I was still buzzing from my eBay discovery of Mario dal Fabbro's How to Make Children's Furniture... a couple of weeks back when I came across James Hennessey and Victor Papanek's 1973-4 Nomadic Furniture books. They were part of a self-conscious "youth-culture" movement that sought to change the world through, non-commercial, eco-friendly, self-sufficient, global-scale nomadicism.
What with all that free love and stuff, kids were an inevitable part of the equation.
Eric Hunting has a picture of a young family on the porch of their "first generation microhouse," built using DIY techniques from the nomad guru Ken Isaacs. And while I wait for my copy of Nomadic Furniture to arrive, I couldn't resist a trip to the library when I saw they had Nomadic Furniture 2 on the shelf.
Sure enough, there's a 14-or so page section on Children, Babies & Small Kids that includes spreads on used tire playgrounds and scary-looking swinging contraptions. I scanned in a couple of pages, including Hennessey and Papanek's "manifesto" for little hippies that reads in part:
Parents are a real sucker-market [Grandparents are even worse], easy prey to the manufacturers and their snake-oil brigade from Madison Avenue...Like adults, babies and small children can make do with a lot less [and should: the average American baby consumes 54 times as many products as, say, a child in China.][ah, the old "there are children not shopping in China" trick -ed,]As befits a section on page 95 of a sequel, the kids' projects generally assume a healthy tool fluency, but they're still pretty cool: there are plans for knock-together modernist plywood furniture reminiscent of Thomas Maitz's Max in the Box and Offi's Sled Desk. There's a reversible crib [left] that's brilliant--alas, no plans--even if the spindles are too far apart for contemporary safety regs. [And while we're on the topic of safety, did they really think back then that using lead pipe for a children's storage unit wasn't harmful? Definitely caveat fabricator there.]
Anyway, this blurb for a little photoset on flickr has turned into a wannabe magazine article, so apologies. The real takeaway, though--and it's a lesson I'm learning over and over--seems to be that a lot of what I [we?] consider to be our own generation's baby/parent-related thinking and innovation has actually been thought up and acted upon by previous generations--including our own parents' generations.
And yet, for whatever reasons, the mechanisms and media to communicate that continuity fail to do so. Not only do we constantly think we're inventing the parenting wheel. but we think we're inventing the road. And in reality, we're just going in circles. But maybe that's the point.