Should you find yourself near 12th and Arch Streets at some point this month, I be sure to pop inside the AIA Bookstore and peruse their selection of unique gifts and toys before heading into The Philadelphia Center for Architecture to check out their latest exhibition, Constructing Play.
Featuring over 50 toys from the past 75 years—Alphabet Blocks to Uberstix—the exhibit explores the history and educational value of play while even letting guests do a little playing of their own.
The first thing likely to grab your attention is the massive K’Nex roller coaster (“Son of Serpent”) stationed in the center of the room with tiny mechanical carts swirling through it. Meanwhile, glowing up above are several signs apart of the center’s semi-permanent Vintage Neon exhibit.
Extending the entire length of the hallway, the retrospective begins with the toys of today including a super chic wood dollhouse by Hape Toys. With its solar panel roof, Ikea-esque furniture and a flat-screen TV, it really put my old shoddy dollhouses to shame. As you slowly inch towards the early 20th century, you’ll likely to see a few nostalgic playthings from your own childhood as well as what your parents and grandparents were building as youngsters.
For whatever reason I just couldn’t get over BrickPlayer, a legitimate pint-sized bricklaying kit from the 1950s (it comes with a little bottle of cement and everything!). I also couldn’t help but giggle at the original Erector Set from 1911. Equipped with various metal beams, screws and bolts, the make-your-own amusement park kit would most certainly be deemed unsuitable for children by today’s standards.
Still, I think it’s a shame how less practical building toys seem to have gotten over the years. I mean, why would you want kids building houses out of cards or straws when they could be building them with actual bricks and cement?
In addition to the center’s permanent 3-D model of Center City, miniature replicas of some of Philly’s most recognizable structures are scattered throughout the exhibit including, One Liberty Place, The Inquirer Building and the Ben Franklin Bridge. And should you be dying to unleash your inner ten-year-old, you’re free to do so at one of three different hands-on building stations.
Last but not least, perhaps my favorite part of the exhibition is the collection of children’s drawings covering the walls at the very end of the hallway. The prompt for each picture: “What Toy Will You Invent?”
So cross your fingers, folks, because the next big toy of the future might just be the “Michaelinator Time Machine.”
Through Jan. 24. Philadelphia Center For Architecture, 1218 Arch St. 215.569.3186.