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.)