Award Programs

Small Project Awards

Submission inquiries should be directed to: Allison Garwood Freedland, program manager, at 312.376.2725 or

Sponsorship inquires should be directed to: Debora Donato, sponsorship coordinator, at 312.374.1726 or

Click here to begin your submission.


Call for Entries

Founded by the AIA Chicago Small Practitioners Group and co-presented by the AIA Chicago Area Custom Residential Architects Network, the goal of this award program is to raise public awareness of the value that architects bring to small projects and to promote small practitioners as a resource for design excellence. All firms in the competition have 10 or fewer full-time or full-time-equivalent employees.

Submission Period: March 1- March 26, 2021 11:59 pm CST

Entries and Eligibility

  • Project submissions are limited to firms of ten (10) or fewer full-time or full-time equivalent employees at the time of the project's completion.
  • Projects must be completed between March 1, 2016 and March 1, 2021.
  • Projects must be between one and up to 10,000 square feet; or objects designed by the firm.
  • Projects must be built.
  • Firms are encouraged to re-enter projects previously submitted if they did not win an award. Projects that have received an AIA Chicago award are not eligible for another award in the same category, but they may be entered in a different category.
  • Projects must be designed by registered architects.
  • Entries may be submitted by architecture firms based in the Chicago metropolitan area, defined as the counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will in Illinois, and Lake and Porter counties in Indiana. Projects may be located anywhere in the world. Architects based outside the Chicago metropolitan area may enter projects built within these Chicago metropolitan counties.
  • If the design team includes more than one architectural firm, any member of the team may submit the joint project. The combined size of the team firms may not exceed ten (10) or fewer full-time or full-time equivalent employees. All members of the design team must be acknowledged in the entry, and a member of the non-submitting firm(s) must provide a release indicating that they are aware of the submission.

Judging Criteria

  • Winning submittals will demonstrate a level of invention, creativity and craftsmanship as well as excellence in design.
  • Each entry will be judged for the success with which it meets the individual project program, intent and requirements.
  • Each entry will be weighed individually for its merits, not in competition with each other.
  • Any project that credits a jury member or their firm as architect, associate architect, consultant, or client is ineligible and will be disqualified if submitted.

2021 Jury

Cristina Gallo, AIA - Chicago

Via Chicago

Tania Salgado, FAIA - CO

Handprint Architecture

Valentine Schute, AIA - WI

River Architects

Award Categories

Entries are to be projects within the following categories completed between March 1, 2016 and March 1, 2021:

Commercial / Institutional

About the Categories

Residential: This category applies to all projects considered residential: single-family, multifamily, single occupancy, included. It also includes live workspaces. If the space is designed for habitation, it is considered residential.

Industrial / Commercial: This category applies to all projects considered commercial and institutional: Commercial spaces may include retail, office, hotel, warehouses or restaurants. If the space is designed for conducting business activities, it is considered to be commercial. Institutional spaces may include houses of worship, hospitals, libraries, schools, government buildings, parks, or museums, etc.

Object: The object category applies to a piece of furniture, a fixture, or a fragment.

Entry Fees

AIA Chicago members: $150 (per project submitted) Non-members: $250 (per project submitted) Entry fees are nonrefundable. There is no limit to the number of entries that may be submitted by an individual firm.

Competition Requirements

AIA Chicago reserves the right to disqualify any submission not adhering to these requirements and may rescind any award so bestowed.


  • Please include one "title" slide (all black jpg with your project title included)
  • Each image MUST be named with the proper naming convention: PROJECT NAME_IMAGE NUMBER // Example: MountainCabin_01, MountainCabin_02...MountainCabin_10. Image names and project titles MUST match.
  • Maximum 10, minimum 8 project images, arranged in the order you wish them to be viewed. THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE THE TITLE SLIDE. 10 PROJECT SLIDES PLUS ONE TITLE SLIDE
  • All images must be uploaded as high-resolution .jpg or .jpeg, maximum file size 20mb.
  • Images should show context, special considerations and innovative design.
  • Images include drawings and photos
  • Two photographs may be combined side-by-side into one image.
  • One photograph showing each exposed side of the building or environment must be included.
  • Site plan and floor plan as appropriate to the project, including North arrow and graphic scale, are required. Submissions in the object category are exempt from this requirement.
  • Captions must include photography credit and cardinal direction of exposed side.
  • Images may be edited to improve contrast ratio, color balance, and composition through cropping. Images may not be edited to add, remove, or alter any aspect or element of the project including its context. Images should represent the project as it exists in the built environment. Artistic composition must not confuse the jury as to the nature of the project.
  • All images must be uploaded as .jpg or .jpeg, maximum file size 20mb.
  • Images must be 300 DPI or higher.
  • If your project name is long, abbreviate appropriately
  • If you do not use these conventions, we will be unable to process your submission
  • All images MUST be captioned with:
    • View (cardinal direction view or floorplan); write N/A if you are submitting an object
    • Photographer name
    • Photographer business name (if applicable)

Additional Information Required

  • Project name and location (city, state, and country if outside the United States)
  • Construction costs. This information is to assist the judges and will not be published by AIA Chicago.
  • A written Project Statement. Written information shall be limited to 250 words, including: ----Statement of program and contextual background. In addition, include any special challenges or considerations, unique and/or innovative solutions, lessons learned, or other information pertinent to the understanding of the project.
  • A separate statement of the project’s sustainability measures, such as: energy reduction; water conservation; indoor air quality enhancement; resource efficiency in building materials or systems; integrated design; or community livability.
  • TEAM: Provide the firm names and contact information for the Design Architect, Architect of Record, and General Contractor. AIA Chicago encourages submitters to also list consultants that assisted on the project.
  • Three products manufactured for your project, including the companies which manufactured them.
  • Project authorship must not be revealed in photo captions or within the Project Statement. You must identify your firm on the exhibit board.
  • 2030 Commitment: We will ask if your firm is 2030 committed. If you have not signed the 2030 Commitment, you will be required to respond to Framework for Design Excellence questions (see below)
    ***** NEW IN 2021: Framework for Design Excellence:  ****
    The Framework for Design Excellence is made up of 10 measures, formerly known as the COTE Top Ten. It organizes our thinking, facilitates conversations with our clients and the communities we serve, and sets meaningful goals and targets for climate action.
    Entrants to the residential or commercial/institutional categories are asked to address THREE of the 10 questions with a 250-word limit for each question. Entrants to the object category are asked to address ONE of the 10 questions with a 250-word limit response.


The AIA Chicago office will notify winners immediately following the jury deliberations. No public announcement of any awards will be made by AIA Chicago prior to the awards presentation. Winners agree not to make their own announcements prior to the awards night.


All submitted projects will be placed for viewing on the Small Project Awards website and displayed in a gallery setting at the awards ceremony. Award-winning projects will be recognized by AIA Chicago through local publication and electronic media. Also, AIA Chicago will undertake a public relations campaign on behalf of the winners.


The intent of the awards is to honor those firms and individuals responsible for the submitted designs. AIA Chicago has always honored other team members as part of the awards process. However, it is critical to the integrity of the awards that the primary designer(s) receive credit. Entering the competition is a representation that the submitting firm is responsible for the submitted design. This must be the case or the entry is not eligible for consideration.

The architect or firm of record, associated architects, project team, significant consultants/contractors, and client shall be identified on submission forms. Client names will be withheld from publication on request. Submissions from architects working as an employee or consultant to a firm must include a release from a principal of that firm acknowledging that the submitting architect had primary design responsibility and that project credits are correct.

Submission format

All projects must be submitted through AIA Chicago's Award Force Platform. If you have not yet submitted a project using this platform you will have to make a new account. 

If you have previously submitted to SPA or Design Excellence Awards (in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020), you do not need to create a new account.