“Play is the serious business of children” Jean Piaget

[Ian Macready]

“Play: toys, sets, rules” at the Walter Knoll Showroom London 05 June to 03 July

…we have reached a saturation point at which the high pitched scream of consumer selling is no more than sheer noise. We think that there are other things more worth using our skill and experience on. ” Sounds like this could have been written last week, but no, this is from the First Things First manifesto by Ken Garland written in 1963 and intended to shake up the increasingly consumerist society of England in the early sixties, with the support even of Tony Benn. Reading the biographies of the designers (including Ken Garland) involved in this exhibition makes me want to write a TV miniseries to rival The Hour,  of the lives and loves (ok that is not in the press release….) of designers in the 60s and 70s and their plans to change the world.

This exhibition is a collection of late modernist toys drawn from the personal archives of these designers: Roger Limbrick, Patrick Rylands, Fredun Shapur and Ken Garland( who wonderfully attended the opening night) , a loosely associated group that emerged in London in the 1960s. The toys are a set of extraordinarily generous, humane and beautiful objects. They could not be further removed from the current crop of digital games and box sets that engage children now. Well maybe I am being a bit nostalgic, but I would have killed to have been given the Post Office set (see below) or the Poly Roly – a cardboard wheel.

Many of the designs by this team are included in the V and A Museum of Childhood’s collection over in Bethnal Green – one of the left over prefabricated buildings from the first Great Exhibition of 1851. But some are still in production today by Galt Toys, the Manchester based company with its origins in the early 19th century and which had its first toy shop opening on Carnaby Street in 1961….er, quite cool and perfect for that mini series.

Play is curated by Systems, the brainchild of Dr. Peter Kapos (our favourite expert on Dieter Rams), Giorgio del Buono and Michal Polak, which exists to study the “present conditions, possibilities and limits of modernist design practice”.  The show’s serious intent is also to provide a number of free workshops for children aged 7 – 12 to provide guidance in techniques of card construction, and a range of materials to allow their imaginations to run wild, designed by Play contributor Marion Hine.

Play is in our favourite London furniture showroom  (ok, so we designed the space) Walter Knoll, the high end German upholstery company who commissioned Systems to generate the exhibition.

Polyroly, Roger Limbrick 1968, produced by Polypops Products Ltd
Plytek Chair, Ken Garland + Associates c.1965, unrealised prototype
Galt Post Office, Ken Garland + Associates 1967, produced by James Galt_16
Zic-Zag, Fredun Shapur 1980, produced by Kurt Naef
Connect, Ken Garland + Associates 1968, produced by James Galt
Ken Garland 'aving a butchers before the party started
The toys on display at a shelf at the Walter Knoll Showroom
At the private view of the exhibition
It's the opening night bash at Walter Knoll