She brings her considerable powers, both as an observer of objects and spaces and as a writer of sentences, to The Design of Childhood, which provides history and commentary on toys, houses, schools, playgrounds, and cities—organized in that order, from the small to the large, like the nesting dolls that my two-year-old daughter can’t get enough of ... Throughout The Design of Childhood, she looks just this closely at a range of exceptional objects and spaces—from Lego blocks to walkable Rotterdam neighborhoods—that designers have made. And the discussion of exceptional models, of course, makes you reflect on your own childhood—which was, I will guess, unexceptional ... Though Lange invites us to examine the ingenuity and sensitivity that goes into the best designs and study the exceptional models, it is possible for something else to slip in—a resentment that it can’t be this way for everyone ... Here, Lange seems to argue. This. These are the tools—no, the toys—that we can use to grow up into the people we most want to be.
The Design of Childhood is a fascinating look at how our surroundings shape our childhoods, both today and in the past ... 'To understand what children can do,' Lange writes, 'you need to give them tools and experiences that are open-ended, fungible: worlds of their own making.' Lange applies the same logic to other elements of a child’s life: Playgrounds ... Planned communities ... This is a fascinating look at the world from a pint-size perspective.
As befits Lange’s background, she writes with both an academic’s expertise and a journalist’s hooks and accessibility ... Lange’s survey shows how kids learn to be creative, social citizens in these different spaces (or how architects and others hope they will). Certain examples, such as an educator’s conviction that 50 sheets of wasted paper were necessary for one little girl’s growth, are questionable but offer an important reminder of the importance of play in a world increasingly organized around efficiency.