These are the kind of toys that make you stop and think. But first you'll want to sit down and play with them, because they are just that pretty. We talked with Dutch designer Maykel Roovers about his two latest projects: Critical Blocks and Cooltower Candles.
Your Critical Blocks are somewhat unconventional when it comes to toy blocks. How did you decide which building types to model? They came from my research into public space and architecture and the idealized version of both in toy modeling. I selected a number of buildings that epitomize today’s zeitgeist: a power plant, mega farm, highways and an apartment building. I wanted to shed light on the excessive nature of contemporary large scale architecture – the mega factory – by using the abstract language of toy blocks.
There is an alluring contrast between these harsh building types and the innocence and whimsy of children's toys. What was your motivation? I wanted to make full use of this contrast between the harshness of contemporary architecture and the illusory children’s world of friendliness and unlimited possibilities cultivated by adults. The chosen buildings are large and inaccessible. By abstraction and the choice of beech wood, the buildings are at once much friendlier and more accessible. The effect this has on people really inspires me!
Have you witnessed anything interesting while watching kids play with your Critical Blocks? The most beautiful thing I've experienced, is watching children who think that the miniature nuclear power plant, mega farm and other buildings are completely normal, even fun, and don't know anything about the political and social aspects. I love this contrast! The innocent world of children as opposed to the serious, large-scale (and at times painful) adult world. During the Dutch Design Week, a kid called to his mom, ‘’Mom look! That’s a sweet little factory over there!” (in reality a power plant). His mother laughed and gave me a wink. This contrast between parent and child is beautiful.
What was your inspiration for Cooltower Candles, and what do you think makes them so compelling? The Cooltower Candles were born from an interview with a Japanese television station three months ago. Because of my toy blocks, my work became a much lighter subject to talk about, more accessible and led to admiration and even got some of them to smile. With all the fuss that plays around nuclear power plants worldwide, many people still associate them with danger and misery. The most recognizable, and thus probably the most controversial, are the cooling towers of nuclear power plants. As a designer this got me thinking: Why? Is it the mass, the color? Purely looking at the design, I find cooling towers to be beautiful. Clear in shape, sober in color and without trapping frills.
A statement by one of the interviewers was decisive: "Imagine you have a nuclear power plant in your living room!" Why not? The cooling tower is, apart from the mass, a beautiful object. Looking at it on it’s own, and daring to see its beauty, the steam and smoke, there arose the idea of the Cooltower Candles. A sober, functional, controversial and inaccessible object can suddenly be brought indoors, and through design and color choice becomes airy and pleasurable. The contrast this creates is great. The "plumes of smoke" rising from one of my cooling towers can now be perceived as "cool, atmospheric and attractive". People will look on admiringly while the cooling tower quietly goes under. "A beautiful meltdown!"
Are you hoping to teach children new values with your thought provoking toys? Contemporary toys don’t give a realistic picture. Most of them are idealized, and our landscapes and buildings are changing rapidly. Children no longer recognize today's toys. Children who see my mega farm immediately say "a farm!" They recognize it. It's not my purpose to help children learn. When children learn from them of course it’s good, but I don't want to be deceptive. I ask myself, Why we do not have toys like this? Is it too sensitive? Do we not want to be associated with those landscapes? This is what I see in my area!
I try to create marvel and to elicit a smile. It keeps me focused! Of course It’s great that people are motivated to think after seeing my work. I think that’s a compliment for a designer. But it's also difficult. I get a lot of good and funny reactions about my work, but there are also people who don't appreciate it. They find that I glorify mass industry and make fun of nuclear disasters. But most of the reactions are positive. The range of different reactions to my work-- that’s the most beautiful thing.
Read more about his work at www.maykelroovers.nl