The Weird Ways Designers Play With Building Blocks

A new book, Let’s Play, tasks 100 Swiss designers to play with toy blocks, then photographs the results, looking for trends.

It’s a well-documented fact that architects love playing with toy blocks as much as kids do. But do they play with them differently compared with other adults?


In the new book Let’s Play, artistic director Christiane Nill and photographer Lionel Henriod task 100 Swiss creatives who work in three-dimensional fields like architecture, sculpture, and industrial design to play with blocks for the camera then document what they make.

The parameters of Let’s Play are simple. Designers are given 270 simple wooden blocks which have been custom created for the project. All blocks are visible at the beginning of each play section, and they’re organized into groups of 34 different shapes. Each player has 30 minutes to construct something using any of the blocks they want, plus three picked by the previous player–those must be incorporated into the structure. (The first player used blocks selected by the carpenter who made them.) Beyond that, anything goes.

According to Nill, who was a founder of Lausanne’s mc² studio back in 2009, the idea for Let’s Play came after a session spent playing with her daughter using the blocks she grew up with as a child. She was at her mother’s home for the holidays at the time, and as she and her daughter played, one adult after another–her husband, her mother, her sister, her uncle, her aunt–came by to play with the blocks themselves. Taking note of this phenomenon, Nill further noticed that “the more I observed the details of their constructions, the more I saw they had an astonishing resemblance to their creators.” It was only natural from there she’d want to see what designers did in the same circumstance.

Filip Leu

When it comes to playing with blocks, there are no universals, but some trends come to light. Architects tend to make playful buildings based upon advanced structural principles that would be extremely costly to make in real life. Political artists make orderly constructions, almost like statements. Industrial designers can get extremely wacky and topsy turvy with their structures, creating buildings that would be seemingly impossible to reproduce.

In short, one theme of playing with blocks seems to work against whatever constraints apply to designers when they work within their field. Which makes sense. When you play, you want to play, not work. And that’s as true in design as it is anywhere else.

You can order a copy of Let’s Play online for around $65 here.