Educating children in Architecture. XXth architectural narratives troughs toys design

ETSAB building
My article, presented at the  International Workshop COAC-ETSAB Barcelona 2014 in Barcelona, Spain is finally available on line.

Teaching processes are, since renaissance, created and supported in order to develop specifically skills for a small part of the society. Otherwise, education can be considered as a larger type of processes that, according to E. Morin, “preserves, memorizes, integrates and ritualizes a cultural heritage of knowledge, ideas, values; it regenerates while re-examines, updates and transmit; create knowledge, ideas and values that return to the heritage”.
In this theoretical framework toys are considered as educational devices and a part of a materialistic culture that contains educational, artistic and ideological values. Through toys it is possible to map which part of each culture wants to be preserved and transmitted to the following generation.
From this point of view architectural toys are quite fruitful because represent not only architectural paradigms as languages and technics but also dwelling models and habits or, in some examples, urban design or territorial organizations.
This article attempts to organize the narrative lines that exist in the background of architectural toys production and design during the XXth century that are, according to the author, quite coincident with the architectural production changes. 

Please enjoy your reading!

Download the full article here.

Juan Bordes Conference at FAUP

Finally, after almost 7 mounts, I ended the editing of the video recorded during the Juan Bordes Conference at FAUP with the title "Los Juguetes que han construído la Vanguardia". This conference was inserted in the course Architectural Toys - Processos Complementares de Reprodução Disciplinar em Arquitectura that I teach at Faculty. It is a amazing narrative because the spanish architecture, sculptor, professor and collector joins several lines between education, arts and architecture following the main idea that vanguard movements were present in the childhood normal life and not only in the academies. Indeed, as Juan stressed, the role of the university education is quite little when compared with the child education that create the very first and more important intellectual bases of each subject. It is incredible to see the correspondences between certain pieces of art and some toys used by child during the beginning of XX century. They are real evidences of a silent relationship that existed in the backstage of the "official" historical narrative.
Please, enjoy the movie…

Urbacraft - Urban design toy

Few weeks ago I discovered a very interesting architectural toy designed by a couple of architects from Beirut called Urbacraft. The construction system is based on only two different pieces and an interlocking system that allow to easily create orthogonal shapes that represent a first three-dimensional approach to urban scale design. Indeed the child can create several buildings which can be "filled" by different kind of surfaces in order to manage the relationship between interior spaces (private) and exterior spaces (public). Therefore, through the toy it is possible to approach several different architectural and urban themes, since basic shapes to human relationships, a real "City Crafting System".
As Ayssar Arida, one of the authors, explained to me last week along a meeting, a model made by Urbacraft can be customized or completed with other materials in a very easy way. So it is possible, with the same structure, use different architectural languages that can be inspired by the local reality.
The toy has a very strong "personality" because the unique material and the particular shape; actually it reminds me SuperCity, a great american plastic construction system that is no more produced. Even when the construction is not a building, Urbacraft can be used for several different shapes and forms in several scales, from the small object to the large scale installation.

Urbacraft  is completely developed and produced in Lebanon and it is already for sale in two boxes, one smaller and another bigger. You can check the Facebook page to see more and to keep you updated:

Pilsen ArtCamp 2014

One more time I had the pleasure and the honor to teach at the the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art in Pilsen (or Plzeň) in Czech Republic. This time was at the ArtCamp 2014 program that this year was the tenth edition and, for the first time, the faculty invited me for lecturing a Toy Design course. It has been such a great experience!

People from the third week of ArtCamp 2014

The faculty staff did a great job to prepare each detail of a complex three weeks event that involved several hundred people. ArtCamp doesn't only means lectures and workshop but also pechakucha nights, conferences, expositions, fashion and dance shows and, of course, parties, as you can see here in the ArtCamp blog.

My course was lectured during the last week (21-27 July) and I found a really different Pilsen when compared with the raining city that I found during my first visit in May. Since the first day I found that creative climate that you can find only in few school: a exceptional space shared by all the arts with highly equipped workshops. This creates such unique conditions for working, thinking, creating, socializing; this means the perfect conditions for learning. People from all around the world join there, each one with his own ideology, culture, skills and dreams.

Both teachers and students, left  home the academic boringness and bring to the ArtCamp just the will to work, to share and to enjoy art. Meanwhile my students was designing toys, in another corner there was people thinking about jewelery, about digital animation, engraving techniques or product design. Just walking through the building was an artistic experience in order to understand the real and deep soul of the ArtCamp project. 

On 22 July I also lectured a pechakucha about the evolution of the relationship between parents, children and toys during the XXth century. I must confess that was my first pechakucha and I was a little nervous (it is not easy and when you are trying to teach something to someone, the time is really little). Anyway people liked it and I think they realized the central point of my discourse, even if was an italian guy that is living in Portugal, speaking english in Czech Republic to people from all around the world... respect!

I'd like to show just few works made by some of my students during the toy design course. They designed and build a real model of each idea because, as I always say, until an idea does not "jump out" from the paper, it is not a design exercise, it is just a idea, nothing more. Several times the transition from the sketch to the solid prototype totally change the design results improving it, sometime killing it forcing rethinking everything from the very beginning. I also asked to the student in order to develop a packaging and a name for their toy, this is because both are important and complementary aspect if we would like to commercialize our creations.  

The block set called "FaceBlocks" design by Štefánia Sekanová, from Slovakia is made by beech wood and painted with acrylic colors. It is quite interesting because with few parts you can create a huge number of faces, expressions or other "things" that you want. Eyes, noses, mouths, ears are the main ingredients of this composition that is characterized for its vivid colors and simple shapes. With Štefánia's toy a child could create new shapes and faces understanding the grammar of emotions in the human been face or the geometrical rules of the visage. This is possible because when you are dealing, or playing, with the unruled, the exception, you learn the rules, the regulation.

Faceblocks by Štefánia Sekanová

Kyougo Matsumoto, from Japan, did several experiences using normal daily objects to create toys. So he went to some shops around looking for inspirations and ideas. The results was a toy made by some kitchen tools, wooden board and small cars for create a circuit. Kyougo also designed a kind of "booster" for launching the cars made by a upgraded wooden salad clip. Finally the cars were made with pencil rubber because normal iron cars were too fast for the toy dimension, indeed all the parts would fit on a normal table. I thought this toy quite interesting because it can teach both to adult and children that a normal object can be a toy, sometimes without any modification, depending from how you use it. So if you don't have commercial toys, you can always push your mind and create a new, creative and enjoyable one.

The Kyougo Matsumoto toy made by useful objects

The Franco Augusto toys was also a construction kit (the construction kit is frequently a toy designed desire) made by thin plywood panels jointed by a elastic rope. The system is easy to understand and with different shapes allow the creation of several solids or objects. Behind that the contrast between the rope color and the wooden surfaces is quite explicit about which material has which function. Franco's toy is an interesting example of construction kit based on shapes with a very intuitive and friendly (but not very easy) connection device. But it's main quality is that you can improve your models with more pieces or you can also build something useful, not a toy, for your home, like a box or a bowl, and you can also paint or change the rope colors. In other words it is a real open and customizable system both for children and adults.

Franco Augusto designed a construction kit based on a rope joining system

For Pavla was not the first time she design toys, indeed she already designed some beautiful pieces in the past. This time we decided to develop a block set with the theme of mythological creatures that would teach to the child the differences between, for instance, minotaur, the unicorn and the pegasus. So we started with the basic horse shape, that was the shared shape between all the creatures, and we move to the different parts. 5 working days look like a long time for who already know what will do but are a very little time for who want design a new toy. Pavla developed sketch and cardboard model before create the final wooden prototype, and all this take time; so even if she only develop the unicorn, she planned other creature for the future.
Pavla Boháčová mythological construction set

Marie Svatoňová is a binding student and because of that I suggested the use of binding technique in her toy. So she designed a changeable story telling book. Depending from the way you fold the book's parts, you can create several different scenarios for different stories, from a forest to a city or to a house, the child can put into the book, because it can be folded in order to create a tree-dimensional play space, some characters and create a unique story. This is good because you can provide several different contexts with a unique device and the children can interact with the object in a new way joining different backgrounds with different characters. Now Red Riding Hood can happen in the city or in a mixed environment made by inside and outside spaces. 
The changeable book by Marie Svatoňová

After some short experiences around illustration and characters, Assel Tleuova was fascinated by the optical toys that was largely produced during the XIX century. At that time the invention of animation, and cinema, was based on the principle of several difference images that was showed in a sequence creating the illusion of moving figures. So, after a short investigation about the issue, Assel started developing a zoetrope that is based on a rotating cylinder where the user can see moving images through a thin opening. But the toy developed by Assel allow the children both understand the principle of the machine and customizing the images. So behind the zoetrope she design and create a device for print the images strips with several different stamps.
The customizable zoetrope by Assel Tleuova

Well, as you can see the ArtCamp toy design course produced several interesting new ideas and experiences. But more than that, student realized that toy design is not a joke and involve not only funny or fancy ideas bur real design problems, materials, habit and uses. On my side the experience was highly rewarding because each time you are trying teach something you learn much more.

I hope see you next year at Pilsen!

Here a great video about the 3rd week


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.