Fröbel's Giant Blocks

Kindergarten museum, Helsinki

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Friedrich Fröbel (1782–1852), the man who invented the very notion of the kindergarten, attached special importance to children’s play. He devised an elaborate system of play materials, the so-called Gifts. Gifts two through six are wooden blocks, based on the simplest geometric shapes (the cube, the cylinder, the sphere) and shapes derived from them. A crystallographer by education, Fröbel argued that children’s education should involve working with simple geometric shapes. When combined with each other, they are capable of generating the diversity of forms we find in our environment.

It is impossible to overestimate the significance of Fröbel’s blocks for the development of not only preschool education but also the whole culture of the twentieth century. Suffice it to say that classical avant-garde visual artists and architects (e.g., Wassily Kandinsky, Georges Braque, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Frank Lloyd Wright) attended Fröbel kindergartens in Europe, Russia, and America as children. So the forms of modernist architecture are very much obliged to Fröbel’s blocks.

The project in the yard of Helsinki’s Kindergarten Museum is dedicated to Friedrich Fröbel. I thought that if I wanted to leave the system of shapes that Fröbel had devised unchanged, I could only multiply the size of the blocks. Using modern material, I was able to produce blocks so large, sturdy, and light that a small child would be able to build a house from them, a house in which the child itself could easily fit. This amazing material is safe for children, moderately elastic, easily bears the weight of a person, can be used outside, is resistant to water, frost, direct sunlight, etc., etc.

Since Fröbel’s blocks were always packed in neat square wooden boxes, we decided to build a similar huge square box for storing the giant blocks which the children could open themselves, go into, take the blocks, and put them back. The size of our storage is 170 centimeters by 170 centimeters by 170 centimeters. It holds ninety parts of the nine different shapes proposed by Friedrich Fröbel.

The industrial designs have been copyrighted at the Patentti- ja rekisterihallitus in Helsinki. The working group can manufacture a series of similar playing blocks on request.

Working group:
Alexander Reichstein, project designer
Taina Sillanpää, Kindergarten Museum, Helsinki
Martin Hackenberg, technical expert