Dora House illustration

The Royal Society of Sculptors begins £6.5m restoration of its historic home, Dora House

  • The Royal Society of Sculptors has begun capital works to transform its historic home, Dora House, the Grade II listed building and home to the Society.
  • Reopening in Summer 2022 the project, led by architecture and heritage practice Purcell, will rehabilitate the building’s historic 19th Century facade alongside essential works to safeguard the exterior of the building.
  • The project is the first phase of a major programme to conserve and transform Dora House into a leading centre of sculpture and 3D art.
  • The Society will continue to deliver a programme of exhibitions and events, residencies, awards and education initiatives during the closure of Dora House.

The Royal Society of Sculptors is undertaking a conservation project to transform its historic home, Dora House, the Grade II listed building and home to the Society. The project that has achieved planning consent will be completed next summer and is the first phase of capital works to revitalise the building and support the Society’s vision as the leading home for sculpture and 3D art.

Dora House has been home to the Society and a place for artists and creatives to congregate since the 1970s. Situated in the heart of London’s museum district, it was formerly used as the studios and homes of distinguished sculptors, photographers and architects. The building was gifted by Cecil Thomas to the Society. Originally constructed by William Blake in 1820 as a pair of Georgian houses, Dora House, which is now the oldest building in the Queen's Gate Conservation area of Kensington, was remodelled by architect Willliam Flockhart in 1885. The facade is characterised by its striking Dutch Baroque style and was home to Elliot and Frys Society Photographic Studio. 

The beautiful listed building occupies a unique and prominent position on the Old Brompton Road and is somewhat of a local landmark. It’s unique red stone and steep curved gables pay homage to 17th century Dutch design and stand out from the Italianate villas that dominate the area and afford the building its jewel-like aesthetic. The works will uncover and reinstate some of the beautiful architectural detail of the building. Bequeathed to the Royal Society of Sculptors in the mid 1970s, the building's ornate frontage is befitting of the contemporary sculpture and artists the Society champions.

Fundraising campaign

The Society is actively fundraising to support the significant work to restore and revitalise the building and has launched a fundraising campaign, Saving Dora House, to support these goals as the Society embarks on its bold ambitions for the future. The plans for its refurbishment provide improved public facilities and access with enhanced spaces for shows, learning and research.

List of funders:

  • Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation
  • Mirisch & Lebenheim Charitable Foundation
  • Garfield Weston Foundation
  • Foyle Foundation
  • North Street Trust
  • Woolbeding Charity 
Dora House in South Kensington

Clare Burnett, President of the Society said, “Dora House has been in need of repair for many years and the situation is critical – one staff member has to sit under an umbrella when it rains, the basement is out of bounds due to damp and the front and chimney are in need of a complete overhaul.

Dora House has been our home since the 1970s when it was donated to us by an extremely generous member, Cecil Thomas FRSS. It underpins the financial stability of the Society as the bulk of our income comes from renting out half of the building commercially, alongside membership fees. It provides a secure base for staff to work on our behalf; a central London headquarters for international and national members; and a gallery space for an exciting programme of sculpture exhibitions and talks. Each year an estimated 12,000 people visit the building and 2.9 million pass the sculpture terrace.

I am absolutely delighted to announce that we have raised £435,000 of the necessary £600,000. With these donations from trusts, foundations and individual donors we will be able to get started and work our way down from the roof, but we still need a further £165,000 to make the building dry and secure and to fully restore its facade.”

Louise Mark, architect from Purcell, who is leading on the conservation repair works to Dora House, said: “The project, which has been granted full planning and listed building consent, focuses on repairs to the external building envelope, as well as improving safe access across the site to facilitate better maintenance of the building in future. The works focus on masonry repairs to the front elevation and sculpture garden, including the rebuilding of the front boundary wall, gate piers and front entrance steps, as well as repairs to the brickwork and stone dressings across the main facade. Specialist repairs will also be carried to the balcony railings and signage to restore them to their former glory.” 

Paul Temple, marketing and branding manager at PAYE has said, “At PAYE, we are proud of the role we play in the protection, restoration and conservation of the built heritage of our nation, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to help restore the fabric of Dora House for future generations to enjoy. Our works at the Royal Society of Sculptors will include a masonry clean, repair and repoint. We will also take down and rebuild the main chimney stack, boundary walls, piers and strengthen masonry. New windows will be formed and other enlarged and new windows and doors fitted. Roofing repairs will be undertaken with a new mansafe system as well as final decorations.” 

Front door of Dora House in South Kensington

Upcoming programme

Alongside its physical transformation, the Society is working on an active arts programme across the UK and beyond, with an ever growing network of organisations, galleries and individuals to support its members and create new opportunities through online events, awards and residencies.

The Gilbert Bayes Award 2021 cohort show will open between 15-27 March at Cromwell Place. The show is being curated by Aicha Mehrez, Assistant Curator of Contemporary British Art at Tate.

Launching in 2022, the Society is working with arts patron Vanessa Branson on the creation of a new artist initiative for her beautiful and wild Scottish island retreat, Eilean Shona. The island has long been an inspiration for artists and writers. Building on this legacy, a new artist residency programme will bring contemporary sculpture to the island for the first time, with work made in response to the island’s inspiring natural ecology.

Commenting on the new arts programme for Eilean Shona, Vanessa Branson said: “The wild nature of Eilean Shona, its diverse landscapes pungent with countless fungi, mosses, mighty pines and ancient oaks coated in fluffy silver lichen inspires the even hardest of hearts but in the eyes of an artist it’s power is almost overwhelming. It's thrilling to be establishing this residency program and witness how sculptors respond to this tangled magic world. Artists respond differently to the rest of us and by so doing teach us to see our surroundings afresh. Working with the Royal Society raises our game. Their great reach encouraging a wide range of sculptures to apply for the residency will ensure that the right person is selected. I’m looking forward to collaborating for the foreseeable future, with the strong foundations we’re putting in place anything is possible!”