Ladislav Sutnar: Build the Town building block set (1943)
21/02/11 – Ladislav Sutnar began designing toys while a student at the School of Applied Arts in Prague in the early 1920s. His use of simple geometric shapes and bright colours resonated with children as well as adults. His designs, though rooted in the rich heritage of Czechoslovak folk art, helped bring toy design into the 20th century.
His toys depicted modern everyday objects (cars, trains, factories) and were carefully designed to allow for mass automated or conveyor-belt production. As early as 1921, Sutnar’s toys began gaining wide acclaim, winning numerous awards and touring in international shows.
During the early 1920s he began work on a building block set called Modular City (Skládací město) for the Artěl Association. The design would win him a prize at the Toys exhibition held by the Prague Museum of Applied Arts in 1924. Between 1926 and 1929, he further developed his ideas and created more prototypes, including a building block set entitled Factory Town (Tovární město) this time winning significant recognition both in Czechoslovakia and abroad.
Through the 1930s, Sutnar looked beyond toy design and held positions in several notable applied arts and cultural organizations. He also worked on a great number of collaborative and solo projects ranging from book design and typography, to industrial and exhibition design. It was not until the early 1940s that he would once again return to his building block designs.
After traveling to the United States to help setup the Czechoslovak pavilion for the 1939 New York World’s Fair and subsequently being stranded due to the outbreak of war, he developed what would be the final iteration of his building block designs. He called it Build the Town. In an effort to see the set produced, he created designs for packaging, instructions and promotional artwork and, after unsuccessfully securing a manufacturer, himself commissioned the production of fifty sets.
Prototypes of Build the Town, as well as promotional material and working sketches, now reside in the collections of several major museums including the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, MOMA and the National Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague.
Sources and more information
- Andel, J. et al. Ladislav Sutnar: Prague – New York – design in action, Prague: Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague & Argo Publishers, 2003.
- Images of Build the Town from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art//
- Build the town images courtesy of Daddytypes on Flickr//
- Build the Town Flickr set//