Calif.

Chris Baribeau, AIA, Modus Studio, Fayetteville, Ark.

David Corban, AIA, David Corban Architects, Naples, Fla.

Katherine Hogan, AIA, Katherine Hogan Architects, Raleigh, N.C.

Past SPA Recipients 

2022 recipients >

2021 recipients >

2020 recipients >

2019 recipients >

2018 recipients >

2017 recipients >

2016 recipients >