October 13, 2009

Holy Smokes, It's The Tyng Toy!


The Tyng Toy was created by the brilliant young architect Anne Tyng in the late 1940's. It's probably the least well known of toy from the Golden Age of postwar modernist kid's design, an era which also saw toys and playthings by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, Antonio Vitali, and Egon Moeller-Nielsen. It's when Caplan and Barenholz's Creative Playthings really took off, making the case for modernist, abstract toys that encouraged kids' imaginations.

At the time, Tyng was a crucial collaborator with Louis Kahn on many seminal projects--and I don't just mean she gave birth to Kahn's daughter while on a Fulbright in Rome. From the Trenton Bath House to the Yale Art Gallery to the hugely influential City Tower concept, the history and credit for Kahn's early work really needs to be revised to give Tyng her due.


Anyway, here it is, the Tyng Toy, a modular, slot-together life-sized building system made from plywood and dowel pins, which a kid can turn into a desk [above], a car [below], an unfortunate-looking hobby horse [not shown], or any other number of play structures.


I've never seen a Tyng Toy, but I suspect it was well known in its day; it bears a remarkable resemblance to the "Fun on Wheels" toy/block/furniture/car system designed by Swedish architect Stephan Gip in 1959 [aka, the guy who went on to have his pyramidal wood high chair design knocked off by every restaurant supply company in the world.] It also looks like a smaller, indoor precursor to that giant, late 60's, slot-together playground system I've been trying to identify for 2.5 years. [And which, oh yeah, I finally figured out a couple of weeks ago. I'm just waiting for some new images to come in. Stay tuned.]

These Tyng Toy images are from an all-too-brief article in the August 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics, which I was rifling through, trying to find the plans for that overpriced plywood rocker thing. It certainly wouldn't pay $2,000 for it, but that doesn't mean it's worthless.

update: Alright, the infodam breaks. What other lingering mysteries can be solved by dropping $1.65 into the NY Times' archives? These are press images, which the Times ran months earlier, in Feb. 1950. Other Tyng Toy details from the paper of record: five-ply, 5/8-in. ply with a natural finish. Sold in three kit sizes, ranging from 6-26 pieces, plus rods, pegs, and wooden washers. The 6-pc set was $15. The pegs are half-painted red, so that "the thickness of the paint keeps the peg from slipping through." The blackboard, horse head, and wheels come in the large set. Tyng Toy was exhibited at the Walker Art Center, Boston ICA, and the Denver Children's Museum.

Put-Together Toys from Plywood Parts, Popular Mechanics, August 1950 [popmech via google books]


There is a recent architecture phd from Princeton who wrote her dissertation on architecture and toys, toys as part of modern architecture something like that. I can find her name if you are interested. I think she teaches at Cooper now.

definitely, sign me up, thnx

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