World-Famous Architects Design Dollhouses For New Charity Project

World-famous architects build highly creative miniature homes to benefit a children’s charity.

Thomas Butler

Tucked away in the attic of our minds, we all have an image of our perfect home, be it a duplex on Fifth Avenue or a cozy cottage in the country.

Now, UK-based property developers may not have made our dreams come true—good luck squeezing through the door of one of these pint-size properties—but they’ve come pretty darn close.

Earlier this year, the Cathedral Group commissioned 20 of the world’s top architects and designers (in collaboration with high-profile artists) to build dollhouses to raise money for KIDS, a British charity that supports disabled children. The project was inspired by the dollhouse British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens designed for The British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1922. A gift for Queen Mary, Lutyens’ dollhouse is a mini stately home. Imagine Downton Abbey cut down to size.

The dwellings that A Dolls’ House project has inspired are just a tad wackier. The one design requirement for the project: each house includes at least one feature that makes life easier for a child with a disability. From there, the world was the architect’s oyster (or King Crab, in one notable instance). Each practice was given a miniscule plot of land—a 750mm square plinth—on which to build a property, an excuse for a bunch of top-flight modern architects and designers to strut their stuff.

Out of the 20 resulting dollhouses, these seven will be on show in Senator’s London Showroom, Monday to Friday, 9-5 p.m., until Nov. 8. On Nov. 11, the complete collection will be exhibited and auctioned at Bonhams in London’s New Bond Street; all proceeds go to KIDS.

Laid out like architectural models, these mini marvels are ready and waiting, begging you to take your pick—as, incidentally, are the jars of candy (as colorful as the houses) also decorating the room. If you could shrink down, like Alice in Wonderland, which property would you choose?

1. DRDH (In collaboration with stageset designer: A. K. Dolven. Thanks to Bofisk, Bodo, Norway), The Play House

Forget the mermaids—everyone knows Sebastian’s the star of the show. The Play House’s bleak exterior belies an inner world of color and amusement, with high-contrast colors that even make it legible for the partially sighted. The design is based on the paper theatres that were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and features working scenery lifts and curtains in the fly tower; the auditorium and foyer swing aside to reveal a stage. The king crab claws—hanging from the lifts in colorful conversation with the interior’s colored timber veneers—are Norwegian artist Anne Katrine Dolven’s contribution. Whether or not it’s a production of The Little Mermaid you’re staging, these found objects are sure to steal the show.

2. MAKE, Jigsaw House

A contemporary take on the piggy bank on one hand, and an eerie shadow-like cutout of a forest on the other, one of the oldest and simplest games, the jigsaw puzzle, is at the heart of MAKE’s design. From afar, it looks like a large house made up of a whole lot of rooms; in fact, each room is an individual house. Jigsaw House is intended to represent MAKE’S company ethos and collaborative spirit; the firm invited each partner to invent a house full of sensory expressions of play and color and addressing a different aspect of disability. The architects’s 26 houses, one brimming with copper coins, another with stretchy smiley yellow rubber men, are balanced with 20 empty ones. All of the pieces come together in a playful, vibrant, and somehow harmonious whole.


Who could turn down a seaside drive in a bright yellow Beetle? Bold, contrasting colors and various materials and textures, designed to help children with visual impairment navigate their way around the house, bring Compass House to life. This particular piece was inspired by a design for a real house for Living Architecture. Comb the coast, and you could stumble upon that dream weekend retreat.

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4. AMODELS, Elvis’s Tree House

“A little less conversation, a little more action please…” This deliberately dangerous design would surely satisfy even Elvis’s desire for drama.

AMODELS’s design is based on a real playground the firm modeled in Southampton a few years ago with landscape designers LDA Design. The idea was to make Spark Park as physically challenging as possible—there’s a rope bridge with no hand rail, and a steep hill of polished stainless steel (wheelchair accessible of course). The challenge with their dollhouse? Rather than a knock at the door to gain entry, you have be practiced in the art of climbing a tree.

AMODELS wanted to create a dollhouse that an adventurous child might dream of, rather than an experienced architect. They started by choosing a Playmobil doll to dictate the tree’s scale. Christian Spencer-Davies, founder of the firm, took an intern to British retail store Argos to buy some figures, and by lucky dip came out with a pirate, an American Indian, and Elvis. As Spencer-Davies puts it, “Inspiration struck—Elvis was a big kid with so much money he could have anything he wanted.” Well that explains the grand piano and the television, the cars, motorcycle and airplane, and not to forget the swimming pool, in the final design.

5. GLENN HOWELLS ARCHITECTS, The Extra-Ordinary House

At first glance—especially after experiencing the chaos and color of the likes of Jigsaw House and Elvis’s playful pad—the look of The Extra-Ordinary House might seem to contradict its name. More minimalistic than its neighbors, and conventional in its rectangular structure with clean sharp edges, this is one for the chic.

The Extra-Ordinary House was inspired by two ideas: Firstly, that the most important house-type in the UK is the most ordinary one, the terrace house—a simple yet durable piece of accommodation; and secondly, that the robust timber construction explains to a child with impaired sight how the house works through touch and feel.

6. DEXTER MOREN, Haptic House

“Anybody in?” With the ding-dong of the doorbell, there’ll be no peering through post-boxes to find out who’s home. Haptic House is based on the concept of “sensory play,” which encourages children to look, listen, touch, and feel. A series of components bring the house to life by stimulating the senses: Motion-activated light-sensor panels trigger the illumination of colored Perspex blocks; ringable doorbells are fitted to ‘push’ building blocks; and material-covered blocks are made up of bright, patterned, tactile fabrics.

Dexter Moren Assosiates’s design, like a number of the dollhouses on display, has 360-degree access; unlike the traditional child’s toy, there are no restrictions as to how it should be played with. Constructed with open block units, stacked atop of one another like building blocks, and resting on a reflective base, the illusion is that of a soaring tower.

7. DRMM (In collaboration with Richard Woods Studio and Grymsdyke Farm), House for a Deaf Child

Porcupine quills, dipped in colored ink, stand guard around DRMM’s design. Not really—but wouldn’t it be fun if that was what these adjustable pieces were? In any case, they bring the exterior of the house to life with bursts of color and control the light and views from inside. House for a Deaf Child is designed to support visual communication through sign language; it’s both a toy and a puzzle, an object to play with and learn from.