Co.Design

Whimsical Illustrations Of Famous Buildings, From Fallingwater To The Farnsworth House

Informational illustrations educate the design-clueless and double as beautiful art prints and postcards.

To get non-designers to give a damn about the difference between Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright, Michie Cao, an interaction design grad student at New York City’s School of Visual Arts, created Archigrams, minimalist illustrations of 10 of modern architecture’s most famous buildings.

Walter Gropius’s Gropius House, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and Philip Johnson’s Glass House make the cut, of course. What's nice is the cool, limited color palette of blue, mint, black, and gray, and the fact that Cao's Archigrams are available in collectible postcard and poster form. They're not just meant to be pretty: On the back of each print are details about that building.

"As boring as it sounds, my inspiration for the project started from flashcards," Cao tells Co.Design. As an undergraduate architecture student at UCLA, Cao had to memorize the names and architects of the world’s most famous buildings, along with the dates they were built and their historical significance. "I made a bunch of paper and digital flashcards to help me study for my exams, but since they were all text-based, it was always a huge struggle to connect the building name to what it actually looked like," she says. "That was when I first thought it would be great to pair simple images of the buildings with the information."

Years later, obsessed with the work of contemporary architects like Thom Mayne, Rem Koolhaas, Tadao Ando and SANAA, Cao started drawing whimsical illustrations of her favorite buildings for a graphic design class. When her non-architect friends kept asking about what these buildings were and why they were so special, Cao realized there was an opportunity to share her expertise. "I turned them into beautiful flashcards of sorts that everyone can learn from," she says.

Even for Cao, the world of architecture can seem intimidating and impenetrable at times. "My goal is to make architecture and all its history more accessible to everyone, regardless of whether they have an architectural background or not," Cao says. "There are so many cool things I’ve learned over the years about modern architecture, but they’re not commonly known or covered in a way that’s easily digestible." With Archigrams, she aims to change that; she's also eager for them to double as sweet posters for building-nerd bedrooms.

Archigrams are available on Kickstarter.

[Illustrations by Michie Cao]

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