Brenda Vale
Robert Vale
Thames & Hudson, London, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Architecture
6.4 in x 9.3 inches, paperback, 208 pages, 111 illustrations, 97 in color
ISBN: 9780500342855
Suggested Retail Price: $27.95

From the Publisher. This entertaining book offers a novel view of architecture through the prism of construction toys. Ranging over the last century to the present, Brenda and Robert Vale draw parallels between the model-building sets of the modern period and architectural movements, social history, and national identities and myths. Some children’s construction toys such as Lincoln Logs and Tudor Minibrix have looked to the past. Others have looked to the future: as early as the 1920s, the American metal toy Bilt-E-Z could be used to construct a stepped-back skyscraper like the Empire State Building. The Vales investigate not only how models sets have reflected different building styles but also whether the toys themselves influenced the careers of the children who grew up playing with them. They explore connections between model-railway buildings and modernism; model sets such as Castos and reinforced concrete housing; and even between the creative but slightly surreal Playplax and postmodern deconstructivist architecture.

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Allison Arieff

“Does architecture drive the toy or does the toy reflect the architecture of the time?” This is the question explored by the Vales’ fascinating exploration into the world of construction toys. Just like the real world, the urban/suburban divide has existed in the playroom: some building kits, like the odd boil-able, Bakelite Bayko, were distinctly suburban while others, like Bilt-E-Z, inspired component-part-exposing skyscrapers. And there’s the discovery of a toy called “Betta Bilda,” which is now an up-for-grabs name for an architecturally-inclined rapper.

The book explores everything from gender bias to class distinctions of construction toys and reading it made me wish even more that Lego would move away from promoting its meticulously directed kits and more toward less-programmed piles of bricks.

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