Tag whimsy

{ whimsical urban spaces } for fostering play

live from AERA…*

I am currently attending the 2015 AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference in Chicago, and I have been attending and participating in a variety of exciting presentations, roundtables, and poster sessions about the many types of interesting research around education and its unique challenges. I am still making sense out of all I learned, and I hope to share some of the interesting talks with you in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, today I want to talk about this amazing playground I spotted here in downtown Chicago.

Fostering Play…*

Last week Elsa wrote about the importance of play in our ever-changing world, reminding us of the essential nature of play. Perhaps this was on my mind because during my free afternoon this weekend I was walking near Millennium Park and couldn’t help but stop to admire this incredible play space.


Photo Eric X. via Yelp

Maggie Daley park is a $60 million, newly opened 20 acre recreational space, opened in 2014. It was designed by architect Michael Van Valkenburgh as “a counterpoint to the symmetry and formality of Grant Park… with..  curvilinear forms, dramatic topography, and many whimsical elements.” As described in this article, there is a 3-acre play garden designed in the spirit of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is the piece of the park I stumbled upon . I was immediately enchanted by the surrealist, cartoon-like environment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that the play garden “will allow kids to challenge themselves and do things they didn’t know they could do“.

In a world where I worry about childhoods lived behind a screen and enacted through highly constrained, scripted environments, I am so excited by this notion of fostering unstructured play. The rich narrative and creative potential of places like this is endless, and I find myself envious of the young children who will be enjoying the play garden this spring.

More pictures of this play space below. I will report back on my more academic experience at this conference next Monday!


Children loved running up and down the rubbery foam hills, rather than using the stairs.


A giant bridge connecting two towers. When I crossed, three young boys were working together to shake the bridge, excited at the prospect of making me fall (I remained upright, to their extreme disapointment).


My colleague from Teachers College taking a turn on one of the slides.


A web made of wires and ropes, where young boys created a clubhouse to call home.

{ Happy Friday …* } The Vegetable Orchestra – Exploring & Refining Performable Vegetable Music

The Vegetable Orchestra, photograph by Heidrun Henke

The Vegetable Orchestra, photograph by Heidrun Henke

Infuse your Friday with play, wonder and whimsy thanks to this video recording of The Vegetable Orchestra‘s brilliant performance at TEDxVienna.

Source: Who Says You Can’t Play With Food? The Vegetable Orchestra at TEDxVienna – via TEDxTalks, published January 11, 2014.

“The Vegetable Orchestra performs on instruments made of fresh vegetables. The utilization of various ever refined vegetable instruments creates a musically and aesthetically unique sound universe.

The Vegetable Orchestra was founded in 1998. Based in Vienna, the Vegetable Orchestra plays concerts in all over the world.

There are no musical boundaries for the Vegetable Orchestra. The most diverse music styles fuse here – contemporary music, beat-oriented House tracks, experimental Electronic, Free Jazz, Noise, Dub, Clicks’n’Cuts – the musical scope of the ensemble expands consistently, and recently developed vegetable instruments and their inherent sounds often determine the direction.

A concert of the Vegetable Orchestra appeals to all the senses. As an encore at the end of the concert and the video performance, the audience is offered fresh vegetable soup.

In artistic, aesthetic and infrastructural decisions of importance all members of the orchestra have their equal vote. The ensemble is a mix of people with different artistic backgrounds – musicians, visual artists, architects, designers, media artists, writers and sound poets all come together here.

The further exploration and refinement of performable vegetable music is a central part of the orchestra’s aesthetic quest. Every individual background that is brought into the project is of vital importance in sustaining the fundamental artistic objective of the Vegetable Orchestra.The broad variety of creative approaches at the same time secures the artistic autonomy of this unique ensemble. “

Michel Gondry on Animating Noam Chomsky & The Power Of Drawing To Move People …*

“I have this relationship with drawing because it’s a way to make people smile and do something a bit artistic and narrative. Well, let’s say, for instance, I wanted Audrey Tautou to play in my new movie–I draw it. So I draw myself writing a letter, and flying from America to France, dropping the letter, then I cut my arm…I mean it’s completely absurd but I do it because I think she’s going to be maybe a little moved or touched by the effort I put into it.”

Enjoy this whimsical behind the scenes, brought to you by The Creators Project, of Michel Gondry‘s process for his new documentary, Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?: An Animated Conversation With Noam Chomsky. The documentary, which is now available on iTunes, explores “the life of controversial MIT professor, philosopher, linguist, anti-war activist and political firebrand Noam Chomsky. Through complex, lively conversations with Chomsky and brilliant illustrations by Gondry himself, the film reveals the life and work of the father of modern linguistics while also exploring his theories on the emergence of language. The result is not only a dazzling, vital portrait of one of the foremost thinkers of modern times, but also a beautifully animated work of art.”  

As for this short behind the scenes doc, it’s a delightful peek into a creative  playful mind and what it takes to visualize ideas and make them more human…*

Animating Noam Chomsky | An Afternoon With Michel Gondry | via The Creators Project, published December 10, 2013.

[ H/T – Behind The Scenes of Michel Gondry’s Film “Is The Man Who IS Tall Happy?” via Booooooom, published December 12, 2013. ]


Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? Official Trailer (HD) Documentary, Michel Gondry | published October 28, 2013.

The Secret Story of Toys…* Tour A Toy Prototyping Studio With This Lovely Short Documentary From Anthony Ladesich

Happy Wednesday!

delight & rethink…* 

The Secret Story of TOYS from Anthony Ladesich on Vimeo.

[ HT: A Look Inside A Toy Prototyping Studio ~ via Core77, published August 20, 2013. ]

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org | Photo by Elsa Fridman


Accelerating serendipity: Can you make happy accidents happen more often? ~ via Medium, published August 13, 2013.

How We Learn ~ Insights from psychology can make us better readers, writers and thinkers ~ via Scientific American, published August 15, 2013.

Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply ~ A road map for navigating a course to empathy — suitable for any age. From Ashoka‘s Start Empathy initiative which shares research, case studies and inspirational stories, and is building a network of Changemaker Schools committed to building empathic, encouraging environments at the elementary level. via Edutopia, published August 12, 2013.

How Self-Expiring Medicine Packaging Could Change The World ~ Husband-and-wife doctor/designer team Gautam Goel and Kanupriya Goel want to encapsulate our medicines in strips that change color as they expire, transforming the packaging of dangerously out-of-date medication into a chromatic warning. But will big pharma bring it to market?  via FastCo.Design, published August 12, 2013.

The Decisive Moment and the Brain ~ A look at the science behind conscious and unconscious awareness, and how the brain allows photographers to know things with intuition. via PetaPixel, published August 12, 2013.

The Missing Half of the Education Debate ~ Conversations about college must address more than just cost and access. They must also question assumptions of quality, performance, and relevance. This is uncomfortable and unwelcome ground. But for many students in many places, college is no longer doing well what it was designed to do — and what it was designed to do may no longer be what students most need or what societies most need of them. We need to talk about that too. via Harvard Business Review, published August 13, 2013.

How to Make Online Courses Massively Personal ~ Online learning is a tool, just as the textbook is a tool. The way the teacher and the student use the tool is what really counts. via Scientific American, published August 14, 2013.

Top 5 Tips for Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur ~ “Life is too short to spend your time avoiding failure,” and other tips from Michael Bloomberg based on his experience of building a company from the ground up, leading New York City as mayor, and founding a philanthropic organization. via LinkedIn, published August 14, 2013.

4 Tips To Master Thinking With Both Sides of Your Brain, And Boost Creativity ~ While some people seem to be less adept than others at firing up both burners, making them appear more left-brained than right-brained, most brain scientists agree–and this is what’s exciting–that the ability to shift rapidly between divergent and convergent thinking, which is the key to innovation, can be sharpened and improved. via Fast Company, published August 15, 2013.

Bring Design Thinking to Your Classroom with OpenIDEO ~ In mid-September OpenIDEO will launch a new challenge on nurturing creative confidence in young people – and educators and faculty from around the world are invited to join in.  via OpenIDEO

Games Can Make “Real Life” More Rewarding ~In her 2011 book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, game development expert and author Jane McGonigal describes a number of ways that games can improve our lives by using experience and research to link games with feelings of connectedness, self-worth, fulfillment and happiness. via Edutopia, published August 14, 2013


Slick Data Visualization Reveals Scientific Collaborations Taking Place Around the Globe ~ via Open Culture, published August 15, 2013.

In Praise of a Whimsical, Solar-Powered ‘Do-Nothing Machine’ ~ Seven short decades ago, Charles and Ray Eames lent their formidable imaginations to the creation of a machine so non-utilitarian that its pointlessness gave the gadget its name: the Do-Nothing Machine. The Do-Nothing Machine embodies and evokes the spirit of pure, unadulterated originality. Its lack of any specific, hierarchical function or purpose frees it from the burden of meeting expectations, while its intrinsic playfulness subtly challenges other inventors, engineers and designers to step up. via TIME, published August 12, 2013.

40 maps that explain the world ~ Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. via Washington Post, published August 12, 2013.

Outdoor Funnel Wall Makes Music When Rain Falls ~ Somewhere in the Kunsthof-passage of Dresden, Germany, there’s actually an outdoor building wall that makes music whenever it rains. via Lost At E Minor, published August 12, 2013.

Samsung eco-conscious origami cardboard mono laser printer ~ This printer will make you rethink…* your assumptions of what a printer is. via Designboom, published August 13, 2013.


Buildings made from cardboard tubes: A gallery of Shigeru Ban architecture ~ via TED, published August 13, 2013.

Reframing Fear: The Upside of Risk, Failure and Judgment ~ via The Good Life Project, published February 13, 2013.

The First Billboard in the World to Make Drinking Water out of Thin Air ~ What would a great ad for a university of technology be? An ad, that itself, solves a problem through technology. This is exactly what the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru and their ad agency Mayo DraftFCB have done – the first billboard in the world to make drinking water out of thin air and alleviate the lives of Peru’s people. via Big Think, published August 12, 2013.

{ Fitzcardboardalo by Robin Frohardt } A Delightful & Whimsical Take on Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo…*

Screen Shot from 'Fitzcardboardalo' by Robin Frohardt

This brilliant three minute animated rethinking…* of Werner Herzog‘s 1982 masterpiece, Fitzcarraldo, shot and edited by Robin Frohardt, made my day. Fitzcarraldo, one of my absolute favorite films, tells the story of a man–Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald–and the absurd grandiose dream of building an opera house in Iquitos, Peru that consumes him. To finance his dream, Fitzgerald decides to open up a tract of rubber trees on a completely inaccessible parcel of land. Ever the wild dreamer and constant rethinker…* of the impossible, Fitzgerald attempts to remedy this accessibility issue by hauling a large steamer over a mountain from one branch of the river to the other. Featuring the hauling of the steamboat, Frohardt’s animation, done all in cardboard, adds an extra dose of whimsy and delight to an already incredible story that explores imagination, passion, creativity and the realities of translating dreams into action.

Enjoy & rethink* 

FITZCARDBOARDALDO by Robin Frohardt; published on YouTube, May 29, 2013.


Infuse Your Monday with Whimsy & Imagination Thanks to Carl the Talking Piece of Cardboard…*

Play, imagine & rethink…* with this delightful short animation from FaceHeads, a growing art collective based in Moscow, Russia, dedicated to making original content and releasing fresh creative projects. Meet Carl, the talking piece of cardboard, who has devised a fun little exercise to “support the growth of imagination in both children and grownups.”

Instant Face Maker from FaceHeads on Vimeo.


[H/T]  Instant Face Maker via Booooooom, published March 8, 2013

À la recherche du Brontosaurus ~ In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin

In my grandmother’s dining-room there was a glass-fronted cabinet and in the cabinet a piece of skin. It was a small piece only, but thick and leathery, with strands of coarse, reddish hair.  It was stuck to a card with a rusty pin. On the card was some writing in faded black ink, but I was too young then to read.

“What’s that?”

“A piece of brontosaurus.”


Never in my life have I wanted anything as I wanted that piece of skin. My grandmother said I should have it one day, perhaps. And when she died I said: ‘Now I can have the piece of brontosaurus,’ but my mother said: ‘Oh, that thing! I’m afraid we threw it away.’

So begins Bruce Chatwin’s novel In Patagonia (1977)–the somewhat fictionalized account of his journey to Patagonia where he set off to replace his grandmother’s misplaced bit of dinosaur. Thanks to this glorious two-part documentary, written and narrated by Chatwin’s biographer–Nicholas Shakespeare–and produced by the BBC (1999), Chatwin, writing, travel and dinosaur fans can follow in the footsteps of the brilliant, controversial author around the world—from Patagonia to Africa.

A delightful mediation on writing, art, nomadism, journeys, and wonder, In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin, is filled with interviews with the author as well as with his friends, family members, and the people he met on his travels who eventually became characters in his novels. A must for fans and all those interested in writing, living, or in search of something–be it meaning or a furry piece of prehistoric skin.

Episode I

(via  on YouTube, published Dec 12, 2011)


Episode II

(via  on YouTube, published Dec 12, 2011)

On Delight, Whimsy & Love Created in the Streets ~ BLU’s Stunning Street Art Animations BIG BANG BIG BOOM & MUTO

Enjoy this welcome reminder of the whimsy, love, and delight that can come out of our streets and neighborhoods with these two street art animations by wonderfully disruptive and imaginative Italian artist, BLU.                                        

MUTO ~ An ambiguous animation painted on public walls. 2008


BIG BANG BIG BOOM ~ A short unscientific story about evolution and its consequences. 2010

On Delight: The Comfort of Small, Wondrous Objects

I have spent the past three days in a haze of wheezing, mouth breathing and achy bones so for today’s Rethinked…* Daily, I thought I would highlight the object that has given me the most comfort through my cold: my white Umbra House Tissue Box designed by Mauricio Affonso.

Of his process Affonso writes,

“Traditional tissue boxes are not exactly fun. Since my design mantra is to eliminate ugly, I wanted to transform this everyday household item into an object of play–bright colors, a cute silhouette and paper that pulls through the chimney so that with each fresh tissue you can spontaneously transform its shape.”

Mission accomplished–with flying colors might I add. The simple and minimalist design of this oversized Monopoly-like house, with its billowing clouds of tissue paper, provokes childhood-like feelings of wonder, delight and playfulness. After three days of burning achy skin under my nose and feeling as though I might cough up a lung at any moment, my crankiness factor has gone way up while my inclination for seeking delight in the ordinary has all but vanished. Yet this small object, so simple, beautiful and full of wonder, has rekindled my spirits and continues to make me feel physically much better. (How’s that for psychosomatic?!)

The design of the Umbra House Tissue Box reminds me of the five qualities that John Berger observes in the traditional wooden birds crafted in France’s Haute Savoie region; qualities which, “when undifferentiated and perceived as a whole, provoke at least a momentary sense of being before a mystery.”

First there is a figurative representation–one is looking at a bird, more precisely a dove, apparently hanging in mid-air. Thus, there is a reference to the surrounding world of nature.

Secondly, the choice of subject (a flying bird) and the context in which it is placed (indoors where live birds are unlikely) render the object symbolic. This primary symbolism then joins a more general, cultural one. Birds, and doves in particular, have been credited with symbolic meanings in a very wide variety of cultures.

Thirdly, there is a respect for the material used. The wood has been fashioned according to its own qualities of lightness, pliability and texture. Looking at it, one is surprised by how well wood becomes bird.

Fourthly, there is a formal unity and economy. Despite the object’s apparent complexity, the grammar of its making is simple, even austere. Its richness is the result of repetitions which are also variations.

Fifthly, this man-made object provokes a kind of astonishment: how on earth was it made? I have given rough indications above, but anyone unfamiliar with the technique wants to take the dove in his hands and examine it closely to discover the secret which lies behind its making.

The Umbra House Tissue Box may seem frivolous to some, but by so thoroughly and seamlessly blending attention to function as well as (and in equal parts to) human affect, this object fits Daniel Pink’s description of design’s central role in the creation of objects that satisfy and stimulate both of our brains’ hemispheres; an object fit for our contemporary Conceptual Age.

Your kitchen offers further evidence of the new premium on design. We see it, of course, in those high-end kitchens with gleaming Sub-Zero refrigerators and gargantuan Viking ranges. But the phenomenon is most evident in the smaller, less expensive goods that populate the cabinets and countertops of the United States and Europe. Take the popularity of “cutensils”—kitchen utensils that have been given personality implants. Open the drawer in an American or European home and you’ll likely find a bottle opener that looks like a smiling cat, a spaghetti spoon that grins at you and the pasta, or a vegetable brush with googly eyes and spindly legs. Or just go shopping for a toaster. You’ll have a hard time finding a plain old model, because most of the choices these days are stylized, funky, fanciful, sleek, or some other adjective not commonly associated with small appliances.

Some pundits might write off these developments as mass manipulation by wily marketers or further proof that well-off Westerners are mesmerized by style over substance. But that view misreads economic reality and human aspiration. Ponder that humble toaster. The typical person uses a toaster at most 15 minutes per day. The remaining 1, 425 minutes of the day the toaster is on display. In other words, 1 percent of the toaster’s time is devoted to utility, while 99 percent is devoted to significance. Why shouldn’t it be beautiful, especially when you can buy a good looking one for less than forty bucks? Ralph Waldo Emerson said that if you built a better mousetrap, the world would beat a path to your door. But in an age of abundance, nobody will come knocking unless your better mousetrap also appeals to the right side of the brain.” –Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future

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