The people you meet when you immerse yourself in design for kids—the practitioners who dedicate themselves to this uniquely challenging and generally unglamorous area—tend to be experts. Exuberant, experimental, extraordinary. Two of them are also Exleys.
Architect Peter J. Exley (FAIA) and educator Sharon Exley (MAAE, Associate ASID) founded the award-winning Chicago-based firm Architecture Is Fun in 1994 to focus on the design of innovative, accessible, and meaningful environments for learning and play. Their projects span architecture, interior design, and exhibition design; they facilitate interpretive experiences, creating places for the kind of collaboration and participation that they recognize as indispensable for growth and creative development.
Over the past 18 years this small, feisty firm has designed more than a hundred interactive environments for children and families, many community and nonprofit based, including the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo in Chicago, the Ronald McDonald House in Oak Lawn, IL, the Evanston Public Library Children’s Library and Teen Loft, The Stinking Truth About Garbage exhibition at the Chicago Children’s Museum, the Kids on the Fly installation at O’Hare International Airport, and the Latin School of Chicago.
About six years ago, a symposium questioning conventional museum display and education approaches started the ball rolling on Architecture Is Fun’s most recently completed project: the new Young at Art Children’s Museum in Davie, Florida. Challenging and knitting together archetypal models of art museum and children’s museum, this art museum for children features 22,000 square feet of exhibition space that fosters understanding of art history while also encouraging art-making, problem-solving, critical thinking, even independent curation. The video and slideshow below represent the core galleries of this exemplary environment (titled ArtScapes, CultureScapes, NatureScapes, and WonderScapes). The museum opened in May, less than three months before the opening of Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900—2000, and is a contemporary representation of open-ended play, creative innovation, and children’s agency—themes that are at the core of our exhibition.
Photos courtesy Architecture Is Fun (© Doug Snower and Emma Exley). Video courtesy Renso Gomez • Video Time Productions
For more information check out the Exleys’ book Design for Kids (2007).