Give a kid some toy blocks, and you can expect to get action figure hideouts and towers. Always towers. If your child is a particularly precocious (and socially responsible) little urban planner, maybe you’ll get a police station or a school or a supermarket from time to time. What you probably won’t get is a nuclear reactor. Unless, that is, your kid happens to be playing with Maykel Roovers’s custom-built blocks, a set of toys designed to more accurately reflect the construction projects that fill our cities today.
Roovers debuted the Critical Blocks, as he calls them, at last year’s During Dutch Design Week. The sets include an apartment complex, a "mega farm," a power plant, and a highway, a series of construction projects that "epitomize today’s zeitgeist," according to the artist.
The toys themselves were met with acclaim by adults and youngsters alike. "During the exposition, I saw that the children thought the miniature nuclear power plant, mega farm and Bijlmer apartment building were completely normal and even fun and didn’t know anything about the political and societal aspect," Roovers explains. "I love this contrast! The innocent world of children as opposed to the serious, large-scale (and at times painful) adult world."
Roovers himself has always been interested in construction. He attended technical school with the aim of becoming a construction worker, when a love of drawing pulled him into architecture school. There, he explains, working on the computer all day drove him a little nuts, so he enrolled at the Academy of Arts Arnhem, focussing on drawing and making designs of his own. Critical Blocks served as his graduation project, though Roovers is currently working on a new set of blocks—subjects include mega factories and oil platforms—and is in discussions with manufacturers about the possibility bringing the blocks to market as real toys (his initial set was laser cut).
For adults, the blocks might present some of today’s less appealing architecture in a slightly new light. For kids, the blocks are just blocks. But the tableaus do seem greater than the sum of their architectural parts, in a way, gaining some strange tension from their place in-between the realm of imagination and reality. It’s a dissonance that’s apparent in the way people talk about the blocks, Roovers says. "It’s really funny. People say: 'A nuclear power plant, that’s really nice,' or, 'look at that mega farm and all the pigs, it’s so cute!'"
[Hat tip: MocoLoco]