15 of the Best Coloring Books and Pop-Up Books About Architecture

These Great Activity Books Aren't Just for Kids

full-sized red, blue, and yellow cardboard house in a neighborhood
Brightly Colored Full-Sized Cardboard House. Photo by Paul Taylor/Stone Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Small children have long known the joys of coloring and pop-up books, but are they just for kindergarteners? Older children and even adults will enjoy these fun and fascinating activity books related to architecture and architects. Illustrations are accompanied by informative text so kids (or grownups) can learn while they color. Just unfold the pages or pull the tabs and flat pictures turn into three-dimensional forms. With detailed artwork and complex "paper engineering," some are designed for older, more sophisticated readers. Here are our favorite coloring books and pop-up books for readers of all ages.

First, get the adults and older kids hooked on the calming task of coloring. Coloring books for adults are much more detailed than books for children, and therein lies the hook — coloring every detail is mesmerizing and gives a stressed-out soul the feeling of self-control. Canadian-born Steve McDonald leads the pack in giving us the outlines of wonderful places to take over. Also check out

Fantastic Structures: A Coloring Book of Amazing Buildings Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald
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Architectural Art: A Stress Management Coloring Book For Adults by Marti Jo's Coloring
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Subtitled "A Unique, Three-Dimensional Tour of Architecture Over the Centuries, What Architects Do, How They Do It, and the Great Buildings they have Given Us Around the World," this playful and educational book is just too good to give to the kids. Included are detailed paper models of famous buildings like the Roman Colosseum, transparencies that show the transformation of cities over time, and commentary on architectural history.

Subtitled a built environment coloring book, Julie Cowan's book exemplifies a new kind of coloring book. Unlike all of the other items on this page, the illustrations in Coloring Architecture are vague representations. They are inexact and lack detail and definitive lined shape. Cowan attempts to encourage coloring outside the lines, less like stained glass and more like the watercolors of someone like architect Steve Holl.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a marketing genius and his work lives on in a number of coloring books of different complexities. Frank Lloyd Wright Art Glass Coloring Book is an unusual coloring book to be used in many ways. Some people use the designs as quilt patterns. Others, including architects, adapt the designs to their own window decorations. This is not an ordinary coloring book, because the paper you color is translucent, allowing the page to be cut out and actually used elsewhere. Not all designs could be adapted to this method — you couldn't do this with an entire house — but it works well for stained-glass-like uses. And when your preschooler does the coloring, the results are priceless.

Wright's work is the top of at least two versions of pop-up architecture.  The architect's important and famous designs are all here, often depicted along with photographs and original plans and drawings. These are excellent introductions to America's famous architect.

Frank Lloyd Wright in Pop-Up by Roland Lewis
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Frank Lloyd Wright in Pop-Up Iain Thomson
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Illustrator Bruce LaFontaine has many books to his name, but a favorite is the Dover History Coloring Book of Famous Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright. He includes over 40 designs from the 20th century iconic architect, including Unity Temple, Robie House, and the Guggenheim Museum.
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Professor Masahiro Chatani is credited with popularizing origamic architecture, which is more akin to architectural model-making than a passive pop-up book. Chatani's 1985 book gives you a chance to get your fingers into the building.

This 2009 pop-up by Anton Radevsky is a nifty introduction to the art of building. From Egyptian pyramids and Greek classics to Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry, Radevsky's 2009 book ends up being a survey course of world architecture — in your face.

 

Learn about forty different styles of American homes from 1600 to the present, ranging from adobe pueblos to modern solar homes. This informative and detailed coloring book from illustrator A. G. Smith includes a short history of each architectural style. Other books by the prolific illustrator include Historic Houses Of New England, Historic Houses of New York State, Victorian Houses, Old-Fashioned Farm Life Coloring Book: Nineteenth Century Activities on the Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village, Gargoyles and Medieval Monsters Coloring Book, The Medieval Castle, and Art Nouveau Windows Stained Glass Coloring Book — all available on Amazon.com.

People continue to be enthralled with the architecture of Antoni Gaudí, and this book is a great, colorful introduction to the modernist's works. Author Courtney Watson McCarthy has put together an interesting collection, mostly presenting a more theatrical staged look rather than eye-popping architectural detail. Nevertheless, paper architecture is graphic and scenic, and this book does the job.

 

No one illustrator has the market locked up for Victorian interests. For years the market has been flooded with coloring books that focus on Victorian-era fashions and houses and pop-up books that turn into Victorian-era dollhouses.

Victorian Dolls House by Phil Wilson is one of the few hardcover versions of a pop-up dollhouse.
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The Victorian House Coloring Book is an ideal choice for teenagers or adults who are fascinated by Victorian architecture and interior decor. With text by Kristin Helberg, illustrator Daniel Lewis takes us inside and out great homes from the late 1800s.
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The architecture of Frank Gehry is already entertaining, but this hard-cover pop-up book promises hours of fun. In 48 pages, eight Frank Gehry buildings are featured, including his famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.


Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Gehry is everywhere in the publishing world. Pair a pop-up with any other like-minded Frank Gehry book.

A 2008 effort by the Bulgarian engineer Anton Radevsky and architectural writer David Sokol, this lush and hefty book has three-dimensional replicas of famous buildings from modern times including the Eiffel Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, and London's "Gherkin" skyscraper.

 

With the Sydney Opera House on the cover, this book reveals the third dimension of the world's most spectacular architecture. The pop-ups have received mixed reviews, but you won't be disappointed with the architecture, including the Taj Mahal, Neuschwanstein Castle, and the Empire State Building.

 

What's a Harvard educated, Park Avenue practicing Fellow of the American Institute of Architects doing making a popup book? Unlike all other architects, Wendy Evans Joseph has chosen to present her portfolio as a playful hands-on experience. Hardcover, 16 pages, Melcher, Media, 2009.

 

Pueblo and wigwam structures in this Dover History Coloring Book can be used to teach children similarities and differences between architectural styles of the past and the present. Like the Frank Lloyd Wright book above, this coloring books is by illustrator Bruce LaFontaine.

Author-illustrator Jennie Maizels is no stranger to the pop-up world. Her 2012 Pop-Up London book is geared toward the same grade school audience as this 2014 New York City book. Make no mistake — this book is NOT about New York State, but about New York CITY, including 21st century architecture like One World Trade Center, the High Line, and the 9/11 Memorial. Both children and adults will delight in an earlier (1999) book, The New York Pop-Up Book, published in a more innocent time before 9/11.