By JEREMY KAHN
David Macaulay could be called the Mr. Wizard of architectural history. In 23 books over three decades, his arresting pen-and-ink illustrations have explored everything from the construction of ancient pyramids to the subterranean systems that support a modern metropolis.
Often marketed to children, these books are equally popular with adults, who appreciate their ability to use a primarily visual language to make history, architecture and engineering clear to laymen.
The first major retrospective of the 60-year-old Mr. Macaulay’s work opens on Saturday at the National Building Museum here: “David Macaulay: The Art of Drawing Architecture,” a tour of his work and his methods. Mr. Macaulay assisted with the exhibition and will be present for “The Big Draw,” an opening-day event in which visitors may try their own hands at drawing exercises. The show, in fact, encourages this sort of family-friendly viewer participation with sketching stations throughout the gallery.
Mr. Macaulay was trained as an architect at the Rhode Island School of Design, but never practiced. Instead, after brief stints as an interior designer and high school art teacher, he returned to the college as an illustration instructor, a position he still holds.
His first children’s book, “Cathedral,” detailing the methods used to build Gothic churches, was published in 1973 and established a formula he has returned to many times — in “Pyramid” and “Castle,” for example. He examined the construction of a Roman town in “City” and the maze of pipes and tunnels under modern cities in “Underground.” He is perhaps best known for “The Way Things Work,” which reveals the mechanical and electronic innards of everything from radio telescopes to automatic transmissions.
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