a-small-lab by Chris Berthelsen. Focusing on research and practice in creativity. Based in Tokyo
email: chris@a-small-lab.com
twitter: @a_small_lab

Please view and download the final version of this pamphlet HERE

Understanding the Child-Scale in the City (1): Excerpts from Rainy Day Treasures (雨の日の宝物)

..."The acquisition and use of environmental knowledge are key aspects of a child's socialisation and experiential data of this is important; we can collect and interpret it with a measured confidence because we are human ourselves." REF

Report: A5, approx. 100pages. Semi Finished
This document that this excerpt is from is one story of the everyday treasures of a rainy day walk. It is part of a broader and slightly wonky research and practice agenda on the hand made, everyday creativity, play, and usable environments.

What is the child-scale? How can we begin to understand it? How can this experience inform building and design ideas and practice?

Play is intensely important. Start developing an idea of (non)designing for playing. The walk that this extract depicts brought forth ideas of grain/granularity of street surfaces (materials), balance and tracing (paths, curbs), humble events, routine/ritual, liquid (refreshment, ballistics, power)... for a start.

Contact chris@a-small-lab.com if you're interested in hearing more, discussing, chatting, collaborating,.....

Extract Start

"....The child looks up and says "Bow-wow" every time it sees a dog. It jumps up and down in its stroller, waving its arms: "Bow-wow! Bow-wow!" We who are older and wiser may feel somewhat exhausted by the child's enthusiasm. "All right, all right, it's a bow-wow," we say, unimpressed. "Please sit still." We are not enthralled. We have seen a dog before. Children are oblivious to the harsh light of alien reason illuminating the adult world; the logic of production that rejects the relevance of places it does not create. They carve out pockets of the hidden and familiar, furnishing their daily paths with acts and memories; dense, amplified detail; discontinuous islands of habitable space - all infused like orange sugar syrup with makeshift stories and accidents". REF

"....Play is a function of the imagination. Environments which disturb or reduce the role of imagination and make the child more passive, more the recipient of someone else's imagination, may look nice, may be clean, may be safe, maybe healthy, but just cannot satisfy the central necessities for play. Children are happiest when they can move things around - a delightfully messy occupation in which chaos is delightful and order is self-inscribed.
Understanding of the child-scale is vital in informing comprehensible environments in personal, private building, and resisting radical monopoly in Japanese 'urban planning' - particularly as public-private partnerships introduce more and more systemic contingency and self-interest into the heart of the place making (sic) (despite the immediate and discretely measureable increases in use and functional value). The world of private toys and asphalt playgrounds does not provide the proper setting for childrens lives."REF

Route / Treasure Mapping

Narrow routes, enclosed lines, safe and open parks. All provide fertile grounds for finding and examining treasure.

Granularity/Grain - Surface Materials

From grains of sand through to palm-sized rocks, grains are an important aspect of routes and resting spots. Smooth streets without a level of granularity may prevent scapes and knocks and dirty clothes but hold little interest for tiny hands, eyes and feet.

Humble Events

A compressed sense of time. A single memory out of frequent trips defines a well-travelled route.

"....Consider that humble events build up a strong sentiment for place but as adults we do not celebrate a routine. Habit dulls the sense of purpose and anxious struggle and thereby weakens it. The fleeting intimacies of direct experience and the true quality of a place often escape notice because the head is packed with shopworn ideas and the abstractions of charismatic planners, propagandists and media. It is only when we reflect on commonplace activities and drink of their rich experiential data that original intentional structures reemerge. Becoming an adult has come to mean the unlearning, forgetting or dulling of the child's knowledge that what is given is always made up and thus could be made different. So as adults among children, the least first step is to follow, appreciate, and stifle reflexive 'NO's.
Slow down. Stop and listen.
Places are in the pauses and children instinctively feel this and it is important. The pause makes it possible for a locality to become the center of felt value...." REF

Control / Camera's Eye

Everything becomes more interesting when holding a camera. Control, discovery, retention, magnification.

At child-camera level paths, berms, routes, gradients and plant life take on a richer, and more defined form. At child-scale the pathways open wide and flat, taking up a larger share of the field of vision.

New Meanings

Signage takes on new meanings based on the reading of images.

Water: Refreshment, Ballistics, Power.

Tracks, Balance

Tracing, balancing, jumping, falling, holding hands. Inconspicuous and functional aspects of the street provide opportunities for testing your abilities, physical closeness, danger and excitement.

Running. Safely. Without a stressed out parent.

Control, Routine, Compulsion

It is necessary to push the crossing button at every opportunity. A pause (places are made in the pauses). A routine, a ritual. Control over a fixed set of actions.

Undefined Objects

Almost all objects are undefined. Usage is not predetermined. A stone boulder for keeping out cars is a comfortable size and shape to conduct a detailed observation and note-taking.

Neighbourhood Friends

Regular yet unschedulable and unpredictable meetings take place. Anticipation, living creatures, a certain mystery.

Something New

A child-level slightly different objects are easy to spot. Inspection with all senses, dissection, display,

Memento/Treasure Review

Spectrum of granularity, texture, sheen and heft.


Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., Silverstein, M., Jacobson, M., Fiksdahl-King, I., and Angel, S. 1977. A Pattern Language, New York, Oxford University Press.

Certeau, M. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press, Berkley/Los Angeles/London.

Gaarder, J. 1994. Sophie's World. New York/Berkley Publishing Group.

Hurtwood, Lady Allen of, 1968, Planning for Play. London, Thames and Hudson.

Katz, C. 2004. Growing Up Global: Economic Restructuring and Children's Everyday Lives. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis/London.

Superstudio & The Moriyama Editors Studio. 1982. Superstudio & Radicals. Tokyo, Japan Interior Inc.

Tuan, Y. (1977). Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis/London.

You can get hi-res images and other images [on Flickr].