Artist: Ugo Rondinone, “Seven Magic Mountain”, in the desert south of Las Vegas, Nevada, 30 to 35 feet high, 2016


In the last few years there has been a spate of articles noting the “plague of rock stacks” in the wilderness. Some conservationists have even asked hikers to stop building rock piles for ecological reasons (exposing the soil, disturbing insect and animal habitats) while some “stone balancers,”  such as Peter Juhl, are  concerned with the problem of  littering natural areas with stone stacking structure and instead advocate a “leave-non-trace approach in creating our temporary art.”

I have always been intrigued by the simple act of stacking. Why do young toddlers and artists and trail hikers and the builders of cairns and inukshuks have this desire in common?  Why do some of these builders consider their structures as permanent markers while others see them as structures to be knocked down and possibly re built again?  Why do some “builders” take pleasure in the design of stacked forms while others feel the need to represent something?

Stacking similar or unrelated forms implies designing with “loose parts” Early childhood educators have recently been reexamining and extoling the use of “loose parts”. Books, articles and numerous blogs show examples of children stacking, lining up and making complex constructions with multiples of material from the natural world and discards from industry.  The theory of “loose parts”, developed by Simon Nicholson in the late 1960’s, has become part of the early childhood education lexicon. Nicolson focused on the democratization of creativity, proposing that building and designing should not be left to the “elite” or the “gifted” but is a process that should be available to everybody.