URBAN TOYS Review

by Manon Mollard (AA 5th Year) Diploma Unit 11
17 January 2014 Bloomsbury/ Fitzrovia, London  

When snow falls on cities the child takes over

The child is everywhere rediscovering the city,

whilst in turn, the city rediscovers its children.

Revealing that something permanent, if less abundant is missing, 

something which can still be provided 

as a modest correction where there is room…

Aldo van Eyck

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Diploma 11 refuses to view the city as a mere collection of buildings. Preferring to focus on the micro scale and the forgotten spaces, toys were chosen as the way to first infiltrate Central London.   [caption id="attachment_2692" align="alignnone" width="360"] Battle of Trafalgar: 1931. Impromptu snowball fight is under way in a snow-covered Trafalgar Square
Image credit: Topical Press Agency/Getty[/caption] A toy is really anything that can be used for play. Play is “a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary life,’” and a crucial element to the shaping of socio-cultural identity, as argued by Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens. Designing toys to play with the city enabled us to engage directly with London’s interiority. Cracks and interstices became our gateways into this year’s area of study. We disrupted the constant activity of the bustling streets, sought for hidden spaces and networks to interact with, and created new viewpoints to observe the city from.   [caption id="attachment_2689" align="alignnone" width="360"] The tortoise & the hare - wooden animals by Charlotte, Jack and Louise[/caption]
Quickly realising that there is no space and no time left for play in Central London, we started speculating on the meaning and the repercussions of reading the city as playground. Not as a literal playground, but as an environment of potentials and an opportunity to reinterpret the urban landscape. The existing everyday shifts from familiar to uncanny, and during the two weeks spent designing, making, testing, adjusting, re-designing and re-testing our toys, we looked like a bunch of mad scientists geared up for ‘play’, wandering around Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia’s streets with strange pieces of apparatus. Toys.   [caption id="attachment_2690" align="alignnone" width="360"] The chalk machine hard at work[/caption] Alex, Madiha and Summer made a mobile drawing tool to introduce new elements into the cityscape, creating a dialogue between existing urban furniture and imaginary spaces drawn in chalk. The powder inside a bag is churned by an axle and released when the toy is in motion. An ephemeral line of white dust is left behind. Additionally, an odometer measuring the length of the line, a rope mechanism acting as pivot point, and 1:1 templates of furniture all enable players to control the physical mark made on city surfaces and insert unexpected scenarios into a known context.   [caption id="attachment_2688" align="alignnone" width="360"] The results of Alex, Madiha and Summer's chalk machine in Bedford Square[/caption] Charlotte, Jack and Louise designed a set of wooden animals with interchangeable body parts, allowing the participant to adopt some of the characteristics and modes of perception of the giraffe, the tortoise and the hare. The elongated neck establishes visual connections between dissonant spaces, the clumsy shell becomes an obstruction slowing down the rapid urban pace and the proficient ears enable spying while being concealed behind the animal’s body.
[caption id="attachment_2691" align="alignnone" width="360"] Charlotte, Jack and Louise's wooden animals with interchangeable body parts[/caption] Marko, Yantian and I created an observation device to reexamine the city from different levels, questioning the relevance of the ground plane as the only datum from which the city should be seen and experienced. The GoPro camera attached to the top of the articulated arms springing out of the wooden backpack-like element transmits what it sees to the iPad screen, allowing the device carrier to look behind walls and chimneys, inside pipes and holes, into rooms or underneath stairs. Hidden elements are revealed and new perspectives are made accessible.   [caption id="attachment_2693" align="alignnone" width="360"] Manon, Marko and Yantian's observation device looks at the city from different levels[/caption]

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Those living in cold and snowy cities know the thrill of a winter storm. The excitement starts with the first snowflakes and the built environment is soon transformed into a virgin landscape of potentials. It first allows for a new and appreciated quietness, but soon gets taken over by human activity in a peculiar state of euphoria. The Diploma 11 toys became our way to throw a layer of ambiguity onto the surrounding built environment, to distort the existing, to inject alternative scenarios, and to acquire a new vision of neighbourhoods dominated by big master plans and developer-driven construction.   And with all the weather warnings we’ve heard recently, there is the hope that the British winter might soon cover the Crossrail construction site and smother Middlesex Hospital chapel in a fleeting blanket of white.   For more information: Diploma 11 Unit Brief Diploma 11 Extended Brief Manon Mollard on Projects Review 2012-13