My paper “Utopian play: The ‘Dandanah’ glass building blocks by Bruno Taut” was presented in the 39th annual meeting of the International Committee for the History of Technology (ICOHTEC), Barcelona, 10–14 July 2012.
My participation in the conference was supported by an ICOHTEC travel grant.
Here is the abstract:
“Technical” (or “Construction”) toys originate from the world of construction and machinery; they are inspired by the architectural and technological environment and developed on the basis of the opportunities these environments afford for play. The paper responds to the ICOHTEC conference call by drawing from research into the collection of technical toys at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, where the author spent some time as a scholar in residence (September-December 2011).
The paper focuses in particular on a rare and idiosyncratic as well as exciting object from the Deutsches Museum’s depot: the “Dandanah” set of building blocks, designed around 1920 by the architect Bruno Taut. “Dandanah” consists of 62 coloured blocks made of glass, a material that was considered by Taut and others to be a metaphor for purity, innocence and hope; glass technology itself was often presented as a potential agent of change in construction and architecture.
The analysis of the object and its sociocultural context reveals a complex picture that expands well beyond childhood and play; it is thus expected to contribute to a multi-layered and nuanced history of the interaction between technology and interwar modernism.