Sean Louis

The Power of Play with LEGO:

Spatial thinking in childhood and creative work in later life

[1] Heimans, Jeremy, and Henry Timms. New Power: How It's Changing the 21st Century - and Why You Need to Know / Jeremy Heimans, Henry Timms.Macmillan, 2018. (page 146)

[2] Sorrel, Charlie. ‘Frank Llyod Wright Lego Sets’. 21 May 2009. Wired Magazine.

[3] Toy of the Century. Toy Retailers Association UK & Ireland. January 2000

[4] Brosterman, Norman, and Togashi. Inventing Kindergarten / Norman Brosterman ; with Original Photography by Kiyoshi Togashi. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997. Print.

[5] Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Penguin Books. 2016

[6] Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soulcraft : An Inquiry into the Value of Work / Matthew B. Crawford. Penguin Books, 2010. (pg. 19)
The LEGO Group is a Danish company that has been fostering creativity in young people since 1932. Despite initial marketing towards children, its user group transcends age and demographics, with now many ranges specifically targeted at the adult consumer group, a decision highlighted in Jeremy Heimans’ New Power1. The LEGO empire has also grown beyond the flagship block toy to include video games, theme parks and four feature films as of 2023. In 2022 LEGO recorded a 7.6% market share making them the largest toy company to date, demonstrating the cultural reach that the company has grown to capture.

Its charm and effectiveness lie in its timeless design, which has remained unchanged since patented in 1958 by Godfrey Kirk, son of original founder Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter who made the transition from woodworking toys to plastic injection moulding in 1947. Today “seven LEGO sets are sold every second worldwide”2. LEGO was awarded Toy of the Century by multiple authorities in 20003.

This research essay investigates the importance of LEGO and other building-block toys in promoting spatial thinking, arguing that LEGO plays a crucial role in developing the creative skills necessary to think spatially, which contributes significantly to and influences the pursuit of architecture as a career. It draws upon information presented in Norman Brosterman’s Inventing Kindergarten4 which breaks down Fedrick Froebel’s revolutionary and now widespread proposal to understand what methods of educational systems have proven to be successful amongst young children. The essay is broken into four predominant chapters, drawing on the research themes: Anticipation, Building, Creative Play and finally Deconstruction. The conclusion suggests how we may better promote the core values of play beyond just childhood in today’s educational and social landscape.

The essay draws from a series of interviews with architects working at The Bartlett School of Architecture, one of the world’s leading design schools. Interviews took a qualitative approach with other attributes such as upbringing, education, affluence, parental support and social class arising in addition to toys and play.

In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, psychologist Adam Grant discusses the importance of original thinking and its ability to influence global thinking patterns5. The values of play advocate moving away from single optimal outcomes and embracing iteration through lived experiential learning, adopting a childlike mindset in our approach to making with fewer abbreviations and more instinctual, articulated gestures; not getting tied up in our own self-consciousness. Commenting on the value of play Eva, a Teaching Professor and architect, stated: “play like architectural design is about having a degree of control but then understanding where the flexibility exists.”

In Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew Crawford writes: “today in our schools, the manual trades are given little honour. The egalitarian worry that has always attended tracking students into ‘college prep’ and ‘vocational ed’ is overlaid with another: the fear that acquiring a specific skill set means that one’s life is determined.”6 In architectural education there exists a subconscious collective thinking that there is one right way of doing things. We should make conscious efforts to move away from this and embrace acceptance in diversity of outcome through lived embodied education.