Book Review: The Future Architect's Tool Kit

The Future Architect's Tool Kit by Barbara Beck, published by Schiffer, 2016. Hardcover, 48 pages. (Amazon)

This "tool kit" geared to children ages 8 to 12 is a companion to architect Barbara Back's earlier The Future Architect's Handbook. Although I don't have that book, it appears that Beck builds upon the basics outlined in that book and includes materials for doing hands-on exercises. Specifically those materials are (as seen above) a pencil, a pad of gridded paper, a scale, and an eraser. The Handbook presented drawings of a house by fictional architect Aaron, and in turn the Tool Kit enables kids to design their own house.

Chapter one of the 48-page Tool Kit book is a review of the drawing conventions (plans, sections, elevations) described in the previous book; depending on how well a child grasps the idea, he or she might not even need the Handbook. From there Beck guides the "future architects" through the design of a house, from the site to bubble diagrams to programming to drawing plans and sections, to even building a model (spread above). Everything is basic, but that is fine. The book is not aiming for the next Robie House; instead it tries to give kids an understanding of representation and spatial thinking, and it does a good job in doing so.

That said, I must admit that there are challenges to the conventional ways of designing and representing buildings that Beck presents, particularly in regards to preteens. My eight-year-old daughter was none too excited to tackle designing a house following Beck's book, but I was blown away by the creations she made in Minecraft, which she was more than happy to play around with. That game, in which players shape environments by stacking various types of blocks, benefits from many things, especially it being first-person. That means users see the spaces they create as they create them. There is no translation from idea to 2D drawing to 3D model and beyond. (No wonder Bjarke Ingels contends that "architecture should be more like Minecraft.") With today's digital natives more comfortable with 3D graphics than pencils and paper, maybe it's time for Beck (or somebody else) to develop a digital tool kit for this generation of future architects.