David Macaulay

“I am frequently asked where I get my ideas.  I always answer by saying “from everywhere”—or “by keeping my eyes and ears open.”  Although vague, both responses have always seemed to serve the needs of the moment… For some time now, I have been encouraging people to ask themselves why things look the way they do.” ~ David Macaulay 

Born on December 2, 1946, David Macaulay was eleven when his family moved from England to the United States. An early fascination with simple technology and a love of model making and drawing ultimately led him to study architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. He received his degree in 1969 after spending his fifth year with RISD’s European Honors Program in Rome. The next four years were spent working in interior design, teaching junior and senior high school art and tinkering with the idea of making books.

One result of this tinkering was a book idea about a gargoyle beauty pageant set in medieval France. While the gargoyle never survived the first presentation, the accompanying drawing of a partially finished cathedral fared much better. In January 1973, Macaulay was off to France to work on Cathedral, which was published the following fall. He then constructed a colonial Roman town (City, 1974), erected monuments to the Pharaohs (Pyramid, 1975), dissected the maze of subterranean systems below and essential to every major city (Underground, 1976), built a medieval fortress (Castle, 1977) and dismantled the Empire State Building (Unbuilding, 1980).

His other works include: Great Moments in Architecture (1978), a catalogue of imaginary architectural fiascoes, Motel of the Mysteries (1979), a future archeologists examination of a present-day Holiday Inn, and Mill (1983), a chronicle of the growth of a New England mill town. In Baaa (1985) sheep are left at the world’s helm after mankind has gone and an age-old riddle is answered at last in Why the Chicken Crossed the Road (1987).

Macaulay is probably best known for a very thick book called The Way Things Work (1988), an exhaustively researched compendium of the how’s and whys of almost anything that functions. It was followed by Black and White (1990), a considerably slimmer volume and winner of the 1991 Caldecott Medal. In it he offers four separate stories which can also be read as one. In 1993 he published Ship in which two stories are told – one leading to the other. The first revolves around the discovery of the remains of an early sixteenth century Spanish caravel in the Caribbean and its subsequent interpretation. The second is an account of the building of the caravel based on information present in the first. In 1995 came Shortcut, which it is not. 1997 saw the publication of a pigeon lead tour of the Eternal City called Rome Antics, and in the fall of 1998, The New Way Things Work, a revised edition of the ’88 book lumbered onto the stands. In September of 1999 a twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Cathedral called Building the Book Cathedral was published…during the twenty-sixth year. Building Big, the companion book to a five part PBS television series about major engineering feats around the world was published in 2000 and two years later Rome and pigeons once again took center stage for a book called Angelo. In response to the events of September 11, Mosque was published in 2003 and that same year work began on a book about the workings of the human body.

In 2006, Macaulay was named a MacArthur fellow and turned sixty though the two are not related.