Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

From schools to sand piles

Mt. Healthy Elementary School in Columbus, Ind. (Norman McGrath / H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture LLC)

An interview with Carolina A. Miranda in the Los Angeles Times. Turns out she went to an open plan school too, in Irvine, Calif.

When architecture critic Alexandra Lange first had her children — a son and daughter, now ages 11 and 7, respectively — she says that she found herself, like many parents of infants, contending with an avalanche of stuff: toys, dish ware, clothing, furnishings and assorted accoutrements.

“As a design critic, all this stuff was coming into my house and I had opinions about it,” she recalls. Like the Automoblox Minis that someone had gifted her son — toys that showed a good eye for form, but which failed crucial tests of day-to-day play. “By the 100th time I lost the wheels under my couch,” says Lange, “I decided that they didn’t work.”

That episode inspired an essay in Fast Company about toy design. Since then, the intersecting topics of kids and design is something she has revisited regularly in her dispatches for Curbed and the New Yorker. And it’s something she explores at length in her new book, “The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids,” published this summer by Bloomsbury.

As expected, the book contains chapters devoted to charting the history of important toys, such as wood blocks and Lego. But “Design of Childhood” casts a wider, more ambitious net, looking at the ways in which attention to children and their needs has helped shape design at large — including public space (playgrounds), architecture (schools and the home) and urbanism (safe street design).