Earlier this week I posted a number of fantastic biographies of world-famous architects.
Today I’ve got some books walking us through the story of architecture itself, the how, why, when, where of building rather than the who.
First up, this striking book for a wide age span:
An Igloo on the Moon: Exploring Architecture, illustrated by Adrian Buckley, written by David Jenkins
published in 2015 by Circa Press
Adrian Buckley’s immensely attractive collages dominate the pages of this book, pulling us in with arresting images at every turn.
They are accompanied by brief notes by architect David Jenkins, each studded with fascinating bits of information, written with graceful ease, and just long enough to make us want to know more. Not overwhelming, yet absolutely no talking down to his audience.
The arrangement of the book, the ways in which Buckley and Jenkins grouped and categorized structures, is innovative and refreshing. Rather than a chronological approach, they’ve chosen a more functional approach — How have people built to protect themselves from heat or cold? What kinds of structures are built underground? There are sections on bridges, and buildings that soar, and a final, fascinating chapter envisioning the future. I very much appreciated the breadth –geographically, culturally, and historically — included in their overview.
Aimed at ages 9-12, this could easily be dabbled in with younger children and would interest any curious adult as well! I thoroughly enjoyed it.
For a much more narrative story of architecture, you might try:
The Story of Buildings, written by Patrick Dillon, illustrated by Stephen Biesty
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press
I had several reactions to this book, mostly positive, with one caveat.
First the positive. Architect/historian Patrick Dillon has written a much lengthier, narrative journey through the history of architecture, from the pyramids straight through to the Pompidou Center and a glimpse of green architecture. For those of you who love a narrative approach to history, that leisurely story-telling style that relaxes into a colorful tale, you will love this. It’s the polar opposite, for example, of the DK and Usborne type books which have a big spread with factoids sprinkled about the page. If you’re looking for that quick, just-the-facts approach, this book is not for you.
Instead, Dillon’s immense love of history rings through clearly as he makes historic stops along this long journey. We don’t just learn about the pyramids. In fact, books specific to pyramids will give you much more information on the technical aspects of their construction. Instead Dillon describes Egyptian life, introducing priests and pharaohs to show us their motivations for building these monuments. He sets the Parthenon in its place among the gods and goddesses of the ancient Greeks, explains the religious passions involved in constructing the Hagia Sophia, the awe-inspiring purposes of the Forbidden City, the rule-breaking rationale of the Bauhaus school in Germany.
What you get here is the story of humankind encapsulated in our buildings, the story of scientific and mathematical progress, of human ambition or vanity or reverence, of philosophical ideas about perfection, beauty, modernity, human society. Each building tells a story for those who know how to read the special language of architecture, and Dillon translates them for us. You will not look at buildings the same way after walking through history with him.
At each stop, Stephen Biesty’s brilliant cut-away illustrations unfold to reveal the intricacies of the noted example — Notre Dame, Villa Rotunda, the Crystal Palace. Text and illustration are geared to ages 7-12.
My caveat here is the book’s heavily Western bent. There are mentions of other cultures, especially Asian, but the undercurrent and assumptions of the narrative are for me, uncomfortably Western, and even middle-class Western. For example, in the introductory chapter which describes the advent and progress of humankind’s homes, the text only mentions staving off cold and rain, ignoring the vast bulk of earth’s population who deal with overwhelming heat. The author assumes his readers live in comfortable, Western-style housing, addressing them in ways that erase homeless children, refugees, and billions around the globe when he says things like, “Wherever you live, you probably have heat to keep you warm in winter, a bathroom with faucets that gush hot and cold water, and electric lights so you can read at night. It’s a lot better than growing up in a cave.” Ouch. If I had read this with my children, their upbringing in an impoverished town in West Africa would have immediately made them feel a bit outside of this assumed experience and the assumptions would have seemed errant. For many Western children, though, this narrative reinforces a sadly cocooned view of the world. This is most prominent in the introductory chapter. I liked the book as a whole so much that I am recommending it, but would suggest talking with children about the ethnocentrism inherent in the account.
For much younger children, try:
A Book of Bridges: Here to There and Me to You, written by Cheryl Keely, illustrated by Celia Krampien
published in 2017 by Sleeping Bear Press
This is a picture book, simply recounting the many kinds of bridges, all with one purpose: to bring people together, to bridge the gaps between us.
A wide variety are included — covered bridges, drawbridges, wildlife bridges, vine bridges — along with some famous examples such as the Brooklyn and London bridges. Bold, digital illustrations dominate the pages. Brief additional explanations on each page can be read to older listeners, making the book suitable for ages 2 to 8.
For older, more invested children or adults, try this series from Princeton Architectural Press:
Who Built That?: Skyscrapers, written and illustrated by Didier Cornille
published in 2014 by Princeton Architectural Press
Who Built That?: Bridges (published in 2016)
Who Built That?: Modern Houses (published in 2014)
These sophisticated, elegant guides are organized by architect and focus on one preeminent design for each: Eiffel’s tower. William Van Alen’s Chrysler Building. Adrian Devaun Smith’s Burj Khalifa.
Fine, architectural-style drawings set in a large amount of white space give the pages a distinctly technical, precise tone as key elements of the design are succinctly stated.
Arranged chronologically, eight skyscrapers are examined. Bridges includes ten bridges, from the first cast-iron bridge in 1779 to the Mucem Footbridge completed in 2013 in Marseille. Modern Houses spans the years 1924 to 2002 and includes the Eames House, the Farnsworth House and the Straw Bale House designed by Sarah Wigglesworth and Jeremy Till which also makes an appearance in Dillon’s history.
Stylish and intriguing. I’d suggest ages 10 and up.
In closing, here are links to my reviews of more fabulous buildings-and-bridges books in the Marmalade Archives:
21 Elephants and Still Standing
Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction
(Macaulay has other excellent titles in this series as well including Mosque and Castle)
If You Lived Here: Houses of the World
Take Shelter: At Home Around the World
Tree Houses: Fairy Castles in the Air
The Village of Round and Square Houses
I have a feeling these sorts of books will enthrall my son when he’s a few years older! And this topic reminds me of a book I saw in Her Right Foot’s recommended reading list at the back — must remember to check the library for it (for me, definitely above the 2 (almost 3!) year old level 🙂
Seeking New York: The Stories Behind the Historic Architecture of Manhattan–One Building at a Time by Tom Miller
That book looks fascinating, Christine. I love how children’s lit can be a gateway for us adult readers to venture off in new directions ourselves!
So many great books. Thank you!
They open my eyes to SEE so many bits and pieces of the world!