Alumnus Matthew Mazzotta (SMVisS ’09)’s The Storefront Theater, a retractable 100-seat theatre to fold out of a disused storefront, has been named Dezeen’s inaugural Architecture Project of the Year. Mazzotta’s modest-by-comparison project beat out projects from leading international firms.

Mazzotta’s project won because it “demonstrates how a simple architectural idea can have a positive impact on the local community,” according to Mexican architect Michel Rojkind, the chair of the Dezeen Awards master architecture jury. In this video, Rojkind explains why The Storefront Theater was named the winner.

“There was a rich conversation about why this should be the winning project and in the end it was not about how big the project was or how complex it was,” he explains. “It was about an idea, how a simple element such as a wall can become a theatre and integrate the sidewalk and the street.”

The project also won the Rebirth Project of the Year category at the Dezeen Awards ceremony in London last week.

The opening mechanism for the theatre is powered by two hydraulic cylinders, which enable the structure fold out over the sidewalk to create space for 100 people to sit.

The retractable seating system is paired with a moveable screen to become a cinema. But since its completion, The Storefront Theater has also hosted video-game nights, music concerts and other community events.

“It’s a project that deliberately goes out on the street and asks people to come in and activate it,” Rojkind says. “It’s a project that is designed specifically for people to come together.”

Mazzotta’s motivation for the project was to breathe new life into Lyons, Nebraska’s main shopping street, which has suffered a decline in recent years as pressure from chain stores and online retailers has forced independent businesses to close.

Rojkind says that the project epitomizes an increased concern for local communities that this year’s architecture shortlist revealed.

“If we start having buildings that add value to communities and street life, we will have better cities in general,” he says.