So You Want to be an Architect?
Raising a little Le Corbusier? Here's how to nurture your tot's passion for building
Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius—it’s hard to imagine these fathers of modern architecture as little boys, with their geniuses yet unformed. However, every obsession starts somewhere, and as is often the case, it can be at a rather young age. “For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten tabletop ruled by lines about four inches apart each way making four-inch squares; and among other things, played upon these 'unit-lines' with the square, the circle, and the triangle,” Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in his autobiography about a set of Froebel blocks his mother had given him, adding, “All are in my fingers to this day.”
Building play tools have come a long way since Wright’s day, so if your son or daughter’s already mastered the basic geometric forms and is asking for more, why not try the Lego Falling Water kit? An elaborate version of the model, as well as one of the Empire State building and other iconic structures, is on display through September at the National Building Museum. The exhibit, “Lego Architecture: Towering Ambition,” was designed by Adam Reed Tucker, who wanted to pay tribute to a childhood interest common among both pros and students. “I remember being fascinated with Legos even through high school,” says Zachary Freding, who’s studying architecture at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
There are other brands too, like Duplo and K’Nex and the higher-end Magna-Tiles. Given the rise of digital design, you might as well add Trimble SketchUp (formerly Google SketchUp) to this list of tools. If your child’s highest architectural achievement to date has been reorganizing strands of spaghetti, perhaps virtual 3D modeling is still a ways off, but there’s still good, old-fashioned hand drawing. Freding, whose architect father always encouraged him to draw, used to fill large sheets of paper as a child. “It’s something that only gets more fun as you get better,” he says.
Finally, someone interested in buildings and design should see some buildings and design! Even the greats lean on those who came before them, and research—formal or otherwise—will help children develop their own creative process. And while a trip to see great American architecture might hold less appeal than one to Great America for most kids, some day yours, like Wright, might look back fondly and gratefully on his or her introduction to the architectural world. —Kate Guadagnino