"...each box contained not one building but dozens, hundreds, an entire imagination full - whole cities waiting to spring forth under the touch of an interested adult or curious child." – Norman Brosterman

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Architecture, though constrained by boundaries of function and structure, is always ultimately an act of the imagination. Potential Architecture: Construction Toys from the CCA Collection explores twenty-one construction toys, made in the hundred years from 1850 to 1950, that were designed to challenge a child’s creativity. The toys illustrate how children learn to invent relationships between space, structure, and building forms, and hence to better understand the world around them.

Norman Brosterman, the architect and sculptor who built the collection and curator of the exhibition, presents a selection of toys in which the relationship of part to whole, of given component to invented structure, is most compellingly realized. As he explains, "Boxes of possibilities are what I sought – potential architecture. Whether the kit built one particular structure or could be used for an infinite variety, process was paramount. My search was for toys that were inherently dynamic, where change was a given; where the child was cast as director, designer, and architect, and buildings could be erected and demolished at will, the parts repacked, still but ready — choices waiting to be made. Modularity was my only criterion, and is the reason the collection so well reflects and refers to the world of architecture. It’s no mistake that the word building is both verb and noun.

“Collectors of toys seek abstractions of reality in a more comprehensible, miniature form… Building blocks are another level removed. In their unbuilt form they are ideas for ideas of things and as such often mystified people who wondered why someone would be so eager for yet another musty box full of boring fragments.”

Each toy in the exhibition consists of parts or pieces that allow a variety of possible wholes. The toys range from Crandall Blocks (USA, 1967), and Batima (Belgium, ca. 1905), which provide simple components for the free-form construction of toy buildings, to Urbania (France, mid 20th century), which invited children to organize its prefabricated toy buildings into entire cities.

Potential Architecture: Construction Toys from the CCA Collection is the second in a series of exhibitions featuring the CCA’s collection of architectural toys and games, acquired with the support of Bell Canada.


Norman Brosterman, guest curator


Bell Canada
, Banque Nationale / National Bank