Here’s a conundrum for overeager design-loving parents everywhere: How do you explain to a seven-year-old the wonders of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye or Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building? How do you make a pre-teen see the beauty of the built world, and the genius of the minds behind its design? Who Built That?, a series of books published this past fall, translates architectural history into a kid-friendly topic with cutesy drawings and simple descriptions of major works and personalities in the field.
Written and illustrated by Didier Cornille, professor of design and history at Ecole des Beaux-Arts du Mans in France, Who Built That? Skyscrapers and Who Built That? Modern Homes provide a friendly access point into the realm of architecture for the future Frank Lloyd Wrights or Louis Kahns of the world.
With whimsical illustrations and a smattering of design-related factoids–the Chrysler building is dotted with oversized car hubcaps!–the books are a cursory introduction to modern architecture, each covering a handful of the most innovative skyscrapers and modern homes built over the past century or so, as well as biographical sketches of their designers, including Louis Sullivan, Mies, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, and Shigeru Ban.
Though Le Corbusier’s use of reinforced concrete may not seem like the most appealing topic for children’s bedtime reading, Cormille’s light-hearted illustrations balance out the pedagogy of footnoted definitions for architectural jargon like “molding,” “facade,” and “curtain wall.”