Reading time: Q&A with Lora Teagarden, author of The Little Architect's Alphabet
by Laura Minca, 2nd April 2021
With the challenges of the pandemic impacting so many dimensions of our lives, what better time to stimulate and discuss spatial awareness with your child? The Little Architect's Alphabet takes a fun yet educational approach to learning letters while introducing our little ones to design and architecture concepts early on.
Before I tell you more about the book I have in front of me, you should first know something about the creator and illustrator behind it.
A graduate of Ball State University and currently working as a project architect for Indianapolis-based architectural firm RATIO, Lora is also the owner of her business - L2 Desing, LLC. In 2017, she was the recipient of the AIA Young Architects Award, which celebrates individuals who have made notable contributions to the profession early on in their careers and recently, she has been included on Architizer's 2021 list of '100 Women to Watch in Architecture'.
Her ongoing advocacy to help prevent and solve future issues that the profession could face, began to take shape when she first joined the AIA in 2014. She’s been a valuable, active member ever since and currently, Lora is continuing to further her mission as an At Large Representative for the AIA National Strategic Council.
Making specialized information accessible to all and helping children understand and reflect on the environment surrounding them are topics that the book's author is incredibly passionate about.
The more I learn, it always made sense for me to pass on the information as opposed to holding on to it. We should be making it easier for other people to succeed.
The Little Architect's Alphabet is a beautiful production that will introduce the young, absorbent mind of your little one to an entirely new vocabulary.
The twenty-six double spreads consist of a graphic representation of the letter and keyword on one side and, on the other, detailed examples of its variety of uses or theme-related words. It is this layered complexity that allows the reader to choose the 'depth' of her/his reading experience and grasp information gradually as they grow with the book.
We find out that while the letter 'B' stands for 'brick', bricks come in many types - solid, king, cored, utility- and can be arranged in a variety of ways - running, common, english, stack, dutch or flemish. According to the author,
The sooner we can get these concepts in front of children, the sooner we can get them to realize they can think about the world around them. A four-year-old might experience this book totally different than a nine-year-old. That's when the conversation gets interesting.
In the Q&A below, Lora delves deeper into what inspired her to create an alphabet book, the creative process behind it and what we as architects can learn from the fresh, uninhibited curiosity of children.
So get ready to be inspired and see the world around you through a new set of eyes.
Have you grabbed your copy yet?
LM: What were your favourite books as a child?
LT: My mom says it was anything I could get my hands on. My dad says I was able to recite books back to him at an early age. I think likely things that broadened my understanding of the world or made my brain work: mysteries, thrillers, etc were books I remember being drawn to in grade school.
LM: Were you into children's books at all before you started this?
LT: Only in the sense that I’ve always loved reading. Before my grandfather’s death, I actually was able to record him reading two books from my and my sister’s childhood so that we have those memories for our own children.
LM: Why an alphabet book?
LT: My sister became pregnant with her first child in 2018 - and he turned 2 in the month that the alphabet book published. From the moment I knew I was going to be “Auntie LT”, I knew I wanted to get him books and toys that helped him see the world in new ways and think about the big, beautiful life around him. I already knew how to publish books from my experience with the ARE Sketches series, so I thought I would write a book for him. The alphabet seemed like a good entry point for a topic, and would be one of the first things he would start to understand as he grew. What better than to teach him the alphabet of architecture and design?
LM: How did you know your idea will make a good book?
LT: I may be biased, but it seems that the world of architecture and design is ripe for interpretation for kids books. And architects and designers want their kids or kids they know to think about the world around them - or at least I do! My take was - if 50 kids who wouldn’t have previously been introduced to the topic at a young age would now start thinking about the designs of the life around them, then that’s a success.
LM: When did your interest in illustration start, and what was the creative process for this book?
LT: My parents say that I was always most at ease drawing or exploring outside - and that my drawings always trended towards buildings as compared to flowers or pets. Obviously, through architecture, that interest has grown and morphed over time. The ARE Sketches gave me a head start on creating and defining my illustration style, so I naturally transitioned that to The Little Architect’s Alphabet. The process was similar, too: create an outline of the idea, layout pages in the Paper app on my iPad, and get to work! I then import all of that into InDesign and clean it up and send it off for publication.
LM: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything especially surprising or fascinating?
LT: I definitely had to research and get creative with some of the letters - z for example becomes a shape instead of a word. I was also re-introduced to concepts from university - like quatrefoil or quoin. I see them in the built world and know what they are, but had forgotten their specific term. I guess that’s much like the hope for kids as they read the book and take in the different concepts. A friend told me that her 8-year-old daughter recently pointed at an extension on the top of a building when they were driving to the grocery store and said, “Mom, is that a cupola?” That’s fantastic!
LM: What were you most nervous about when publishing this book?
LT: It’s always a bit nerve-wracking putting something out into the world that you’ve worked so hard on, especially when it’s on a topic that’s near and dear to your heart. I think that my biggest concern was the understanding that this isn’t like your average illustrated children’s book. It’s not a story, it’s not cover-to-cover color, it doesn’t rhyme - though I considered that at one point. It’s the alphabet, with intentionally simplified architecture ideas. And that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
LM: You are also the author of ARE Sketches: A Visual Study Guide to the Architect Registration Exams. How did writing a children's book differ from writing a book for adults?
LT: In some ways it was very similar - the point is to simplify an idea for easy recall. For the adult, it’s so that they can pass a test and become licensed. For the alphabet book, it’s so that a kid (and their parent) easily understand more about the world around them. The main difference came in the level of the concept and the word comprehension. When talking about concrete - you can talk about cure rates and chemical reactions and strength proportions to an adult with a background in architecture. But for a kid, you just want them to understand the material, what it’s called, and how it’s made. It’s a scale of understanding.
LM: What can non-architect parents hope to learn from this book? What conversations do you hope it could spark with their children?
LT: The cupola example above is a good one. I think it might also make the parent aware of their surroundings and make for fun exploration walks in your neighborhoods - or in new cities when we’re allowed to travel again. Anything that gets us all thinking about the world we share together is a good thing, in my opinion.
LM: The idea of the book is to blend the learning of the alphabet with design concepts in a way that children will enjoy. How important was it for you to have the educational elements in there? Was there a certain balance between fun and education that you were aiming to achieve?
LT: I really wanted to give kids a foundational idea about what architects do and the built world around them. I also wanted there to be themes and design concepts that become easy to follow, and design ideas that would grow with them as they grow. Learning isn’t a stagnant thing - and I wanted to show how architecture could grow with them in this process.
LM: Why, in your opinion, is it essential to introduce children to design early?
LT: So many kids grow up not knowing what an architect is, let alone the variety of things we do. If we can get kids thinking about architecture and design at an early age, they become better little citizens of their community and also might start realizing that they can be an architect, too! Breaking down the “you can’t be what you can’t see” barrier is huge for children - and I want them to realize that they can already think like architects do just by looking around and asking questions.
LM: The key to promoting spatial awareness in children is to allow them to explore their surroundings. How do you think this idea was impacted by the pandemic, and how can parents continue to explore this topic while we are so bound to home and our immediate locality?
LT: I think the neighborhood walks are a good example. We are bound to a smaller area these days, but we are also moving at a much slower pace because of it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed new things in my own neighborhood on walks with my dogs, just because I was present and moving slower than if I had driven out of the neighborhood en route to somewhere else. The world around us is always changing, even right outside our door.
You get untainted, sometimes fantastical, ideas when you ask kids questions. But they’re only fantastical (for the most part) because we’ve boxed our brains into a reality of what is “most likely”.
LM: Your book is written for children from an architect's perspective. What do you think we can learn from children as designers?
LT: So much! The minds of kiddos are unbounded by the idea of rules and social norms and the general bureaucracy that goes into traditional architecture and design. You get untainted, sometimes fantastical, ideas when you ask kids questions. But they’re only fantastical (for the most part) because we’ve boxed our brains into a reality of what is “most likely”. These kids are our future, and if they say they want to build a building totally of glass or have bubbles for roofs, who are we to stop them? The important thing is that they’re thinking about our world and we’re right there beside them, helping guide their way and feed their creativity until it’s time to turn over the reins and see what great world they create.
Grab your copy of The Little Architect's Alphabet here.