This Hackable Playhouse Turns Kids Into Architects

Playhouses have come a long way from ramshackle backyard forts and plastic Fisher Price cottages. From miniaturized versions of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe’s work to Bauhaus-inspired jungle gyms, it’s never been a better time to be a kid.

Grimshaw–the international firm behind megaprojects like the Fulton Transit Center, in New York City–is the latest firm to design for the youngest of modernists with Cubby House, a modular backyard playhouse that invites kids to think like architects.

[Photo: Grimshaw]
Auctioned off to benefit Kids Under Cover, a youth homelessness nonprofit in Australia, Grimshaw’s one-off structure is a microcosm of the principles found in the firm’s larger projects, specifically flexible and adaptable design and a focus on craftsmanship, as the firm describes it.

The climbable oak structure is essentially a three-dimensional grid. Grimshaw designed soft blocks (they look like square ottomans) that kids can slot into the grid wherever they please, changing up the structure and redesigning space in the process.

To inform the design, Grimshaw held workshops with kids to figure out what they wanted from a playhouse (they found they wanted a place where they could retreat–and they liked the color orange). Matt Hutton, the Grimshaw associate who led the project, recalled playing with wood fruit crates when he was young, and riffed on that idea with the structure.

“It’s a non-static space that children can make their own and reinvent as they desire,” Hutton said in a release.

Studies have shown that open-ended play is better for young minds. Cubby House’s cleverness lies in the fact that it’s a design that’s built to be redesigned. Additionally, the abstract, minimalist form–essentially a bunch of cubes–isn’t overly prescriptive so kids can let their imagination run wild while thinking spatially. Hopefully Grimshaw’s play house inspires more like it.