The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale

Bullies Can Be Defeated

Line drawing of cartoon wolf blowing at a pig's house of bricks
The Three Little Pigs Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). Photo by Culture Club / Hulton Archive / Getty Images (cropped)

"Once upon a time, there were three little pigs who lived in a big house in the forest," writes author and illustrator Steven Guarnaccia. But these aren't the pigs you may remember from your childhood. In The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale, author Guarnaccia has recreated the classic trio as architects. After drawing numerous sketches and renderings, Guarnaccia's pigs build modernist masterpieces.

Can we learn architecture from pigs? Steven Guarnaccia, who is chair of the illustration program at Parsons The New School for Design, might say, "Why not?"

Moral of the Story:

Just as in the original fairy tale, Guarnaccia's pigs must outwit a big bad wolf who keeps huffing, puffing, and blowing their houses down. First the wolf demolishes a house made of scraps—the Gehry House by architect Frank Gehry is illustrated. Then the wolf destroys a house made of glass, specifically  Philip Johnson's Glass House. Finally the architect-pigs find safety in a house made of stone and concrete—naturally, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater represents the best design.

Now you might wonder how it is that Fallingwater, with its legendary structural problems, proved stronger than houses by Gehry and Johnson. Is the author telling us that Wright's vision is more enduring? That modernist architecture is flawed?

Never mind. Guarnaccia's The Three Little Pigs is meant for children. A search for deeper meanings would spoil the fun. Maybe.

And this book is fun! Guarnaccia's cartoon-like illustrations are engaging and the antics of the three pigs are amusing and inspiring. The moral—as in the original fairy tale—is that bullies can be defeated if you are clever and hardworking.

Popular Designs in The Three Little Pigs:

The best part of this architectural tale is, of course, the artwork. The architect-pigs draft plans for many buildings before they construct their own homes. Pour over the pages and try to identify the buildings. See if you can find any designed by women—but brace yourself for disappointment on that point. Then, find the answers on the endpapers.

Guarnaccia's architect-pigs also furnish their homes with chairs and products from the world's great designers. Identify them if you can, then find the answers on more endpapers.

Buildings Illustrated:

Products and Furnishings Illustrated:

  • Marine D'Abord Rug, 1927, by Eileen Gray
  • Juicy Salif Juicer, 1990, by Philippe Starck
  • Cantilever Side Chair, 1926, by Mart Stam
  • Berlin Chair, 1923, by Gerrit Rietveld
  • Hardoy Chair, 1938, by Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy
  • First Chair, 1983, by Michele de Lucchi
  • Le Corbusier Armchair, 1902, by Thonet
  • Wiggle Side Chair, 1972, by Frank Gehry
  • Lampadina Lamp, 1972, by Achille Castiglioni
  • Arizona Rug, 1984, by Nathalie du Pasquier
  • Tulip Dining Table, 1956, by Eero Saarinen
  • Hollywood Vase, 1958, by Ettore Sottsass
  • Radio Nurse, 1937, by Isamu Noguchi
  • La Conica Espresso Pot, 1984, by Aldo Rossi
  • Voxan GTV 1200, 2008, by Philippe Starck
  • Dymaxion Car, 1934, by Buckminster Fuller

The Bottom Line:

Relax and stop looking for deep meanings, although your toddler eventually will have to cope with the huffing and puffing winds. Nevertheless, read this book aloud to your preschooler, giggle over the delightful drawings, and let your child discover that architecture can be lots of fun.

The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale by Steven Guarnaccia, 2010
Buy on Amazon

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.