3D UNIT VI: Modules

Project VIC

Toy Block Sculpture


studio fundamentals: To understand and experiment with the elements and principles of "modularity, "repetition," and "rhythm" in the construction of three-dimensional form.

concepts: To explore how sculptural form is often a matter of how "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts." To explore the pluses and minuses of "modularity" and "manufacturing." To consider the needs of the user.

technical: To introduce methods for creating identical parts from unique prototypes using such devices as molds, templates, and jigs. To explore different materials and methods for attaching and/or connecting multiple parts.


Project Overview Your challenge is to create a unique system of no less than 12 identical building blocks from which you will create a free-standing "modular" toy block sculpture.

Project References


Carl Andre, Le Corbusier, Wharton Esherick, Dan Flavin, Frederich Froebel, Buckminster Fuller, Sol Lewitt, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Lucy Orta, Moshe Safdie, Charles Simonds, Kenneth Snelson, Tony Smith, Tassimo and Lella Vignelli, Modular toys, lego brickbuilder
Vocabulary module, modular, repetition, rhythm, gestalt, template, jig, piece mold, vacu-form, prototype, manufacture, free-standing,



Required materials: Materials for final sculpture depends on your design. Styrofoam blocks a possibility but degrade quickly. Wood holds up for kids and is safe but hard to replicate multiple elements. Metal hard to work but durable. Plastic forms using vacu-form allow for ease of replication. Ceramic or plaster heavy but easy to create multiples. For more organic feel, use materials such as cloth and sewing materials. Consider alternative methods of attachment--e.g., velcro, zippers, snaps. Final project cannot be glued together--the attachment system must be part of the design.


1. Before coming to class read the discussion Technology for Unit VI in the Concepts section of the 3D matrix. Review the Project References above.

2. Try out the Lego Brickbuilder link.


a) In thinking about "building blocks", consider your own childhood...or that of others. What did you enjoy? What have you learned in observing kids at play?

b) Make some initial "thumbnail sketches" of what you feel would be good building blocks for kids. Identify some key features that a system of identical building blocks must share in order to construct fully 3D structures. What materials, colors, supplemental surface markings, weights, types of connectors, are appropriate? There is no particular age requirement, so think about who your ideal user may be.

c) Research existing modular building systems for kids on the web. These may include things like Lincoln logs, Legos, and a host of other products.

d) Include short descriptions of your own toys and several existing toy building systems in your notebook. What is the relationship of the design of the individual toy building blocks--the modules--and the structures one could build? Were certain designs more appropriate for certain ages of kids?

e) Use foam or plasticine clay or other easily workable material to explore some initial ideas for your design. Keep your designs simple...and try a lot of different variations. The complexity of the final sculpture will come more from the combination of the individual parts--less from the complexity of the individual module.

f) Part of the challenge of the project is to translate your initial ideas using a method for easily replicating the object in another material. For example, a wooden "prototype" may be used to manufacture a dozen "modules" using the vacu-form machine. Jigs--custom designed holding devices--could be used to easily saw identical shapes on the band saw. Plaster molds could be used to mass produce a dozen identical objects in clay, plastic, or other castable materials.

g) You will quickly discover that the flexibility of your module is only as good as its connectors. Will your system allow for building fully 3D objects...or will it only allow for links (like traincars on a track) or 2D structures (like flat puzzle pieces)? Your goal should be to develop a system that is fully 3D.

h) Using your initial research, your thumbnail sketches, and your finished sculpture as resources, write a page that discusses your ideas and the final project. Put this page into your notebook.

i) If feasible, document how kids (whatever the age!) interact with your building blocks. Include this in your notebook.

Critique Ideas


When you have completed your sculpture, pair up with another artist and trade critiques. Consider the following:

1. Describe the techniques used to create the sculptures and explain how various aspects of the problem were addressed such as material choice, the flexibility of the module, the method of creating multiples, etc.

2. How does this system compare with other similar building systems?

3. Discuss ideas the artwork seems to communicate. After some sharing of interpretations, attempt to describe the effect of the work in one sentence. (This artwork is about...)



Your notebook should include the following:

1. Evidence of your research (print-outs from magazines, web searches, interviews with kids, teachers, young parents, etc.).

2. Your design process (documentation of original object, method used to translate the prototype into multiples, drawings, computer-printouts, photos, etc).

3. Supplemental materials (receipts, notes about technique or materials)

4. Documentation of the final work and, if possible, kids using your building blocks.

The above project was developed by Dan Collins.

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