This piece was written in conjunction with friend, Jared Smith of Architect Owl. He’s currently running a giveaway opportunity on his site for a free ArcKit A90 set and asked a group of archi-bloggers to describe their personal experiences with 'making things' throughout our childhoods. Please pay a visit to their sites as well with links listed at the end. Enjoy!
If you ever have the chance to ask an Architect the following question, “So what did you play with as a kid?,” know that you’re likely to get a wide variety of answers that often lead back to one thing, creative imagination.
I can’t speak for the rest of the world’s fine architects, but I’ll tell you this much - I was basically obsessed with Legos.
I know, I know. You probably even expected me to say that.
All architects love Legos, right? And really, what’s not to love? It’s true, they are amazing, but they weren’t the only thing that led me to modeling building, and ultimately architecture.
If there is a fundamental modeling medium for children, I think that it would have to be Play-Doh. The ability to sculpt any organic shape you want is a creative freedom unlike any other. Imagination takes hold and, before you know it, you’ve created animals, monsters, and figures you could only dream of.
Let’s consider a time before Legos. For many years, Lincoln Logs were the go-to modeling tool. With pieces shaped and colored like logs (with notches on each end) you could stack them together and create your very own log cabins. I remember playing with these as a very young child, but I always felt like I needed more. There were only a few variations you could create with Lincoln Logs and by the time you had created your 20th log cabin, it was time to move on.
I’d be remise if I didn’t talk a bit more about Legos. In many ways, they are the perfect toy to motivate a child’s imagination and creativity.
When I was a kid, I used to spend hours upon hours just taking the established play sets and transforming them into new experiences. With such a simple system of connections, it was as if each of the pieces were asking you to explore all of the alternatives.
The sets varied greatly in themes from underwater adventure to the wild west and beyond. My favorite sets though were the Medieval Castles. I remember distinctly having one of the larger sets that allowed me to build what seemed like a fully-functional castle, complete with knights, wizards, archers, and kings. Oh, and of course, there was also a dragon or two.
I think that the castle sets spoke to me the most because I could use their custom pieces in order to create space. I didn’t really think of space as a conceptual idea in those terms, but I could understand what it meant to be be on one side of the wall or the other.
As I got a bit older, Legos were still fun, but they felt sort of outdated and kind of ‘childish.’ I guess I felt that way because I was a teenager, a rebel without a cause.
I soon learned about K’NEX. K’NEX are similar to Legos in that they are modular and can be used interchangeably with other pieces in its own ecosystem. However, K’NEX are more frame-like. They are composed of two major types of pieces, linear ‘legs’ and circular ‘nodes.’ This differs greatly from Legos in that Legos are more like masonry blocks that stack together. This distinction is important.
Because K’NEX don’t rely on creating space through monolithic surfaces, but rather, slender frame structures, they can help you to build wild contraptions that are closer in scale to the child who builds them.
One of the largest models I ever built was out of K’NEX. It was one of their flagship products - a roller coaster. When completed, the set must have been something like 6’x6’x3’. It wasn’t the most complicated roller coaster in the world, but it was MY roller coaster, complete with a car!
LOOKING BACK BY LOOKING FORWARD
I know that the toys I played with helped to form who I am as an Architect today. Without the support of my parents to pursue my creativity with these types of toys, I don’t know that I would have ended up here.
When I think about it, it’s less about the toys themselves, and more so the fact that they existed as opportunities for me to model and build things with my hands.
A little while back, my wife bought me the Villa Savoye as part of Lego’s ‘Architecture’ series. It not only represents that hopeful creativity I had as a kid, but also the path that I’ve chosen because of it.
As I write this, I’m now 32 years old and still play with Legos.
I just do it with style.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please pass it on to someone you know. It would mean a lot to me.
OTHER AMAZING BLOGGERS who posted as well!
Jared Smith - Architect Owl
Adam Denais - Defragging Architecture
Building Block Toys and Architecture
Samantha Markham - The Aspiring Architect
From Making Toy Villages to Designing Real Buildings
Lora Teagarden - L2 Design, LLC