Jessica Boldt
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Jessica Boldt

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Review: The Design of Childhood


The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids by Alexandra Lange

Architecture critic Alexandra Lange focuses on how the built environment plays a large role in the development of young psyches. She identifies five material worlds – block, home, school, playground, and city – to deepen our understanding of childhood design today and how each is important in integrating children into the world around them. Using in-depth research, anecdotes, and case studies, she shows how we can raise our children to be more present and how their roles have changed over the course of history. 

From Froebel cubes to building blocks to Legos, the block has undergone its own evolution over the course of time. The same can be said for children’s place in the home. 

For centuries, there was no room for children in design; they lived in what architectural historian Marta Gutman calls a “generationally integrated world.” The material culture of childhood did not find its footing until the early to mid-1800s. It eventually inspired similar movements for schools, playgrounds, and cities with the recognition of the importance of the developing child. 

Lange leaves us by prophesizing another revolution. She describes the book as not prescriptive, but descriptive of what we need to pay attention to in order to better understand the direction we are going. Her ultimate goal is to promote a child-centric view of society while we consider how we build environments, such as schools, that children will inevitably interact with. She reminds us that the daunting task of raising a child is not a journey we have to travel alone but a shared experience. Collectively, we can learn from each other and make childhood a time to mold independent, curious people. 


Jessica Boldt is committee and communications coordinator at AIA Dallas.