Reviews /

Atlas of Amazing Architecture: The most incredible buildings you’ve (probably) never heard of

Authored by Peter Allen
Illustrated by Peter Allen
Published by Cicada Books

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As someone who loves atlas books this had me hooked from the first word of the title! The cover illustration is also very inviting too with a taste of the colourful, often pastel, depictions of the architecture explored in this book. Throughout, there is an incredible collection of architecture in this book: fifty buildings throughout history from around the world and mostly ones I had never heard of. Each one has a double-page spread devoted to an illustration of the whole building with some extra illustrations either showing the context of the landscape it is set in – including people from the culture, country and time it was built in – or part of the inside of the building.

This is a book to pore and read over in one sitting or a period of time or to just dip in and out of, not necessarily chronologically, and so will appeal to different kinds of readers. It’s not often I use a bookmark for a non-fiction picture book, but this one I read over a few days as there is so much to learn and explore about each building. The design and layout work well. There is just enough information, with a clear sub-heading in bold under each building name telling you when and where it was built and small paragraphs of facts placed in relevant places on the illustration. They can be read like a narrative from left to right across the two pages or equally, each paragraph of information can be read as a standalone and more randomly to find out whatever interests you most.

In the contents page each building has the country it is in and the date it was built which makes this helpful when deciding what to read first. There is a detailed index at the back which helps the reader who likes to helicopter in on specific words. Some of these words are on more than one page so if for instance, you wanted to find out about buildings in Japan, you would see there are three buildings you can find out about. The glossary is also really helpful as there are a lot of words related to architecture so this gives a fuller understanding when you’re reading each double spread. The glossary is a fascinating read on its own to inspire any budding future architects out there too. My only wish when I was reading this book was that the words in the glossary were more clearly linked and had been highlighted in the context they are written.

The choice of buildings includes just enough familiar ones that children may know to draw the reader in and many that will be unfamiliar to satisfy the most curious and fact hungry readers. For instance, I found it fascinating finding out about the reasons for designs in airport architecture around the world that could lead on to finding out about other different airports not included. The hideaway buildings were really unusual ways of living and could lead to children designing and creating their own hideaways. The Shanxi Hanging Monastery in China was amazing to read about how it defies gravity by being built in the cliff 76m off the ground. I could go on but you get the picture, every page has something to surprise and interest.

There are pages that have more of a theme of buildings rather than dedicated to one building: new models of worship; new models for living; hideaways; architecture for world fairs and traditional Japanese architecture. Each of these pages alone and indeed the whole book could provide a stimulus and support many topics, subjects and discussions (buildings, design technology, art, history, different cultures and countries are just some that immediately spring to mind). This is a book that could be returned to by teachers in the primary classroom again and again. Reading it, I was also inspired to look up some of the buildings online and I couldn’t help myself comparing how the real photographs looked alongside the wonderful illustrations in the book.

I would say this book would suit KS2, more specifically years 4, 5 and 6 but it is also relevant to look at and read together with younger children too. It’s worth noting that there are words used throughout that are not building specific that could be words children may need help knowing their meanings and so for younger readers, the book would be best shared to help explain meanings. For example: commissioned, allegedly, congregants, fermented and desertification are some words used in the pages about Djinguereber Mosque in Timbuktu. The illustrations though, as well as making this a very engaging and inviting book, are also informative making it a wonderful book to explore visually.

Peter Allen has written and illustrated a book that is stunning. The number of buildings is so wide-ranging and diverse and with just the right amount of detail in the writing. I am sure there will be many, like me, who will revisit it time and time again and still find out something new and interesting.