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illustration by Mika Rane showing mermaids constructing an enclosed transparent curvaceous structure with a crane underwater.

A Book to Inspire the Next Generation of Designers

Kelli Stewart

I have an idea: Let’s celebrate Women’s History month by sharing stories with our girls about the trailblazing women we hope they will aspire to be like! And while we wait for more inspiring female architects and engineers to have their adventures colorfully illustrated, I’d like to introduce you to four designers.

illustration by Mika Rane showing mermaids and a scuba diver collaborating around a vision board to develop design plans

Clockwise from top left: Sedna, the structural engineer; Yemaya, the mechanical engineer; Kit, the project architect; and Coral, the landscape architect.

These fictional girls have come to life thanks to DLR Group’s Personal Development Grant, where I was given the opportunity of both time and resources to create a children’s book about the architectural design process. I wanted to do this because I think it’s important for kids to see themselves reflected in the heroes they read about, and there are so few opportunities for girls to see themselves as architect-heroes.

The book, Little Designers: Sea of Dreams, focuses on Kit, an aspiring young architect who embarks on an ambitious project to help an underwater community solve their problem of how to get a better night’s rest below a noisy pod of whales. She collaborates with a team of diverse designers and engineers who use their unique perspectives to create a successful project.

I’ll admit, the mermaid motif is a bait-and-switch to get kids, like my own 5-year-old girls who judge books by their covers, to engage with topics that might be unfamiliar to them.  I also wanted to infuse more magic into the building industry to generate some of the awe that astronauts get.

I started out with the idea to write a story about an architect who isn’t perfect and doesn’t know everything but is open to criticism and learning new things from her teammates.  The characters are intentionally different. Yemaya was inspired by a well-traveled mythological water spirit who originated in present-day Nigeria. Sedna is named after the goddess of the sea and marine animals in Inuit mythology. Coral has a mechanical tail, and Kit has legs. None of this diversity contributes to the conflict of the story or creates barriers between the characters. Diversity is the unsung hero and isn’t even recognized in the text. Even the word “mermaid” is irrelevant and never once used.

As an architect writing a children’s book, I can identify with Kit being a fish out of water – or rather the opposite. I found inspiration, support, and feedback through podcasts, professional editors, and a large swath of my DLR Group colleagues. It likely helped that I have an old degree in creative writing from before I pivoted to architecture. The grant provided funding for me to hire an Illustrator. Mika Rane was my first choice because I was already familiar with her work and thought her illustrations were as joyful as I hoped the story would be. We learned a lot from each other through our open-minded collaboration!

When Women’s history Month 2022 is over, and you find yourself thinking about the future, look for this book to help inspire the next generation of problem solvers. Profits will go towards a scholarship fund for female architecture students.

If you’d like to share Kit’s story with a special child in your life, you can purchase a copy online. 

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DLR Group Architect Kelli Stewart
Connect with me to start a conversation ➔ Kelli Stewart, Architect

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