From Lego to Architecture

When we write about architectural toys it is almost impossible not to mention Lego bricks as a typical example, even if this connection is not so clear and direct as happen in other toys. More recently, specifically with the Lego Architecture series, Lego get quite closer to architecture but always following the direction from real building to toy constructions. In a old post about the japanese architect Takefumi Aida, I already write about THE inverse process that started in a toy construction set in order to design real building, but it is a rare example. 

Some time ago I found another example by the famous office BIG studio that recently designed a Lego House. Indeed “For me the LEGO brick embodies the notion of systematic creativity – that the rigour and rationality of the LEGO brick allows children of all ages infinite possibilities to create their own worlds and to inhabit them through play,” Said Bjarke Ingels. “We have been inspired by the modularity of the LEGO brick to create the LEGO House. It will appear like a cloud of interlocking LEGO bricks that form spaces for exploration and exhibition for its visitors within. On the outside the pile of bricks form the roof of a new covered square as well as a mountain of interconnected terraces and playgrounds.

Source: Stott, Rory. "Bjarke Ingels Lays Foundation Brick at LEGO House" 19 Aug 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Aug 2014. <>

Playgrounds. Reiventar la plaza - Madrid

Until September 22, 2014, at the Reinha Sofia Museum in Madrid is open the exposition "Playgrounds. Reiventar la plaza" (Playgrounds. Reinventing the Square). From the site: "With some 300 works, the exhibition recounts a different history of art, from the end of the 19th century to the present day, in which artists and activists play a part in redefining public space by exploring the city as a game board, questioning modern-day carnival and holidays, vindicating the right to laziness, reinventing the square as a place of revolt and discovering the possibilities of a new world through its waste. The exhibit takes the playground model as an ideological interrogation of an alienated and consumerist present."

Here the exposition's site:

Here a short video:

Children At Play: An American History

Even in these days I’m reading a brilliant book wrote by Howard Chudacoff, Professor of American History at Brown University. The author presents a deeply detailed and very serious investigation about play activity in American during the last centuries. 

This book can prove that, contrary to what I thought, it is possible to build an history of childhood through primary sources (dozens of children’s diaries, hundreds of autobiographical recollections of adults, and wealth of child-rearing manuals). 

Find the table of contents at this link

And the Introduction at this link

Enjoy the great conference about the book's contents here:

Paper at the International Workshop COAC-ETSAB Barcelona 2014.

One more time I presented an article about Architectural toys and their connection with architectural history, education and culture. This time was in Barcelona, Spain, in the  International Workshop COAC-ETSAB Barcelona 2014. The hardest challenge was try to explain in only 15 minutes all the complexity of these narratives, but it was as well a good exercise in order to understand and organize the main core of the issue. 
I also meet some other people that are developing researches in some fields that are very close to mine and that is always good in order to share experiences and knowledge.
Furthermore, four day in Barcelona is always a great opportunity to visiting such beautiful city and some of the best pieces of architecture in the world (as the Mies van der Rohe German Pavilion, a really inexhaustible reference).
Here you can find the abstract. The article will be published in October.

Pilsen toy design workshop

The Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art
Last week I have been in Pilsen, a very charming Czech town (1 hour by car from Prague) for lecturing an Architectural toys design workshop. 
It has been a really great experience. The Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art is a very high level teaching institution with excellent facilities, teaching staff and students. Is a brand new building (with a quite good architecture), where all arts work, teach and learn together in a big, unique space. The skills of students are surprisingly good and they work in a very fresh and stimulant environment with several arts and techniques. They really can receive an heritage from a geographical area that I alway considered the cradle of toys (Nuremberg, the land of dolls, is only 200 km far from Pilsen).
I loved teach and luckily I'll go back for a Artcamp course in July (during the last week).

The workshop's leaflet

Some picture from the workshop

FAUP/Mattel Barbie house competition

During the last year Mattel corporation challenged me and the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Porto to organize a design competition for the new Barbie Dollhouse. In 2013 Barbie doll was looking for a new house (that was the 2013 Barbie's story...) and Mattel knew about my investigation and my course architectural toy design at FAUP So they mail me and I thought was a good opportunity for students thinking about a very particular object as a dollhouse. So we create a competition that, for logistical reasons, was limited only to FAUP students.
The jury was composed by Prof.ª Maria Madalena Ferreira Pinto da Silva (From FAUP), Prof. Juan Bordes (From Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid), Arqº José Mateus (From Trienal de Arquitectura de Lisboa & ARX Portugal), Arqº Virgínio Moutinho and Sally Eagle (from Mattel corporation).
Many delivered proposals proved great creativity and very good design skills. Some models was very well produced, with good techniques and details.
The three first proposals (that deserved the prizes offered by Mattel Company) represent three different dollhouses design paradigms: the first for its flexibility and imagination potentiality, the second for its ability in space creation and the third for its possibility of forms manipulation.

I'm now thinking about a larger scale competition for the next year...any suggestions?

Here some proposals:
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The first place went to this dollhouse that leave the kids totally free to custom the play environment. It is a simple scenario where you can use photos, magazine pages or even sketches to crate a familiar or a completely new layout. Behind that it is both for male or female use because you can create a dollhouse or a garage, a space station or a natural surrounding. It is also the easier and cheapest model and idea.

2º classified

The second place went to a proposal that bet on space creation. This cube can be opened creating several different rooms and outside spaces. Its architectural language is quite contemporary and it is big enough to allow kid "feel" the space proportions and characteristics.

3º classified

The third place is almost a wire-frame structure that can be manipulated creating several different shapes and houses. Beyond that kids can put objects or setting in order to create different environment. It is quite elegant and simple and, for that, with a great creative potential.

4º classified

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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: