A New Kind of Dollhouse

Many architects claim to have been precociously weened on geometric toys in their youth. Dollhouses, less so.

Above: Jack in a Box by Guy Hollaway Architects with Hemingway Design

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Some of the world's top architects recently got a chance to relive their childhood play with "A Dolls' House," a curated project and exhibition that asked firms like Zaha Hadid Architects, dRMM, and F.A.T. to each design a unique dollhouse. The designs will be exhibited and then auctioned off on November 11, with a goal of raising £100,000 for KIDS, a U.K.-based disabled children's charity.

Adjaye Associates

Each of the 20 projects reflects the aesthetic stylings on which the architects have built their reputations. The Electra House, by award-winning architect David Adjaye, with Base Models and Chris Ofili, bears the cool-headed, neo-modernist lines of his "real" projects.

Glenn Howells Architects

The Extra-Ordinary House by Glenn Howells Architects fights the whimsy prevalent in the collection by championing the perfect ordinariness of domesticity. Like Adjaye's house, it looks more like an architectural model than a play toy.

Coffey Architects

The bespoke houses riff off a standard 750-square-millimeter template. Here the Inside Out House by Coffey Architects.

Coffey Architects

Taken together, the houses are an eclectic bunch, though many adhere to similar schemes and ideas.

Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands

Stacking is a big theme, which is perhaps attributable to the small footprint. The Doll's House by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands is the tallest of the lot, imagining a vertical village of plug-in units, all exhibiting a personalized sense of color.

HLM Architects

Sound Play{ce} by HLM Architects with JuJu Ross Design/A&J Hilliard Cabinet Makers also assumes a tower-like composition of blocky volumes.

Duggan Morris Architects

The stacking theme again, seen in Multi-Story by Duggan Morris Architects with Unit 22 Modelmakers.

Make Architects

In Make Architects' Jigsaw House, small gable-roofed houses are inventively stacked in a shapeless but colorful collage.

DRDH Architects

Many also, like DRDH Architects' Play House (with Anne Katrine Dolven)...

Studio Egret West

...the Puzzle House by Studio Egret West with Andrew Logan...


...or Outside In by Shedkm with artist James Ireland, are designed to be pulled apart and examined as wunderkammer.

Zaha Hadid Architects

Others explode out of their cubic shells. In This Must Be the Place by Zaha Hadid Architects, a wooden paper weight conceals a sculptural landscape of forms, all programmatic concerns be damned.

Mae with MAKLab

Some take the opposite approach. Mae's Mae-Mak House, done in collaboration with MAKLab and Burro Happold, is a seemingly sturdy row house…

Mae with MAKLab

...that collapses flat and tidily packed into a carrying case.


Color, of course, is in abundance. In the House for a Deaf Child by dRMM with Richard Woods Studio and Grymsdyke Farm, color becomes the central focus of a very minimalist house, whose occupants live in a virtual rainbow, so to speak.


Some, like the Elvis’s Tree House by AModels, do away with the house altogether. The results can vary, to say the least, and in this case, are downright surreal.

Guy Hollaway Architects

Similarly, Jack in a Box by Guy Hollaway Architects with Hemingway Design adopts an unorthodox approach to domestic living. A cocoon-like shroud is packed into a paper-thin shell resembling a childhood home (see slide 1)--the facade fall away to reveal the amorphous blob.


20 Of Britain's Top Architects Reimagine The Dollhouse

Zaha Hadid, David Adjaye, and FAT reduce their creative egos to toy size.

The architect and planner Edwin Lutyens is remembered as Britain’s greatest builder. He built much and wide, leaving his elegant, classicizing touch on buildings all over England and even as far as New Delhi, where he constructed the city’s first administrative structures and monuments. Trivia games and museum literature, however, might better remember him as the author of a very different project: the largest dollhouse in the world.

Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House was made for its royal namesake and presented to Her Majesty by Lutyens as a gift. Preserved at Windsor Castle, the house first wowed audiences at the the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1922 with its manic detail, including but nowhere limited to tiny wall frescoes, a library lined with miniature books, and a fully stocked cellar. Now, the pint-sized gesamtkunstwerk is the inspiration for a contemporary take on the theme that sees the world’s best architects at play.

The "Doll’s House" project was organized by U.K. developer Cathedral Group, which commissioned diminutive residences from 20 British architects, all to be auctioned next month for charity. Zaha Hadid, David Adjaye, and FAT, among many others, contributed designs for dollhouses that each bear the aesthetic trace of their makers. The stylings range from playful to boorishly realistic, as is the case with Adjaye and Glenn Howells’s submissions, both of which render the whimsical brief as thrilling as a textbook case study. Other projects obliterate the house altogether, like AModels’s eccentrically titled Elvis’ Tree House, which suspends various objects—a baby grand piano, painting canvases, a grill—in a generous treetop.

The results vary, but several of the houses tackle the same design issues. Many, for example, can be collapsed and exploded. Studio Egret West’s Puzzle House, done in collaboration with Andrew Logan, resembles a monolithic oblong when closed; the oddly shaped compartments, however, can be extracted and rearranged to form a tall stack of boxes linked together by gold chains. The Mae-Mak House by Mae, MAKLab, and Burro Happold is a modular vertical dwelling painted bright red that folds flat to fit into a carrying case.

Yet by and large, boxes prevail, perhaps a response to the standard 750-square-millimeter base the architects were given to work with. Two towering projects, one by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and the other by FAT, reinterpret the dollhouse as a high-rise housing block. The former is composed of wildly hued "plug-in" units, while the latter reproduces the form of Erno Goldfinger’s Brutalist icon, Trellick Tower, with child-like cutouts carved into it.

None of the works match the ambition of Lutyens’s 4.5-ton, four-level masterpiece, a 1:12 scale model of a stately country estate. Nor do any of the architects try—Lutyens, after all, labored on his house with a vast team of 1,500 collaborators for three years. Instead, the goal of the project isn’t polemical but constructive: the houses will be exhibited and auctioned off on November 11, with all the proceeds going to KIDS, a disabled children's charity. The fundraising target is currently set at £100,000, half of which will probably go to Zaha Hadid's shop-class paperweight. (See it in the slide show above.)

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