Over the past century, the Nordic region has become synonymous with simplicity and functionality in design. By February 2017, The Nordic House is hosting the exhibition “Century of the Child: Nordic Design for Children 1900 to Today”. The exhibition features nearly 200 objects that reflect both social and design changes during the 20th century, all revolving around children. This is the first time that this traveling exhibition is presented in Iceland.
I met the project manager Kristín Ingvarsdóttir for an inspiring tour of the showroom. Although the exhibition focuses on design for children, it is not designed just for children. Kristín emphasizes the fact that it is intended for people of all ages; it is a childhood flashback for the elderly and a time machine for the youngest visitors.
The story of a century
“One of the key factors in the exhibition is the underlying story of the changing role of children and ideas about children throughout the 20th century,” says Kristín. She explains that today, children are growing up with an unlimited ability to express themselves using modern technologies. “You just have to go back a few generations to find children working in factories and so on. She continues. “Even if the 20th century is not such a long period, the Nordic region has become a pioneer in the field of children’s rights and children’s culture.
The exhibit provides a historical overview of how we see children, how this has changed over the years, and how it can be seen in improved products for younger people. Advertising campaigns aimed at children who have lost their parents in wartime are on display. Another goal is the improvement of educational tools (books and illustrations, toys and environments) which have evolved to take more account of the sensitive nature, creativity and development of children.
Something for everyone
Step by step, I am drawn further into the exhibition of toys, literature, furniture, fashion, as well as architectural plans for schools and playgrounds. The amplitude of the works on display is wide and, as is particularly common in Nordic design, iconic.
Several characters arouse my interest. “Maximus Musicus is Iceland’s most famous musical mouse,” smiles Kristín. It’s easy to fall in love with Maximus, but there are a number of equally endearing exhibits, such as the Finnish “Father and Daughter Dance Shoes” and the Icelandic Krumma-Flow Play Sculptures, located outside the Nordic House.
Towards the end of my visit to the exhibition, Kristín introduces me to her curator, Guja Dögg Hauksdóttir. She is collaborating with the Nordic House to produce educational material designed both for the exhibition site and to provide schools with online exercises in the future. It’s a fascinating look at how design can illustrate children’s history and how it will evolve in the future.