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Philadelphia Center for Architecture

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"Constructing Play: Classic Building Toys" Returns to the Philadelphia Center for Architecture for a Third Year

With over 50 toys on display from the past 175 years, “Constructing Play” explores the history of play and the pedagogical foundation that underlies the creation of building toys.

Philadelphia, PA, October 27, 2011 --( Exhibition on View for Free at the Philadelphia Center for Architecture

November 25, 2011 – February 03, 2012
1218 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Monday - Saturday: 10:00am - 6:00pm
Sundays: 12:00pm - 5:00pm

With over 50 toys on display from the past 175 years, “Constructing Play” explores the history of play and the pedagogical foundation that underlies the creation of building toys. Visitors to this exhibition will learn about their favorite toys, from Tinker Toys to LEGO, Erector Sets to K’Nex. They will also learn how structures stay up, discover famous local buildings in miniature, and see how toy designers took inspiration from the past to create today’s most popular building toys. Visitors can also show off their building skills in our popular Hands-On carts… ”Build it small, build it tall, build it all!”

The story of modern building toys begins with Friedrich Froebel’s development of the Froebel Gifts, a series of wooden blocks and other shapes, to support classroom learning in his new educational creation, Kindergarten, in the 1840’s. “Constructing Play” explores this genesis then goes on to explore later building toys developed to improve children’s hand-eye coordination and their understanding of the physical sciences, all while using fun and play as the method to “trick” children into learning.

While some of the toys on display are classics known the world over, there are also many lesser known toys on display. These include Brickplayer, a kit from the 1950s in which you would cast your own miniature bricks to build with; Astrolite, a light-up sci-fi building set made of clear acrylic from the 1970s; and Bild-O-Brik, a rubber precursor to LEGO from the 1930s produced by the Rubber Specialties Company of Conshohocken, PA. One particularly famous toy, Lincoln Logs, was invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, John, after accompanying his famous father to Japan where he witnessed the temple builders using a system of notched logs to construct earthquake-proof structures. Once he returned to the United States, he turned this ancient building technique into one of the most popular building toys of all time.

Building toys are not just for fun, though they undoubtedly are. Building toys are also formative for those who play with them. Some of the most notable architects of our time have been influenced by the educational building toys they played with as children. In his autobiography, Frank Lloyd Wright credited his desire to build and his architectural style to the set of Froebel Gifts that his mother purchased for him at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. A modern educational program known as STEM advocates for an increased focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math in the classroom as a way to prepare today’s children for tomorrow’s world. What better way to get children interested in these fields than with toys that educate about scientific principles and the built environment as children play with them?

In addition to this annual exhibition, the Center for Architecture publishes “Architecture in Education: A Resource of Imaginative Ideas and Tested Activities” on ways to integrate architectural play into academic curricula. This nearly 200 page manual, which was first published 25 years ago, has been recently revised and updated and is now available in both print and digital versions from the AIA Bookstore + Design Center (located in the Center for Architecture) and via their online store: Included in the manual are dozens of activities, lesson plans, and resources for differing grade levels with a key indicating which academic subjects each activity covers. This manual is an invaluable resource for both grade school teachers and home-schooling parents.

For further information, photographs, or to schedule a group visit of “Constructing Play,” please contact David Bender, Center Coordinator: or (215) 569.3186 x107

For more information on the “Architecture in Education” manual, please contact the AIA Bookstore: or (215) 569.3188


The Center for Architecture performs the charitable and educational work of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and serves as the physical home for the Chapter in Center City Philadelphia. The Center was envisioned with three core principals in mind: Public Engagement, Collaboration, & Design Excellence. The Center is an exhibition gallery, studio, museum, interpretive laboratory, tourist destination, reception hall, and classroom. The Center offers walking tours, exhibitions, lectures, and workshops on architecture, urban planning, and design all throughout the year; many programs are offered for free. Browse our selection of architecture books, designer gifts, and creative toys at the AIA Bookstore & Design Center, located at the front of the Center. The Center is also home to the Philadelphia chapter of the AIA and the Community Design Collaborative.
Contact Information
Philadelphia Center for Architecture
David Bender

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