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Roto & Nels Long, Fall Studio 2016

Toys and Tech : A medium for Informal Learning for the 21st Century


shift in generations

“Don’t limit students to your own learning, they were born in another time. Enter their world.”

- Rabindranath Tagore



“Reality has become science fictional, and therefore all his science fiction is now set in the present day.”

- William Gibson



This studio is a continuation of my life-long curiosities that place me at the nexus of learning and architecture. I see them both in an active symbiotic relationship. This began in earnest when SCI-Arc was founded, and in my confusion about what SCI-Arc was and what my role in helping to define and construct an alternative education system was, I began my quest. I did so without really knowing what the nature and purpose of education was, except to get a degree and a good job. A good start, but not Zen, as we say. I realized we are learning organisms, individually and collectively. Learning and teaching are, in my view, the most fundamental activity of our species and that our most profound learning occurs informally, our bodies in motion, present in the world, and reflective. Listening with all of our senses, processing what we apprehend, reflecting on what we process, and learning. In the last two years, I have been working with Nels and Dr. G on several sets of projects exploring questions of learning and teaching, generally as a proposition and specifically in the context of a design education. This semester the nexus is enchanted toys and architecture, and next semester it will be games, neuro-science, and architecture.



I entered the studio at the University of Texas-Austin, excited to be visiting for four months. All of the students did not hear me enter; headphones and music had captured their attention until I positioned myself to interfere with their peripheral vision.


I did not listen to music in studio in my student days. I was born into an everyday world, without iPods, laptops, or mobile phones. I am pre-Walkman generation, as the UTA students said. I liked that designation. Well, a lot has happened in a relatively short period of time. In half a generation, tech and science has converged to bring electronics and digital media, to the masses. The town square, piazza, or plaza, is no longer the only place news of the day is available. Anywhere someone has a device is the new center. Centrality is now decentralized. Now, technology is becoming our 4th skin, getting smaller and smaller, and smarter and smarter, and most significantly, more responsive in anticipation of our interests and needs. “Technology is atomizing, combining itself with the objects that make up the very fabric of daily living, in particular, toys. Such technology will be woven into our objects, our environment, enhancing human relationships and channeling desires for omniscience (all knowing), long life, and creative expression.”                                                


Toys, games, and electronic media are merging into a seamless blend of entertainment, education, information, and play. From music boxes, crying dolls, kaleidoscopes, and stereoscopes to electric trains, remote controlled vehicles, and robots, toys have always reflected the latest economically viable developments in science and technology. The enchanted objects of fairy tales and science fiction will enter real life, and slowly but surely into architecture.


What does this mean? How will this impact architecture and architects as the constructed environment become smarter with embedded Ai and IoT? How will this improve our lives?


This studio will address these questions, as a creative project-based problem. As we learn more about enchanted toys, through speculation, via scale shifting metaphor and modeling, we will better understand what the nature and form of enchanted architecture might be.



We will create a Barn for tinkerers, inventors, and mentors to, conceive, construct, and contemplate enchanted toys for young adult learners, who live, work and learn here. This will be a research, development, and production facility with a hands-on exhibit space. Imagine a mash up of SCI-Arc, Bell Labs, and the Exploratorium. This place will also be a school for informal on the job learning.


Learning model

Learning will be project based, student centered, and informal.

The Barn is intended to be at the center of gravity of the Education Village for a student-centered learning and teaching community focused on project-based education, modeled on principles and protocols of informal learning. This intentional community of craftspeople, artists, engineers, technologists, teachers, students, farmers, and cooks will live, work and play in a cooperative social structure on this site. A growing body of scholarship suggests potential benefits of working and learning in a participatory culture that sets low barriers and high standards to all forms of creative expression and civic engagement, and strong support for creating and sharing one's creations, peer to peer learning, and informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most knowledgeable and experienced is passed along to the novices in the workshops, on the farm, and in the kitchen.


Project 1

Enchanted Toys

Enchanted Toys are ordinary toys augmented and enhanced through the use of emerging technologies, sensors, actuators, wireless connection, and embedded processing, so that they become extraordinary. The enchanted toy then gains some remarkable power or ability that makes it more useful, more fun, more informative, more engaging, and more connected. Imagine everyday objects, especially toys, intuiting our needs, heightening our curiosity, ignite creative dialogue, and augment our intelligence. The world of iPods, smart phones, computers, and devices of every description, including toys, that contain computer chips, memory, voice recognition, and interactive connectivity has forever changed the landscape of play and learning. These smart objects have created the Internet of Things which is a network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other objects, embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data. The magical objects from the myths and fables we grew up with are entering the material world. The near future is becoming the present.


Work plan

1. We will compile a taxonomy of toys, handmade to state-of-the-art.

Our focus is on the interplay between traditional toys and play, and toys and play that are mediated by and combined with digital technology.

2. We will extrapolate principles and protocols that are transformable into concepts to drive architectural propositions based on performance and form.

3. We will develop techniques for scale shifting from toys to buildings.

4. We will research learning models for the 21st century and develop a program as a performance specification and test it for the Barn and the Village.

5. We will survey state of the art smart building technologies available in the marketplace.

6. We will test our findings and provisional conclusions through design.




principles, protocols and pleasures of learning, play, toys, and architecture

Learning models

student-centered, project based, participatory, informal

Toys, games, media

taxonomy of toys handmade to augmented


The Projects

     P1   enchanted Toys

     P2   A Barn for Tinkerers and Inventors

Architecture  place yourself on a map of contemporary practice                                     

Architecture gives form to Life

Life gives form to Architecture



Addendum  -  0


Informal learning

The mission of the Barn is to research, collaboratively design, and advocate for inquiry-based learning. Our approach and focus will be on testing ideas about learning practices and project-based learning, in real time, at full size, supplemented by classroom dialogues. We seek to broaden conceptions of learning by designing and studying experiences that focus on play, investigation, creativity, iteration, questioning, and meaning making.

The projects for these young adult student-inventors will be Toys that are technologically enhanced.




shift in generations

_don’t limit a student to your own learning, they were born in another time. Enter their world.

_dialectic - teaching and mentoring

_inherent motivation, re-contextualizing your ideas, play and work are the same

_nature of education - informal learning



_Reality has become science fictional and science fiction is now set in the present day.

_We intuit body and speculate on technology to enhance and augment our capabilities.                

_Digital technology is getting smaller and smaller and being embedded in objects.


enchanted toys

_everyday objects, especially toys, augmented and enhanced through technologies,

_toys-objects intuiting our needs, heightening our curiosity, and augment our intelligence

_we will speculate about enchanted toys shifting scales into enchanted architecture


architecture  -  our approach

_your voice and your aesthetic, guided by our collaborative creative process

_life gives form to architecture - performance driven, matters of the mind:matters of the heart

_architecture gives form to life - form driven, objectified in its own context



_ a Barn for tinkerers, inventors, and mentors to, conceive, construct, and contemplate

_ enchanted toys for young adult learners, who live, work and learn here.

_a village for young adults searching for purpose and meaning through work

_work is meditation

_work is play

_work is fun


the metric for fun is the degree of risk one takes.

Risk is in proportion to confidence



Life gives form to architecture




The Barn is a place to learn while working on projects.                                                              


The projects will focus on creating and making toys. Once made they will be tested in a hands-on demonstration and exhibition zone.


Toys are for playing, which is important to all generations. They are especially significant for children in their formative years as a way to grow an unbounded imagination and to practice manual and mental dexterity. Toys are the tools children use in play.   


Playing with toys is important when it comes to growing up and learning about the world around us. Younger children use toys to discover their identity, help their bodies and minds grow, learn cause and effect, explore relationships, and practice manual and mental skills


Adults use toys to form and strengthen social bonds, teach, remember and reinforce lessons from their youth, rediscover their identity, continue to exercise their minds and bodies, and sustain and strengthen interpersonal relationships.

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