Domus has reached into their archive for a nice story from February 1968 on Enzo Mari, modernist engineer. Mari had just launched his second toy, Il Posto del Giocho, (The Place of Games), which Domus called "the first known indoor and portable play-place for children."
The 10-panel cardboard folding structure was screen printed with various abstract patterns meant to stimulate the imagination. I'm a huge fan of Mari. And I even looked into updating the Il Posto play screen or bringing it back into production [before Corraini did just that in 2008]. But honestly, I can't see how the patterns and the various cut-outs are anything but decorative. Which seems fundamentally unmodern to me.
So if we assume that Mari was onto something here, with giving the kid a play space that she can control and define herself; and design elements with "the right degree of abstraction" that makes them "accessible to all," but that still "leav[es] the imagination free"; then the piece that's missing is the empirical, toyetic research.
It's not deterministic or oppressive to observe the play patterns of kids, and then develop the symbols and forms that enable the most popular games. [Or the most desirable, in case those aren't the same thing.] And maybe an unprogrammed space is just what the kid needs most. But then, I guess that's why Mari only printed it on one side.
Feb. 68: The Enzo Mari Method [domusweb.it]
Previously: Il Ritorno! Corraini reissues Enzo Mari's play wall