Learning while Building with Toys

When I was a little kid I wanted to be an architect. At that time, all I knew about architects was that they made cool buildings, and that's what I wanted to do. I always had a thing for places and spaces and I do still, but it goes deeper, because it has to. There's no point in places without We the People to occupy them.

What's the coolest place? The Batcave, without a doubt, but it's a cave; a space, not a work of architecture. By association, Wayne Manor might then be the coolest place, but no. Wayne Manor is a stuffy old manse built primarily to impress. Even it's primary occupant, Bruce Wayne, remarks on the stodgy and overblown nature of the place, while dining with Vicki Vale in Tim Burton's "Batman". How cool would Batman be if he was a minimum wage employee who's HQ was a basement, garage, or a shed in the back yard? Cool places for cool people; that was my childhood thinking.

Childlike thoughts or not, I knew that structures are designed to serve human needs. Wayne Manor's design serves the need of vanity; displaying it's owner's wealth as a symbol of success, power, and influence. It's form serves it's function. The Batcave however, is a predetermined space. It's function is a result of it's form; A secret, hidden place, configured by, and to serve the needs of, the Dark Knight.

But, that's enough of the comic-book geekery. Batman's and other heroes' headquarters are likely largely responsible for my interest in structures and design. However, I always had a tendency to ponder the purpose and layout of more mundane locations, my childhood home in particular. I don't really know where my design-related leanings were spawned, but I do know they were encouraged by my playthings.

Lego bricks were an endless wonder, but the older versions could be frustrating. They were made of a different stuff than today's Legos, and had a tendency to fit too well for little kid hands to pull apart. I remember using my teeth as clamps often, sometimes causing injury to my gums and/or lips in the process, and very sore fingers in cases when teeth weren't quite required. Oh, also, blood blisters, from getting pinched between bricks. For the record, none of the aforementioned problems seem to exist with today's Lego bricks.

My brother and I also had Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, and, while I don't remember owning any, I know we played with Tinkertoys somewhere along the line. Perhaps some of these toys weren't architectural, per se, but they did require some forethought. Re-designs were common upon learning that a certain structure wouldn't serve it's intended purpose. These early engineering experiments gave me a useful grasp of concepts I still use today,* more often than I realize, until I spend time, as I am now, thinking about it.

The point of all this blather is that I've found a site all about Architectural Toys. The man who runs the site must be some sort of kindred spirit. It's an amazing effort. If you're inclined to check it out, I'm sure you'll find many things you remember and some more that you have forgotten. Enjoy the site!

Check out Architoys - Jackie Britton's Home Page and look for the A-Z listing of Architectural Toys.

*Some of my best engineering and design lessons were learned from a toy line not mentioned on the ArchiToys site, but Hot Wheels aren't architectural in nature. Even so, the building and rebuilding of tracks to achieve faster races, farther jumps, and longer runs was some of the most educational free time I spent as a kid. Bonus: Cool cars!