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Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay

November 13, 2004 - May 30, 2005

 

Big Ideas! Looking at Architecture with David Macaulay

 

David Macaulay's appreciation for grand structures began as a boy growing up in England, where castles, cathedrals, and other historic structures were destinations for family outings. Later, as an architecture student at the Rhode Island School of Design, he acquired an understanding of how buildings actually take shape and became interested in their cultural significance.
 
"Being trained as an architect does two things for me," the artist has said. "It gives me the confidence to believe I can tackle and solve any problem I can conceive of and stay interested in. It also gives me a very methodical way of breaking down complicated concepts and systems into manageable pieces. Once I understand the pieces, I can then concentrate my efforts on putting them back together in a way that makes them clearer to me and my readers."
 
The evolution of large-scale structures and their influence upon their communities has been a central theme in David Macaulay's work for more than three decades. Years in the making, his masterful architectural books are the result of a process of intensive research, distant travel, and on-site study that brings buildings to life. Simply recording all of the details is not enough for the artist, who believes that illustration is a process of selection separating that which needs to be seen from all that can be seen.
 
 
David Macaulay
Gargoyles 1972
Studies for Cathedral
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Cathedral was David Macaulay's first published book and an immediate success. But telling a fictional tale about the construction of the most beautiful cathedral in all of France was not his initial idea. He was more interested in the mischievous creatures that peered out from such structures, and wanted to create a picture book about "a gargoyle beauty pageant."
 
Macaulay's idea was met with mild amusement, but his study of a cathedral caught editor Walter Lorraine's eye. "Why not tell the story of the building instead?" he suggested. So the gargoyles went into seclusion and the artist went back to the drawing board.
 
 
David Macaulay
Studies for Cathedral 1972
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
David Macaulay
Sketchbook 1973
Studies for Cathedral
Mixed media on paper
Collection of the artist
 
While visiting a cathedral in Amiens, France as reference for his book, David Macaulay worked in this sketchbook, which contains drawings and a handwritten draft of his manuscript. "The process was slow," he reflected, "but eventually the words grew into sentences and the sentences clustered into paragraphs. It took me three nights." A week later he was back home typing his story, which went through several revisions.
 
 
David Macaulay
Soon the Wood and StoneBegan to Arrive at the City's Port 1973
Illustration for Cathedral
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
The Gothic cathedral is one of humanity's most magnificent expressions, and is among the most daunting of architectural achievements. Built to the glory of God, each cathedral took many years to complete and was built by the ingenuity, skill and hard work of generations of people ­ some of whom did not live long enough to enjoy the fruit of their labor.
 
David Macaulay revels in the intricacy and beauty of these structures in his richly illustrated book, which allows us to witness the planning and construction of a thirteenth century Gothic cathedral in the imaginary French town of Chutreaux. In his fictional narrative, townspeople decide to build a new cathedral after a lightning strike damages their existing church. His images and text introduce us to craftsmen, allow us to examine their tools, study their plans, and observe their progress page by page. In this intricate pen and ink drawing, wood from Scandinavia and stone from the quarry begin to arrive at Chutreaux's port for transport to the building site.
 
 
David Macaulay
When the Foundation was Complete, Work Began on the Walls 1973
Illustration for Cathedral
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In order to learn more about Gothic cathedrals, David Macaulay began a series of studies inspired by a building cross-section from an old textbook. The more he drew, the more comfortable he felt creating and moving around in his imaginary building site. After a month spent researching in the library, he had much information to work with. The artist next traveled to Amiens, France for a first-hand experience, where he drew, wrote and photographed on location.
 
In this illustration, the cathedral's massive columns cast long shadows, and an intricate scaffolding system enables workers to place one piece of cut stone at a time. The scale of the structure as compared with the size of the laborers emphasizes the monumental nature of the project.
 
 
David Macaulay
In Novemberthe Finished Stonework was Covered with Straw and Dung 1973
Illustration for Cathedral
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Through his research, the artist learned that in the winter, finished stonework was covered with straw and dung to prevent the frost from cracking the mortar before it had dried. Most of the masons went home for the season, as mortar work cannot be done in cold weather. However, other work continued, as seen in this drawing. Temporary workshops were built against the building to house stonecutters, who could no longer work outside.
 
 
David Macaulay
By 1331 the Carpenters and the Roofers had Completed Work on the Spire 1973
Illustration for Cathedral
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
This vibrant drawing of the cathedral's soaring spire set against the rooftops in the distance emphasizes the structures enormous height, and the danger inherent in the building process. Note that the artist has patched and redrawn a section at the top of the spire, and cut out archway sections to allow brightness to come through. These adjustments are not visible in the published work.
 
 
David Macaulay
Huge Colored Banners Were Hung From the Triforium 1973
Illustration for Cathedral
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Amazingly, the drawings for Cathedral were among David Macaulay's first serious attempts at working with pen and ink. In this piece, he places us among the townspeople in attendance at a service that takes place more than eighty-six years after construction was begun.
 
 
David Macaulay
The People of Chutreaux had Constructed theMost Beautiful Cathedral in all of France 1973
Illustration for Cathedral
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
The powerful final image in the book, this drawing of the cathedral surrounded by the walled village of Chutreaux was begun and completed during the artist's trip to Amiens, France. Created in a modest hotel room with India ink and a nib pen, it highlights beautifully the presence and importance of this breathtaking structure in its time.
 
 
David Macaulay
Both The Amphitheater and the Theater were Finished 1974
Illustration for City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Masters of the art of city planning, the ancient Romans were methodical in their work. A city's size and population were determined before construction began so ample space could be allowed for homes, shops, public squares, arenas and temples. Roads, bridges, water, drainage and sewer systems were plotted carefully to ensure efficiency.
 
David Macaulay's City brings a fictional Roman city called Verbonia to life. With graphic and narrative clarity, his images and text illustrate how exciting new cities were designed and built for the people who would inhabit them. Inspired by extensive research and the artist's love of Rome, this look back on history offers meaningful perspectives within the context of city planning today. This dramatic, birds-eye view of Verbona in 75 A.D. depicts the completed amphitheater and theater, which were celebrated with a festival that lasted twenty-five days.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Pharoah's Eternal Home was Finished 1975
Illustration for Pyramid
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Majestic man-made structures, the great pyramids are towering remnants of ancient Egyptian culture. Tombs for the privileged, these massive stone structures served as a resting place for the bodies, souls, and possessions of Egyptian pharaohs who had entered the eternal afterlife.
 
In Pyramid, David Macaulay employs his knowledge of architecture and gifts as a storyteller to explain the step-by-step construction of an imaginary pyramid. Based upon extensive research conducted in the Egyptian Department at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and in Egypt ­ where he took his first camel ride and scaled the Great Pyramid ­ the book also explores the Egyptian philosophy of life and death, and why pyramids came to be. Seen here in completed form except for the ramp leading to the temple in the foreground, which would be removed after the internment of the mummified body, this fictitious pyramid is made up of two million blocks of stone. Between 2700 and 2200 BC, royal tombs were surrounded by a complex of temples and smaller tombs, which are included in the artist's depiction.
 
 
David Macaulay
It Could Hardly be More Amazing than the Real Underground 1976
Illustration for Underground
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In Underground, David Macaulay takes readers on a visual journey through the complex and immense root system that exists beneath the buildings and busy streets of a modern city. We venture beneath the surface at the intersection of two fictitious streets, where we are treated to a rare glimpse of the web of walls, columns, cables, pipes and tunnels required to satisfy the basic needs of an urban population.
 
With hard hat on head and sketchbook in hand, David Macaulay climbed down manholes, explored subway tunnels, visited building sites, interviewed utility workers and surveyed city plans in major American cities to gain first-hand knowledge of his subject. In this final image of the book, a city street's surface has been stripped away to reveal a vast hidden complex, which goes unnoticed by passers-by. A ladder rising above a manhole cover, seen on the left side of the artist's composition, is one of the few surface clues to that remind us of the world underground.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Drawbridge Connected the Castle to the Stone Ramp 1977
Illustration for Castle
Ink on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In the 13th century, when England attempted to conquer Wales, the English built impressive fortresses with adjoining towns in strategic locations throughout the land. David Macaulay's Castle traces the planning and construction one such fictional structure, based upon the appearance of several existing castles that were designed to aid in the conquest of Wales between 1277 and 1305.
 
Castles have intrigued David Macaulay ever since he was a child. As a boy growing up in England, his family often vacationed in Wales, where historic sites inspired and captivated him. In preparation for this book, he traveled through England, France and Wales to rediscover these amazing structures, which he sketched and photographed before choosing the castle that appears in his images. In this panoramic pen and ink drawing, we get a sweeping view of the complex, bordered by interlocking walls, ramps and drawbridges that helped keep intruders out.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Structure Was to be Taken Down Floor By Floor in the Reverse Order
in Which it had Been Built 1980
Illustration for Unbuilding
Ink on paper
Collection of the Artist
 
By the end of the 1920s, the island of Manhattan was the undisputed skyscraper capital of the world. Since the turn of the twentieth century, its buildings had been forced upward because of the high cost of land and the desire for as much floor space as possible in an increasingly crowded city. In 1931 when it was completed, the Empire State Building was the loftiest skyscraper in the world.
 
Growing up in England, David Macaulay read about the Empire State Building in his illustrated Encyclopedia of Science. It towered over the New York skyline in one of the pictures, seeming to hover above the ground. While traveling to America by boat at the age of eleven, he awaited its appearance on the horizon. When the U.S.S. United States finally entered the Hudson River, he found the building to be less grand than he had imagined, but it continued to hold a fascination for him. Unbuilding is an imaginative, meticulously researched account of the floor-by-floor deconstruction of this iconic structure, which offers an exciting new perspective on the most characteristic form of American architecture.
 
 
David Macaulay
Malone Took Particular Delight in the Mill's Mansard Roof 1983
Illustration for Mill
Ink and marker on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In Mill, David Macaulay's buildings are imaginary but their planning, construction, and operation are typical of those developed in New England throughout the nineteenth century. Built at twenty-year intervals, the four mills highlighted in his book reflect the evolution of architecture, power production, and the relationship between management and labor over time.
 
As a boy in industrial northern England, David Macaulay became familiar with mills, or manufactories, as they were originally known. His father was skilled at repairing and improving upon complex textile machinery in Great Britain and the United States, and the artist occasionally had the opportunity to watch him at work. The sights, sounds, and smells of machine-filled buildings left a lasting impression and served as an inspiration for this book. Once operating at full throttle, the many empty mills in New England cities and towns made him wonder what they might have been like in their heyday. The building under construction in this image is an 1870 cotton mill that would contain seven hundred fifty looms run by one enormous steam engine. The artist provides us with interior and exterior views that allow us to see the sprinkler pipe installation as well as the decorative elements of the facade.
 
 
David Macaulay
Masons Built an Arch Over Every Window and Door Opening 2003
Illustration for Mosque
Ink, pencil and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
For David Macaulay, beautiful buildings represent what people at their best are capable of creating. In Mosque, he returns to the subject of sacred architectural spaces thirty years after the publication of his acclaimed book, Cathedral.
 
The artist first considered writing and illustrating a book about the building of a mosque in the 1970s, but other projects took precedence. After September 11, 2001, he returned to the subject in earnest, hoping to create a book that "might actually be needed" in the wake of the tragedy. The book, which offers an in-depth look at the construction of a fictional sixteenth century Ottoman mosque, was also intended to reflect upon people's similarities rather than their differences. In this drawing, scaffolding supports work platforms as the mosque's walls rise higher and higher.
 
David Macaulay
By Autumn, the Seven Bays of the Portico were Beginning to Take Shape 2003
Illustration for Mosque
Ink and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
David Macaulay appreciates architecture for its ability to provide insights into the lives and cultures of people throughout the world. When researching Mosque, the most challenging aspect of his work was, "as usual, my lack of familiarity with the subject. This never stops me, of course. In fact, I think it actually drives me." As a non-Muslim, he was sensitive to both the content of his questions and the way in which he was asking them during meetings with experts in both Istanbul and the United States. The portico being built here was meant to give latecomers to Friday services an appropriate place to pray.
 
 
David Macaulay
Each Bay of the Portico Would Support a Dome 2003
Illustration for Mosque
Ink, pencil and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
When researching Mosque, David Macaulay was inspired by the work of a sixteenth century engineer and architect named Sinan. As chief court architect for almost fifty years, he and his assistants designed and oversaw the construction of buildings, bridges and aqueducts across the Ottoman empire ­ which stretched from Algiers in the west to Baghdad in the east, and from the outskirts of Vienna in the north to beyond Mecca in the south. When Sinan died at the age of one hundred, he has personally served as architect for some three hundred structures in Istanbul alone. At the time, a basic Ottoman mosque consisted of an open prayer hall, a covered corridor called a portico, a courtyard similar in area to the prayer hall, a fountain, and at least one slender minaret.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Prayer Hall Grew Steadily Within its Man Made Forest of Scaffolding 2003
Illustration for Mosque
Ink, pencil and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
The builders pictured in this illustration were a group of highly skilled workers who traveled together from one such site to another. The artist's drawing offers a birds-eye view of the prayer hall, which is abutted by the lead-domed portico seen in the lower left of the image.
 
 
David Macaulay
The First Months of 1598 Were Unusually Mild, Allowing Work to Proceed Without Interruption 2003
Illustration for Mosque
Ink, pencil and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
David Macaulay
Cheers RoseWhen the Gilded Crescent was Finally Added 2003
Illustration for Mosque
Ink, pencil and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
This sweeping view reveals that a mosque was just one part of a much larger complex of buildings. While it served the spiritual needs of the community, the surrounding buildings provided education, food for its students and the needy, a place for commerce, lodging for travelers, and even public baths.
 
Mosque is the first of David Macaulay's architectural books to employ color, used here to convey a sense of light and atmosphere that seemed appropriate to his subject. It took much longer to complete than he had expected, because "working in color means you double the number of questions you have to ask. What is the color of the stone or the soil? In black and white it doesn't matter."
 
 
David Macaulay
Following Ablutions, the Entire Entourage Moved
from the Sardirvan to the Portico 2003
Illustration for Mosque
Ink, pencil and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In this image, worshipers leave the sardirvan, a fountain in the center of the courtyard where the ritual washing of the hands and feet takes place. Men remove their shoes before going through the main portal into the prayer hall, while their wives and daughters are led to the women's gallery.
 
 
David Macaulay
Bathed in Light Filtering in Through Countless Pieces of Colored Glass,
They Slowly Moved Across the Sea of Carpets 2003
Illustration for Mosque
Pencil and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Pictured on the far right of this image, fictional architect Akif Agha's presence and scale emphasizes the sheer height of the mosque's lofty dome. Far below him, the assembled have placed their mats side by side and end to end, where they are led in prayer. The high domes and minarets of the mosques of Istanbul served as beacons for those wishing to pray or find refuge. By tradition, mosques are oriented toward Mecca, which provides a link to the faithful throughout the world.
 
 

Wall and label text from the exhibition:

Introduction
Building Ship: The Artist's Process
Journey Books: The Evolution of Ideas

Exhibition checklist

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