Steffen P. Waltz

In the 1830s, a pedagogist and crystallographer by the name of Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852) developed the idea of the kindergarten as a teaching system for younger children, opening the first installation of his revolutionary preschool educational framework in Blankenburg, Germany in 1837.

Fröbel, a highly spiritual and idealistic man, conceived kindergarten as a set of abstract design activities intended to reveal God’s universal language of geometric perfection and natural harmony and thereby cultivate children’s innate observational, reasoning, expressive, and creative abilities: “Its ultimate aim was to instill in children an understanding of what an earlier generation would have called “the music of the spheres” – the mathematically generated logic underlying the ebb and flow of creation” (Broster- man 1997:12). Many activities were incorporated into the kindergarten concept, such as gymnastics ga- mes, gardening, storytelling, singing, and group sociability training. To support these activities, Fröbel invented kindergarten materials, which he called gifts, intended to serve as play things for the children to and program them according to the kindergarten concept.

Gifts 1-6, including ball, sphere, cylinder, cube, and block, were intended to teach the kindergarten chil- dren about simple, solid bodies and their kinetic and Tessellation properties. Children were meant to “contemplate” the surface of Gift 7, parquetry. The following gifts, e.g. sticks; and drawing with a slate pencil – were dedicated to exploration of linearity, while Gift 11, punching dotted patterns into paper, was dedicated to exploration of visible points (von Mahrenholtz-Bülow 1891:269f.). The 12th Gift – an occupation, really – was sewing, often on gridded paper, and Gifts 13, 14, and 18 entailed cutting, wea- ving, and folding (which often included making animals and people by folding a single piece of paper, an activity recommended mostly for older children). Gifts 15-17 programmed the laying of lines or linear forms by way of slats, jointed slats, and paper strips. Gift 19, peas work, featured softened peas that ser- ved as connectors for toothpicks or small sticks that were used to create constructions. And finally, Gift 20 provides children with modeling clay, which, in a way, encompasses all previous gifts (Brosterman 1997:64-88). Figure 42 shows exercises that Fröbel suggests for Gift 1, first published in his Sonntagsbla- tt newspaper. To us, these exercises have the appeal of simple play kinesis, of basic to-and-fro.

The twenty gifts progress from volume to plane to line to point to line to plane and back to the begin- ning: solids (Gifts 19 and 20). Children could not play freely with these gifts; their use was regulated by Fröbel’s Unitarianist philosophy: “In short sessions of directed play, the gifts were used to create pictu- res or structures that fit loosely into three fundamental categories – forms of nature (or life); forms of knowledge (or science); and forms of beauty (or art)” (Brosterman 1997:37). The dimensional wa- ve-form drawn by the twenty gifts and the realms can all be traced in two of Fröbel’s major inspirations. On the one hand, Fröbel’s design gifts were inspired by pedagogy revolutionary Johann Heinrich Pes- talozzi, who, driven by a belief that the world consists of combinations of basic particles, attempted to break down nature into a language of gridded and geometric elements. He then used this ABC der Anschauung (Pestalozzi and Buss 1803) – in English, object observation lessons – to teach orphans and peasants at his school in Yverdon, Switzerland. On the other hand, Fröbel’s gifts were inspired by his obsession with crystals and the four-year tenure he spent under Professor Christian Samuel Weiss, the father of modern crystallography, at the Mineralogical Museum of the University of Berlin between 1811 and 1815. At the museum, Fröbel was responsible for researching and categorizing the museum’s vast collection, which eventually helped Weiss formulate his groundbreaking, mathematically precise sys- tematics of crystalline geometry, wherein the forms of crystals are external manifestations of regularly arranged particles in three-dimensional grids.

Brosterman, in what can be called an archaeology of modernity and design functionalism, argues that many influential architects and form-givers of modernity have been “indoctrinated, in effect, pro- grammed, by the spiritual geometry of the early kindergarten” (1997:13): Le Corbusier in Switzerland and later France; Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten at the Bauhaus in Germany; Theo van Doesburg, co-founder of De Stijl, in the Netherlands; Frank Lloyd Wright in the US; and, in a turn-of-the-century Milton, Massachusetts kindergarten, R. Buckminster Fuller, who remembers how the 19th Gift led him to the invention of triangular structures from semi-dried peas and toothpicks and, ultimately, the geo- desic dome (see Brosterman (1997:84) and World).

Fröbel conceived all kindergarten activities, including the gifts, as play activities. This was the novelty of the educational kindergarten: It defined a space for play to teach about life and nature, thereby fra- ming play as essential to childhood development. If we accept only a portion of Brosterman’s argument – that modernity and modern design and modern art have their roots in Fröbel’s formal language as expressed in the kindergarten gifts – then we can further contend that major components of modernity have their roots in the play of geometrically perfected shapes.

Architecture, then, not only sets the stage for or functionally defers to gameplay; rather, architecture is fundamentally and inherently the result of calculated play with primary forms: a jeux de volume et de lumière stretching from Mass Production Housing (Le Corbusier 1928/2008:253-290) to architec- tural and urban planning rule sets such as those put forth in A Pattern Language (Alexander/Ishikawa/ Silverstein 1977) and eventually to games such as Will Wright’s SimCity (1989) or Spore (2008) or the Patterns in Game Design publication (Björk and Holopainen 2005). To borrow a phrase from game de- signer Jesse Schell, these are all tools “to play with patterns” (Schell 2007:402).

From this perspective, and in the words of a gamer, we can read the kindergarten as a conceptual play- ground of creation – a God-view of interlinked (cf. Topology) creation where children re-create life for- ms using a God view for tools and where gift exercises trigger play-stimuli and each exercise creates an allegory of the perfection of God’s creation, a creation of playful movement.

“Spielgaben” de Friedrich Froebel. Fuente: https://www.froebel.com.au/

Alexander, Christopher, Ishikawa, Sara & Silverstein, Murray (1977): A Pattern Language. Towns - Buil- dings - Construction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Björk, Sta an & Holopainen, Jussi (2005): Patterns in Game Design. Hingham, MA: Charles River Media. Brosterman, Norman (1997): Inventing Kindergarten. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams Publishers.

Le Corbusier (1928/2008): Toward an Architecture. London: Frances Lincoln.
Pestalozzi, Heinrich & Buss, Johannes (1803): ABC der Anschauung, oder AnschauungsLehre der Mass- verhältnisse. Tübingen: J.G. Cotta.
Schell, Jesse (2007): ““Can I Teleport Around?”. Jesse Schell in conversation with the Editors of Space Time Play.” In Borries, Friedrich von, Walz, Ste en P. & Böttger, Matthias (eds.), Space Time Play. Com- puter Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level. Basel: Birkhäuser Publishing. pp. 401-403. Von Mahrenholtz-Bülow, Bertha (1891): Reminiscences of Friedrich Froebel (Mann,
Mary, Trans.). Boston: Lee and Shepard.

Este texto fue originalmente publicado en Walz, S. P. (2010). Toward a Ludic Architecture. The Space of Play and Games. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University: ETC Press. http://repository.cmu.edu/etcpress/5

Steffen P. Walz is an Associate Professor and Director of the Games and Experimental Entertainment Laboratory (GEElab) in the School of Media and Communication at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and Director of RMIT’s GEElab Europe in Karlsruhe, Germany.