Giles Laroche, If You Lived Here: Houses of the World (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)
“How did he make that?” is not the question I expected my six year-old test reader to ask about the image of a French chateau in If You Lived Here. I had been prepared to talk about regional architecture and building materials, but my daughter clearly envisioned her bedtime reading being adjourned for an adventure with scissors and paper. Giles Laroche refers to his distinctive working method as “paper relief.” For each of the illustrations, Laroche creates a delicate world of cut paper, then separates the layers with spacers to add the illusion of depth. The result is intriguing and enchanting, and a wonderful introduction to architecture for young readers. An engaging large-font narrative explains the subject at hand, with supplemental information for more advanced readers added in a smaller font.
If You Lived Here depicts fifteen different housing types, beginning with an American log cabin and ending with a tree house. The examples are drawn primarily from the Western world, but also include Ndebele decorated houses and a Fujian Toulou. Notably, Laroche resists the temptation to create associations between ideas about permanence and home as an architectural form. The portable yurt, trailer and houseboat all make appearances towards the end of the book. The paper-relief illustrations, rather than serving as a distraction from the subject of architecture, teach an important lesson about representation. As they examine Laroche’s miniature worlds, young readers will naturally wonder about the role of the artist in presenting factual material to an audience. The images of If You Lived Here bring to life the challenges – and the pleasures – of translating three-dimensional objects into two-dimensional forms. It is this seamless blending of lessons about both architecture and representation which make Laroche’s book a classic in the making.