Playing Architecture – the City in Play



The exhibition Playing Architecture – the City in Play, explores the messages embedded in analog and digital games through the lens of architecture.

Generally, we know games to be entertaining and challenging, but in truth they can also carry restrictive or stigmatising messages. Playing Architecture is curated by Mélanie van der Hoorn, a cultural anthropologist, and designed by Dafne Wiegers (AHH), architect. The exhibition invites you to play, wonder and critically reflect on the nature and role of architecture games, with a wide array of Amsterdam-related examples.

The exhibition will be on display at Arcam from December 10 until May 28, 2023.

Many of us can recall several classic architecture-related games: from building blocks that can be stacked into domineering skyscrapers, to digital bestsellers like SimCity and Cities: Skylines, or board games that encourage us to mercilessly sweep players off the board for a share in the real estate market. Games reflect the contemporary society and the built environments we live in. Newer dollhouses have solar panels and containers for separated waste. City-building games confront us with rising sea levels or housing shortage strikes. What are the narratives portrayed in such games? How does the digital world shape city development? How can architects use games in their own design practice? These are some of the questions, which arise when looking at contemporary games.

Games are a powerful form of cultural transmission. Games depict a scaled-down version of the world we live in, as such they can be motivating, orderly, fun and meaningful. Architectural games capture the materials, construction methods, housing design, and ideals of the times in which they were created. Some are even created specifically for design practice. By focusing on a particular design or social dilemma, games have the power to reveal previously unaddressed topics and thus provide insight into complex realities through play. Such “expert oriented” games can bring stakeholders and urban planners with diverse views and agendas into conversation, and sometimes even help solve real problems.

This tight relation to society, means that traditionally games often portrayed oppressive or stigmatizing messages: dollhouses are often rooted in old-fashioned gender ideals, whilst city-building games commonly rely on rigid urban planning models and narrowminded urban idylls. Meanwhile, in video games, the choices and biases of game developers are hidden in cryptic algorithms.

Playing Architecture – the City in Play is an exhibition created not only for observing but also for experiencing. It aims to makes us more aware of the positive and negative messages and representations inherent to architectural games. To reveal these messages the exhibition invites us to play the games ourselves, stimulating reflection, discussion and playfulness.

A number of examples specifically focuses on Amsterdam: What are the different images of Amsterdam in games? What urgent issues appear in them: real estate speculation, poverty, ecological living? What are the messages of socially concious games and artworks that reflect critically on issues in the real estate world? What are the latest city innovations and what do they hint at?

Let’s play and discover the answers to some of these questions together at Arcam from December 10, 2022 to May 28, 2023.

About Mélanie van der Hoorn
Cultural anthropologist, author, exhibition curator

Mélanie van der Hoorn (b. 1975), curator of the exhibition Playing Architecture is a Cultural Anthropologist with a specialization in Material Culture. She works as an independent researcher, writer, teacher and curator. Her focus is on the perception, appreciation, presentation and communication of architecture, particularly through comics, films and games.

She published a (book) trilogy on this subject at nai010 in Rotterdam: ‘Bricks & Balloons: Architecture in Comic-Strip Form’ (2012), ‘Spots in Shots: Narrating the Built Environment in Short Films’ (2018) and ‘Serious Fun: Architecture & Games’ (2022). The third book served as the inspiration for the exhibition Playing Architecture – Het Spel om de Stad.

About Dafne Wiegers
Architect/Partner AHH

Dafne Wiegers, architect and partner at Amsterdam-based architecture firm AHH, designed the exhibition Playing Architecture – the City in Play.

Since her graduation project ‘Home of Legends’, Dafne has been intrigued by the question of what can architects learn from digital games. After all, digital games are intertwined with the developments in a digital world; they are constantly innovating and adapting. What will our physical habitat look like as the digital reality grows in its influence?

Digital games offer us endless possibilities of envisioning our world, which means they can serve as inspiration for architects to adapt to digitalization. Imagine, navigating your way through ever-changing worlds. What can happen if people can individually define the space surrounding them themselves or when the world you are moving through is not what it seems? Dafne explored some of these questions in her architectural practice for public, gaming , educational facilities, and in when teaching master’s students at the Academy of Architecture. Playing Architecture is the first design for an exhibition that addresses the added value of virtual games for architecture: creating spaces with the fascinating properties of games.


With support from  Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, Gemeente Amsterdam, Team Liquid, AHH, Van Eesteren-Fluck & Van Lohuizen Stichting, Sipkema Beheer, all sponsors of Arcam.

Website by HOAX Amsterdam