Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America

Even in these days I am reading a very interesting book about children creativity. It is “Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America” by Amy F. Ogata, a Ph.D.  professor at Princeton University. 
From her personal page: “My research explores the history of modern European and American architecture, design, and decorative arts, as well as world’s fairs, and the material culture of childhood. My most recent book Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America appeared in 2013. Historicizing the idea of childhood creativity, I show how material goods such as toys, playrooms, playgrounds, books, schools, and even museums produced for the American baby boom participated actively in forming the notion of the creative child after World War II.”
Unfortunately I can’t share the entire book, but yesterday I found this video that can be a good “appetizer”; enjoy it!

Amy Ogata, “Design, Creativity and Postwar American Childhood” from D-Crit on Vimeo.

Juan Bordes conference at FAUP

On 27th February Juan Bordes will lecture a class at the Faculty of Architecture of Porto. After an year since I met him in Madrid, it will be great for me to attend a class of such important author and collector. Indeed I already wrote about his books three times in this blog: Toys of avant garde, La infancia de las vanguardas: sus profesores desde Rousseau a la Bauhaus, Historia de los juguetes de construcción.

Here the conference poster and the link to the FAUP web page

Some references about some concepts: play, game and toy

The first semester is almost finished and within two weeks’ time my students will deliver their production (and, as I did last year, I’ll post here the best). Anyway, now I’m restructuring some points in the theoretical part of the course “Architectural toys - Processos complementares de reprodução disciplinar em Arquitectura” and I’m trying to organize better some fundamental concepts such as the ideas of play, game and toy, which are three words used several times as synonymous, but as a matter of fact, they are not at all.
I will not explain minutely now and here what I am studying because it would be quite boring; but I want to share with you some sources I’m reading and that are really helping me a lot.

The first one is a book about game written by Johan Huizinga (1872 –1945), a dutch historian that traditionally wrote about Middle Age. His “Homo Ludens” (1938) is a true classic book and can be considered as the first modern structured contribution about play. For Huizinga play is a totally natural and free activity, disconnected from real world, spatial and chronological limited with clear and shared rules. Most important, for the author and for us, is that play has a proper order (that must be clear for all the players) and it is a simplification of ordinary life.

The second book is a very good essay written by the french sociologist Roger Caillois (1913 – 1978) called “Man, Play, and Games” (1967). In this book Caillois starts in Huizinga’s book and goes beyond, deeply and further describing and organizing play activity. Caillois argues that exist four play forms and two types of play: The Agon, or competition where exists an agonistic effort; the Alea, or chance where the result is totally aleatory; the Mimicry, as a role play or mimetic behavior and the Ilinx where the play look for a sense of altering perception. Each form has several expressions depending on the level of Ludus or Paidia. Ludus is the looking for free trouble and difficult and Paidia is the freedom without rules.

The third book is about toys. “Toys as culture” (1986) is also a really good book written by the new zealander theorist Brian Sutton-Smith (1924). The author defines the relationship that exists between toys and family, technology, education and market in a very clear and well-articulated way. Beyond that Sutton-Smith stresses the deep connection that exists between toy design and consumption and the social and cultural framework.
Last but not least, the fourth book is “The Ambiguity of Play” (1997), also written by Brian Sutton-Smith. The author writes about seven “play rhetorics” depending on sociocultural context. “Each is called a rhetoric because its ideological values are something that holders like to persuade others to believe in and to live by. Much of the time such values do not even reach a level of conscious awareness. People simply take it for granted”.

Enjoy your reading.

Architekture Fur Kinder

When the issue is the relation between child and architecture, playground is always a strong example. Indeed since 1947, when the dutch architect Aldo van Eyck (1918-1999) start the famous Amsterdam experiences, playgrounds were designed all around the world with several different material, shapes and results.
One of the best sites I found is this swiss site called Architekture Fur Kinder where is possible to find several references and links with other material.

A Dolls’ House. 20 of the world’s best architects and designers build a dolls’ house for KIDS

One more time architecture meets dolls. This time is in a competition for an auction in order to donate all the income to KIDS, as institution for disabled children, young people and their families.

Here you can find some images about the launch ‘Opening a Doll’s House’ event at the new Domus West, in London:

And here the proposals of competitors:





















Icon Magazine - August 2011 July 2011

Ok, I know, we are already in 2013 and it is late... but I woud like to talk about this Icon Magazine number about toys.
The editor's article start with a very famous quote from Plato (wrote in 360 BC): "He who is to be a good builder, should play at building children's houses". Yes, since I start writing about architectural toys in this blog I'm trying to transmit this message and, as usually happen, there is always somebody that already said that long time before you, and in a better way. I'm already used!
Anyway the number 098 of ICON Magazine is a good way in order to enter in this complex and rich world that contains such apparently different and distant items as toys, architecture, design, education, etc...
Indeed the main cover theme is a experience made by the magazine direction giving some Lego Architecture model to several British architects and lets them free to destroy, rebuilt or even melt the Lego bricks into another form or into another ... something else.

Atmos Studio, MAKE studio, Foster & Partners, AOC studio, Adjaye Associate, DSHA studio or FAT studio are the offices involved and each one used Lego in a different and new way. The result, sincerely, are quite disappointing...

More information or some pictures:

Matias Bechtold (born 1963)

This post is not even about toys, it is about an artist and his work. Matias Bechtold's works are something that I consider inspiring for everyone that deals with toys for two reasons: the scale and the material. It is something like a paper engineering supported by an Italo Calvino narrative. 

Made by corrugated cardboard their cities evoke scales relations in a view of giant on the urban tissue. Usually without people, his scenarios evoke large cities with skyscrapers and strong scale differences. The use of this kind of cardboard creates a strange monochromatic atmosphere that sometimes remember some "after war" stage or some kind of desert city.

One of the interesting aspect is the use of corrugated cardboard material characteristics in order to achieve pattern effects and scale definition through the design of windows and levels separations in the buildings. Also the streets and the railways are made using the material texture. 

More recently Matias Bechtold worked on the “Im Inneren der Apparate” (On the inside of machinery) project that explore some kind of "inner" architectural point of view building cities with their own detailed interiors.This work is also using recycled material as plastic boxes, televisions or vacuum cleaner in order to create interior complex spaces with a really futuristic and technical look.
Indeed exist, in the Bechtold's works, some kind of exploration around the basic architectural composition elements that exist in the best architectural toys. In fact one of the most important aspct in the toy design is precisely the complexity reduction in order to keep the nature of the object without the "too much information" effect.

A history of Toys by Antonia Fraser

Yesterday is arrived: A history of Toys by Antonia Fraser. Edited by Spring Books it is a quite old book (first edition in 1966) but maybe still one of the best general toys history available in the market.  Since ancient and primitive playthings to modern trends (sixties trends, of course) the book describes the evolution of toys with a very good images support. During the narrative Antonia Fraser is not limited to a chronological sequence but periodically she crosses toys with other issues or events.
You can still find it for a pittance on Internet (I paid mine less than 9 pounds...).
I strongly recommend.

Crafting the future - 10th European Academy of Design Conference - April 17-19 2013 Gothenburg

During the last week I have been in Gothenburg participating in the 10th European Academy of Design Conference - Crafting the future. There I presented an article about architectural toy design (Design education through toy design. Old and new paradigms in architectural toys design) and it was quite good because the feedback I received from the audience. Sincerely, and someone told me the same, the presentation was much more rich and clear than the paper, both because the paper was written in September (almost 8 months ago) and since that my research advanced a lot in several directions and because I could transmit my really passion for the issue. Indeed it was a really important effort in order to organize a little more this huge field of knowledge.
Anyway, the interesting thing was that during the final lecture the keynote speaker Otto von Busch from Sweden (Co-craft and The Capabilities of Industriousness) spoke also about the main importance of toys and craft activities in the educational processes. So I felt really “on the edge”!
You can find below the slides of my final presentation.

Julien Deransy - PopFAUP

Some things are much more complicate than they look and Pop-up books are among them. Only looking closely to the paper engineering techniques used in this kind of artefact we can understand that it is not a child's play.
During the semester Julien tried several ways in order to archive a good result in its prototype and the result look simple but it is not. 

The PopFAUP prototype:

The Julien article about Pop-Up books: 

Ludovica Daddi - CorNice

Ludovica worked on a device for the perspective phenomenon comprehension. So she designed a kind of frame in order to allow the child reproduce and complete a view.

Here the poster about the CorNice

Here the article Forma Mentis (in original Italian language):

Belisa Murta - Architrunfo

Belisa Murta thought in a board-game in order to test the architectural knowledge of the players. The prototype is still "work in process" and maybe could be interest for our guest Gil d'Orey from Mesaboardgames that in 21/11/2011 gave a lecture to the students about board-games. 

Gaetan Amossé - Sliding panels playground

Playgrounds and other educational spaces were some among the course issues. In the Gaetan Amossé proposal, the student worked on this kind of theme. It is a changeable space customizable by the child in order to create several different configurations and understand special characteristics. Walls, windows, column or other architectural component can be moved in a three-dimensional grid.

The poster with the proposal called "sliding panels playground".

The article (I post the original french language text): L’aire de jeux: en quoi l’architecture des aires de jeux contribue-t-elle à l’épanouissement de l’enfant?

Jessica Correia - A ordem cega (the blind order)

Jessica Correia work is about blind children and how they can understand and feel the space and shapes. She joined this theme with the classical orders of architecture and made a toy called "The blind order".

The "blind order" poster

The article "Espaço Escuro"

Alexandre Enjalric - The Cube

Here the works (both theoretical and practical works) of Alexandre Enjalric for the Architectural Toys course at FAUP during the first semester.

The toy prototype called "The Cube"

The article: The building sets such as the laboratory of architecture of the child. 

Architectural Toys at FAUP

The first edition of my course at the FAUP is over. After six months I can say that it has been a very positive and rewarding experience.
What I want to do now is to publish in this blog some student work in order to show some results. Until there I post two pictures showing the stack of works that are now in my faculty office… now it is my time to work!

The course site:

FROBEL - revista de instrução primaria

Between 1882 and 1885 were edited, in Portugal, 7 numbers of the Froebel review.
During this period de Lisbon City Hall educational services showed the german educator as a model to follow.
In Lisbon still exists a small pavilion in the Jardim da Estrela build in 1882 in order to be an example for a frobelian school.

Fabrica de Paredes - 1931 catalogue

This is an ancient catalogue (1931) of a Portuguese factory in Paredes, Porto, that produced scholar furniture and teaching material as wooden solids, design tools or even Froebel gifts.

Spielwarenmesse International Toy Fair Nürnberg

Two years ago I have been in Nuremberg just because I heard something about this fair. This year I returned just because now I know that you can’t talk about toys without visiting the Spielwarenmesse  in Nuremberg, the biggest in the world. 
Some facts: 2,776 exhibitors from 62 countries. 76,055 visitors from 120 countries. 808 exhibitors attend no other fair. 30,650 visitors only come here. 1 million products, including 70,000 new products. 2,500 journalists in Nuremberg.

Brick Fetish

Sometimes the best way to talk about something is let other talk. This happen today with this great site called “Brick Fetish” that, as you can read in its homepage, “is a narrative timeline of the history of LEGO®: the company, their toys and the Kirk Christiansen family (q.v.). It is also a repository of set images, catalogs, ads and promotional literature, idea books, patents, photographs, and pretty much anything else I can get my hands on.”
It deserves attention because is not a simple collection; it is a very well done research about LEGO with several documents and references where you can find almost everything about this famous toy.

Here is the link:

Historia de los juguetes de construcción

In a 2011 post I have spoken about a spanish artist named Juan Bordes that is both collector and scholar of architectural toys. In November 2012 Bordes decided to publish a book about its own collection with the suggestive title “Historia de los juguetes de
construcción: Escuela de la Arquitectura Moderna” (Construction set history: School of the Modern Architecture).
The book is a very high quality document, as all the Bordes’s books, whit good pictures and interesting texts. The author manages the different narratives around this kind of toys showing his deep knowledge connecting several themes from education to architecture or sculpture.
Just one note about this book that I have to mention: in the introduction the reader can find, among others, a reference to this blog… thank you Juan Bordes.

Historia de los juguetes de construcción
Juan Bordes
Ed: Ediciones Cátedra
Col: Arte Grandes temas
20 x 24,5 cm. 384 p.
I.S.B.N.: 978-84-376-3065-6
Nov. 2012

From the site:

Libro I. Principios.. Libro II. Firmitas.. Historia de la construcción. Libro III. Utilitas.. Pedagogía; Tipologías.. Libro IV. Venustas.. Arquitectura histórica; Arquitectura moderna. . Libro V. Catálogo.. Bibliografía . Índice onomástico.

Los juguetes de construcción han tenido una estrecha relación con la historia de la arquitectura moderna. Y este libro muestra en imágenes, precisamente, el cruce de ambas historias, la de los juguetes y la de diferentes episodios de la arquitectura desde el siglo XIX. La difusión de estos juguetes, simultánea a las creaciones de vanguardia, divulgó la nueva arquitectura, convirtiéndola en sueño y aspiración de niños y adolescentes, lo que produjo una educación arquitectónica en sucesivas generaciones de los arquitectos modernos que ha sido poco valorada. Esta historia, expuesta primero de forma analítica y después en un catálogo cronológico que agrupa las principales cajas de construcciones por los materiales de fabricación, se ordena a través de los tres conceptos con los que Vitruvio definió la arquitectura: «firmitas», «utilitas» y «venustas», resumiendo así la teoría arquitectónica que contienen estos juegos. El escultor y doctor arquitecto Juan Bordes es profesor en la Escuela de Arquitectura de Madrid y miembro numerario de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. En esta editorial ha publicado «La infancia de las vanguardias» (2007), así como «Las teorías artísticas de la figura humana» (2003).

Century of the Child

Until November 5th a great exposition at the MoMA in New Yourk: Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000.

From the site: "MoMA’s ambitious survey of 20th century design for children is the first large-scale overview of the modernist preoccupation with children and childhood as a paradigm for progressive design thinking. The exhibition will bring together areas underrepresented in design history and often considered separately, including school architecture, clothing, playgrounds, toys and games, children’s hospitals and safety equipment, nurseries, furniture, and books".

To see more you can visit the exposition site here:

Roland Barthes - Brinquedos (em Mitologias)

O adulto francês considera a criança como um outro eu; nada o prova melhor do que o brinquedo francês. Os brinquedos vulgares são assim, essencialmente, um microcosmo adulto; são reproduções em miniatura de objectos humanos, como se, para o público, a criança fosse apenas um homem pequeno, um homúnculo a quem só se pode dar objectos proporcionais ao seu tamanho.
As formas inventadas são muito raras; apenas algumas construções, baseadas na habilidade manual, propõem formas dinâmicas. Quanto ao restante, o brinquedo francês significa sempre alguma coisa, e esse alguma coisa é sempre inteiramente socializado, constituído pelos mitos ou pelas técnicas da vida moderna adulta: o Exército, a Rádio, o Correio, a Medicina (estojo miniatura de instrumentos médicos, sala de operação para bonecas), a Escola, o Penteado Artístico (secadores, bobes), a Aviação (pára-quedistas), os Transportes (trens, citroens, lambretas, vespas, postos de gasolina), a Ciência (brinquedos marcianos).
O fato de os brinquedos franceses prefigurarem literalmente o universo das funções adultas só pode evidentemente preparar a criança a aceitá-las todas, construindo para ela, antes mesmo que possa reflectir , o álibi de uma natureza que, desde que o mundo é mundo, criou soldados, empregados do Correio, e vespas. O brinquedo fornece-nos assim o catálogo de tudo aquilo que não espanta o adulto: a guerra, a burocracia, a fealdade, os marcianos, etc. Alias, na realidade, não é tanto a imitação que constituí o signo da abdicação, mas sim a literalidade dessa imitação: o brinquedo francês é, em suma, uma cabeça mirrada de índios Jivaro – onde se reencontram numa cabeça com proporções de uma maçã, as rugas e os cabelos adulto. Existem, por exemplo, bonecas que urinam : possuem um esófago, e se lhes dá mamadeira, molham as fraldas; sem dúvida, brevemente, o leite transformar-se -á em água, em seus ventres. Pode-se, desta forma, preparar a menina para a causalidade doméstica, “ condicioná-la” para a sua futura função de mãe. Simplesmente, perante este universo de objectos fiéis e complicados, a criança só pode assumir o papel de proprietário, do utente, e nunca, o do criador; ela não inventa o mundo, utiliza-o : os adultos preparam-lhe gestos sem aventura,sem espanto, e sem alegria. Transformam-na num pequeno proprietário aburguesado que nem sequer tem de inventar os mecanismos de causalidade adulta, pois já lhes são fornecidos prontos: ela só tem de utilizá-los, nunca há nenhum caminho a percorrer. Qualquer jogo de construção, se não for demasiado sofisticado, implica um aprendizado de um mundo bem diferente: com ele a criança não cria nunca objectos significativos; pouco lhes importa se eles têm um nome adulto: o que ele exerce não é uma utilização, é uma demiurgia: cria formas que andam, que rodam, cria uma vida e não uma propriedade; os objectos conduzem-se a si próprios, já não são uma matéria inerte e complicada na concha da mão. Mas trata-se de um caso raro: o brinquedo francês,de um modo geral, é um brinquedo de imitação, pretende formar crianças-utentes e não crianças criadoras.
O emburguesamento do brinquedo não se reconhece só pelas suas formas,sempre funcionais, mas também pela sua substância. Os brinquedos vulgares são feitos de uma matéria ingrata, produtos de uma química, e não de uma natureza. Actualmente muitos são moldados em massas complicadas: a matéria plástica tem assim uma aparência simultaneamente grosseira e higiénica, ela mata o prazer, a suavidade, a humanidade do tacto. Um signo espantoso é o desaparecimento progressivo da madeira, matéria um tanto ideal pela sua firmeza e brandura, pelo calor do seu contacto; a madeira elimina, qualquer que seja a forma que sustente, o golpe de ângulos demasiado vivos, e o frio químico do metal: quando a criança manipula, ou bate com ela onde quer que seja a madeira não vibra e não range, produz um som simultaneamente surdo e nítido; é uma substância familiar e poética que deixa a criança permanecer numa continuidade de tacto com a árvore a mesa, o soalho. A madeira não magoa, não se estraga também; não se parte,gasta-se, pode durar muito tempo, viver com a criança,modificar pouco a pouco as relações entre o objecto e a mão ; se morre, é diminuindo,e não inchando com esses brinquedos mecânicos que desaparecem sob a hérnia de uma mola quebrada. A madeira faz objectos essenciais, objectos de sempre. Ora,já praticamente não existem brinquedos de madeira, esses ‘redis dos Voges’ [1],só possível, é certo, numa época de artesanato. O brinquedo é doravante químico, de substância e de cor; a própria matéria- prima de que é construído leva a uma cinestesia da utilização e não do prazer. Estes brinquedos morrem, aliás, rapidamente,e , uma vez mortos, não têm para a criança nenhuma vida póstuma.

Barthes, Roland. Brinquedos. In: Mitologias. São Paulo: Diefel.1982. Pp. 40-2


The Toy and the Sociology of Childhood

Gilles Brougere - Professor of Education Sciences; University of Paris-Nord, Paris, France

From the article: "It may seem strange, on two counts, to speak of childhood and sociology in the same breath. Firstly, the toy is more commonly studied in relation to the child’s psychology and secondly the sociology of the child is noticeable for its absence, especially in France. The result is that the toy tends to be studied as a child’s tool, an instrument in its development, incorporated in the individual dynamics which enable the child to emerge from childhood!
Our purpose here is, in a sense, quite the opposite: we wish to apprehend how the toy leads the child to be a child, to affirm itself socially and culturally as such, to see how it contributes to producing the childhood of our societies. To this end - and despite the paucity of the literature in this field - we need to approach the subject from a sociological and not a psychological point of view.
The sociology of childhood (to which I hope to contribute through this address) has as yet been little explored, interest being most marked in England. We shall use three different ways of considering the social dimension of the toy as a vehicle for advancing a synthesis of different works, including our own, but more particularly for proposing a programme which, we hope, will form the basis of future work."

Artigo completo aqui