Things We Like: A Small But Interesting Exhibit Of Architectural Toys In Philadelphia.

Posted on January 14th, 2010 at 12:48 pm by in Writing

Things We Like: A Small But Interesting Exhibit Of Architectural Toys In Philadelphia.

Last week Public Workshop had the great pleasure of spending time in Philadelphia talking to a number of different organizations and people about future collaborations and possibilities. Having helped start the Charter High School For Architecture And Design and taught at places such as the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia is a city that is very near and dear to our hearts. One of the cooler things we stumbled upon during our meetings and visits was a show on architectural toys at the Center For Architecture. It was a small show and we would have loved to have seen more background materials or information on the toys but the collection was impressively deep.

That being said, did you know that Frank Lloyd Wright’s son invented Lincoln Logs?

Neither did we, despite being really interested in this sort of thing. We were also a bit surprised to find that the original set of Lincoln Logs came with instructions for making Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Yikes.

Why is Public Workshop interested in architectural toys?

For some time now we have been developing various tools for more directly engaging children and communities in designing (and making) our buildings, neighborhoods and cities. Need an example? Have a look at our collaboration with Everett Hollander to create a simple, rapid prototyping building system (click here). Public Workshop refined and has repeatedly deployed this system with high school kids in Wisconsin and Chicago to great results….just have a look at the banner image at the top of this webpage. Not only has it become a great tool to get children and adults building (and innovating) but it also helps them more quickly and effectively learn about area in which they’re building. What’s the arc of the sun? The direction of the wind? How ‘tall’ is the neighborhood? What are some of its great features?

Instead of talking about it or ‘mapping it’, we’ve found that building it is a whole lot more effective and efficient.

Architectural toys can represent similar experiments in getting people designing and building their visions… simply and creatively as possible. Sometimes this doesn’t always work out so well as the toy designer’s intentions or vision of the world allows too little flexibility- in some ways, Lincoln Logs are perfect examples of this challenge. In the case of the Brickplayer building set (seen above), too closely mimicking reality (by requiring children to make their own mortar and lay bricks) made for a toy that proved too tedious for most children.

It is also to interesting to think about how growing up with a particular toy impacts your vision of the world or your approach to design. Many have claimed that Froebel blocks had a huge impact on Frank Lloyd Wright’s conception of form and architecture.

What toys did you play with growing up?

How do you think they impacted your understanding of architecture and how buildings should look?

Let us know, we’d love to hear.