November 20, 2017

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From Ziggurats to Skyscrapers | What We Build and How We Live

What and how we build and the structures with which we surround ourselves are an important part of the human experience. These life-shaping choices are informed by our essential physical needs as well as a region’s geography, natural resources, and cultural preferences. An examination of buildings and architecture provides a wealth of opportunities for exploring various cross-curricular topics including art, science, environmental studies, history, and cultural studies.

Students can use the handsome titles featured here to study the development of architectural trends and technologies through the centuries and around the world. They can chose a particular structure or architect to research, compare and contrast entries about them in the various volumes, and expand their inquiries to include additional books and online sources. Segues into basic physics lessons and engineering concepts and hands-on projects can help youngsters investigate the mechanical principles and structural underpinnings of architecture.

Whether inspiring kids to admire the lovely symmetry of a Renaissance villa, marvel at the utility and simple engineering of a collapsible yurt, think about the impact of an eco-friendly building plan, or learn how skyscrapers counteract wind sway, all of these book encourage students to draw conclusions about the relationship between how we live and the buildings we create.

 

Spectacular Overviews

iglooFrom simple shelters to modern marvels of engineering, Adrian Buckley and David Jenkins’s An Igloo on the Moon (Circa, 2015; Gr 4-8) provides an informative and inviting overview of why and how human beings build. Double-page entries pair concise and insightful text with eye-grabbing collages of photos, antique reproductions, and graphics to artfully evoke the essence of each edifice.

Consistently representing diverse cultures, sections focus on early structures (log cabins, the beehive-shaped iQukwane of the Zulu people, adobe houses, etc.); and buildings that employ traditional climate-control methods (including an evaporative cooling system utilized in Greek and Roman houses; the sliding shōji screens of Japanese homes, and ancient Persia’s windcatcher vents). Also examined are groundbreaking structural forms (the Parthenon, Chartres Cathedral, Sydney Opera House, etc.); underground dwellings (such as Jordan’s Petra, the 12th-century sunken churches of Ethiopia’s Lalibela, and modern-day metro stations); bridges (spanning from an Inca rope bridge to France’s high-rising Millau Viaduct); and the tallest structures (from renderings of the Tower of Babel to Dubai’s sky-soaring Burj Khalifa). “Visions of the Future” (e.g., energy-efficient “farmscrapers,” floating cities, and lunar dwellings) are also considered. Thought-provoking words and images work together to introduce the features of the spotlighted structures and to signify its geographical location, adaptations to the environment, cultural foundations, and place in history.

PigeonsAnother visually enchanting look at buildings is approached from the perspective of an airborne aficionado. Architecture According to Pigeons (Phaidon, 2013; Gr 3-6), ostensibly narrated by the Speck Lee Tailfeather, offers a bird’s-eye-view of renowned structures around the globe (while simultaneously trying to improve relations between “our two species”). Large-size illustrations in warm hues occupy most of each spread, and the breezy text includes interesting facts (the Eiffel Tower was used as a radio communications tower during the first World War) along with unique observations (Rome’s Colosseum looks like “a fancy wedding cake, albeit one that’s been attached by a hungry child”) and amusing avian acumen (explaining that the Sydney Opera House was completed without architect Jorn Utzon, Speck opines, a “…shame but there you go—some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue”).

Each structure is labeled with both a human and pigeon name (for example, Venice is dubbed “The Watery Warren” and the Great Wall of China is called “The Great Worm”), and a selection of bridges and towers gets a quick mention. Speck leaves his audience with the empowering message that “buildings are there for you to use and look at, and what you think about them is important” (and the hope that they will wink at the next pigeon they see).

story of buildingsPatrick Dillon’s clearly written text and Stephen Biesty’s mesmerizing mixed-media drawings combine to tell The Story of Buildings (Candlewick, 2014; Gr 5 Up), every one of which, “no matter how large or small, carries the dreams of the people who made it.” The first section provides a broad look at how building materials, techniques, and technologies have evolved through the centuries. Next, chronologically arranged sections describe a variety of remarkable structures, beginning with ancient Egypt’s Pyramid of Djoser and spanning to the modern day. The narrative introduces the time period, region, and building process, while in most cases, a second spread (often augmented with a fold-out page) provides a precisely detailed schematic-style illustration of the construction complete with carefully labeled cross sections, cutaways, and close-ups.

The engaging visuals allow readers to feel as though they are stepping into each of these architectural wonders. Included are the Parthenon, Turkey’s Hagia Sophia, Notre Dame, the Taj Mahal, London’s mid-19th century Crystal Palace, New York City’s Chrysler Building, the Sydney Opera House, and more. Individual architects (e.g., Imhotep, Andrea Palladio, and Frank Lloyd Wright) are occasionally highlighted, as are engineering advances (arches and domes) and artistic design concepts (symmetry). The final entry, London’s Straw Bale House (2001), circles back to the book’s defining theme, describing how two architects designed an eco-friendly home that tells a story about “thinking before you build, about learning how to make homes that don’t damage the earth.” Inspirational advice for next-generation creators.

why on earthPacked with full-color photos, John Zukowsky’s fun-to-thumb-through guidebook to extraordinary and unusual-looking structures answers the question, Why on Earth Would Anyone Build That? (Prestel, 2015; Gr 5 Up). Two-page entries consisting of photos, informative text, and fact-packed sidebars offer quick looks at 100 examples of modern architecture erected in the last 70 years.

Thematic groupings add insight to the presentation. Chapters focus on buildings with bold and eye-obvious geometric designs, those influenced by the technological developments of the Space Age, “unconventional and bizarre” designs that reflect iconic clients and pop culture elements, astounding skyscrapers, and modern buildings that pay “Homage to the Past.” As the introduction explains, these “[o]utlandish, innovative, controversial, or simply unexpected” structures are all one of a kind and push the boundaries of architectural conventions.

13 archFrom Italian Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) and his breathtaking Dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence to Baghdad-born Zaha Hadid (1950-) and her stunning and surprising deconstructivist structures, Florian Heine introduces 13 Architects Children Should Know (Prestel, 2014; Gr 4-8). The chronologically arranged entries provide an interesting overview of architectural and technological innovations through the centuries and illuminate how one generation influenced the next (a timeline running across the upper margin allows readers to track each individual’s birth and death, stylistic periods, constructions, and major historical events).

Utilizing an invitingly open layout, chapters combine lively text with large photos of finished works, close-up details, and sketches and design plans. A slew of fascinating and well-chosen tidbits are interwoven throughout, bringing these individuals, their times, and their accomplishments to life: Christopher Wren, part of a team tasked with reconstructing a fire-decimated 17th-century London by King Charles II, was one of the few architects who lived to see a cathedral (St. Paul’s) completed; Balthasar Neuman, onetime bell and gun maker, is immortalized in a ceiling fresco in the stairwell of the Würzburg Palace he designed in the 18th-century; Canadian Frank Gehry (Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain) “achieved something that no other architect before him had managed to do: he made a guest appearance on The Simpsons to show how he designed his buildings!”

There’s No Place Like Home

take shelterIn Take Shelter: At Home around the World (Orca, 2014; Gr 3-6), Nikki Tate and Dani Tate-Stratton focus on structures that are perhaps a little closer to the heart. Spirited text and full-color photos traverse the globe, diverse cultures, and even the centuries to explore the many different types of abodes.

The first chapter digs into underground dwellings, from Stone Age caves to the still-occupied and fully modernized cave houses of Kandovan, Iran, and other homes that take advantage of earth as natural insulator. A look at moveable shelters includes Mongolian yurts, tipis used by Native Americans on the Great Plains, the vardos of the Europe’s Romany people, and onetime vehicles (e.g., a Boeing 727) that have been repurposed into abodes. The next chapter introduces buildings made of natural materials, ranging from traditional huts and cob houses to modern, artist-built homes and those specially adapted to particular environments (igloos, stilt houses, etc.). Finally, a section on “Innovation” proves that the sky’s the limit, covering technological advancements as well as designs used for extreme conditions (facilities in Antarctica, the International Space Station, etc.).

The authors raise awareness of housing instability issues by including mention of homeless people in Las Vegas who have transformed storm drain tunnels into living quarters, a shipping container made into a shelter in British Columbia, and small-size Dumpster houses built for those in need of shelter in Oakland, California. This thematically organized book encourages readers to identify commonalities shared by an array of dissimilar domiciles worldwide and apply their conclusions to their own living situations and ideas about what it is that makes a house a home.

Stupendous Structures

who built thatDidier Cornille’s Who Built That? Skyscrapers (Princeton Architectural Pr., 2014; Gr 3-7) introduces eight soaring structures and their creators, beginning with Gustave Eiffel and his 1889 iron masterpiece and culminating with Adrian Devaun Smith, architect of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest tower in the world. In this elegantly designed book, concise, almost caption-like text supports precisely detailed pen-and-ink drawings that clearly depict structural concepts while also conveying each building’s unique splendor.

Illustrations portraying the construction process, cut-away images, close-ups, and interiors add to readers’ understanding of and appreciation for these engineering marvels. Also included are William Van Alen and his early 20th-century race to outstrip New York’s Empire State Building with his art deco Chrysler Building; Malaysian-born Ken Yeang and his Menara Mesiniaga (near Kuala Lumpur), an intriguing 206-foot tall bioclimatic tower with planted balconies and sun-shading louvers; and the work of Frenchman Jean Nouvel (creator of Barcelona’s water-geyser shaped Torre Agbar), whose distinctively envisioned designs find “inspiration in a place, history, or culture.”

skycrapers2Looking for a hands-on approach for your students? From the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia to Burj Khalifa, Donna Latham provides clearly presented information about the design, engineering, and history of Skyscrapers (Nomad, 2013; Gr 3-7). Accessible chapters covering engineering basics, important physics concepts establish a knowledge foundation and helps readers understand the challenges involved with building tall. The 25 “Built It Yourself” activities encourage an exploration of the ideas presented in the text, utilize solid scientific methods and emphasize trial and error, and provide opportunity to make STEM connections in the classroom. Students can build an anemometer to measure wind speed and explore wind load, compare how different natural materials used for foundations react under varying conditions, or design and construct (and most likely re-design and construct) a freestanding skyscraper from spaghetti and mini-marshmallows strong enough to support a hard-boiled egg.

in the forbidden cityChiu Kwong-chiu and Ben Wang invite readers to become tourists In the Forbidden City (Tuttle, 2014; Gr 4-8), a complex completed in 1420 in Beijing that served as focal point of China’s imperial empire from the Ming dynasty to the fall of the Qing dynasty (1912). Intricately detailed illustrations presented on handsome spreads (several with multi-paged foldouts) depict the buildings and grounds, while the text elucidates architectural details, highlights historical events, and relates the stories of the people who once lived there. Tourist-thronged exteriors give an idea of the huge scope of the sprawling premises, while cut-away views provide glimpses of interiors and historical personages. Dialogue balloons, careful labeling, and logically arranged visuals help to clearly convey a large amount of information. An included magnifying glass will help readers get a closer look at each painstakingly rendered decorative element, accurately costumed historical figure, and vividly drawn sightseer (and search for the cat that appears in every spread).

inside biosphereMary Kay Carson and Tom Uhlman take youngsters Inside Biosphere 2 (HMH, 2015; Gr 5-8), an iconic structure originally completed in 1991 as part of an experiment to create an enclosed, self-sustaining ecological system that could support long-term human survival, now used as a center for scientific study. Nestled in the Arizona desert, the 3.14-acre sealed glass complex was designed to mimic Earth’s environment with five miniature wilderness biomes—ocean, savannah, wetland, desert, and rain forest.

The first chapter briefly describes the construction and design of the facility, the experiences of the eight scientists who lived inside for two years, and the mixed results of the experiment, but the bulk of the book focuses on the research that is currently being conducted in Biosphere 2. With its closed ecosystems and ability to manipulate environmental conditions (temperature, rainfall, etc.), the structure serves as “a bridge between a laboratory and the real world,” and the place “where scientists study how our living planet is changing.”

From a biogeochemist investigating how rain forests handle climate change to the complex’s sustainability coordinator who researches green technologies that conserve energy and water in Biosphere 2 and beyond, the work of various researchers is vividly described and expanded to real-world applications. The structure itself plays an essential role in these investigations, drawing a connection between architecture and science as well as underscoring the importance of environmental issues in the future of sustainable architecture and ecological design.

Curriculum Connections

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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