- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

Architectural illustrator David Macaulay has taken readers of his popular books inside the Capitol dome, underneath the sidewalk, into the rafters of a cathedral and inside the steel skeleton of a skyscraper.

The process of getting from a sketchbook’s blank page to an illustrated study of structures is explained in an entertaining and informative way in “David Macaulay: The Art of Drawing Architecture” at the National Building Museum. The temporary exhibit will run through Jan. 21.

The exhibit explains why Mr. Macaulay must be a little bit archaeologist, scientist, artist and explorer when detailing a structure to draw. Mr. Macaulay is famous not only for drawing what the rest of us see but also understanding the history, purpose and workmanship of a building.

“When I choose a subject, I choose one that interests me because I know I will be with it for a long time,” Mr. Macaulay says in a film interview that is part of the exhibit. “I have sketchbooks filled with notes. I sometimes make models of how things go together. I have a microscope. I have a library.”

The first part of the exhibit, titled “Visual Archaeology” details Mr. Macaulay’s 2003 book, “Mosque.” This section shows the original sketches made during the two years Mr. Macaulay studied Ottoman mosques built between 1540 and 1580. The drawings, of a fictional mosque, show all aspects of Mr. Macaulay’s research, starting with the foundation lines of the buildings, which are oriented toward the kiblah, the imaginary line that links the faithful toward Mecca.

The second area, “Playing With Perspective,” shows examples of Mr. Macaulay’s work understanding different views of what is around us. There are drawings of Rome from the view of a homing pigeon and a worm, a bird’s-eye view of a New England town as it changed over 60 years, and pictures of the huge buildings of Manhattan from all sorts of angles.

The next section, “Revealing Structure,” takes many drawings from Mr. Macaulay’s book “Building Big.” The artist takes on complex structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Capitol dome, showing different layers of their inner workings and construction.

“I use pictures and words to emphasize the common sense behind the design of any object in an attempt to demystify an increasingly complex and detached world,” Mr. Macaulay says in printed materials at the display.

Finally, “Inspiring Imagination” shows how architectural drawing can be whimsical and creative. There are sketches, many from the 1980 book “Unbuilding,” of an inflatable cathedral, a mysterious old motel-turned-archaeological-ruin, and other wacky studies.

The exhibit does a good job of appealing to all the senses, making it entertaining for young and old. There are sketches to examine, videos to watch and tapes to listen to with provided headphones.

Very popular with families are the “Ready, Set, Draw” stations set up in each of the four sections. All feature sharp pencils and plenty of drawing paper as well as a creative lesson pertaining to that section of the exhibit.

In “Playing With Perspective,” for instance, visitors are coached in the concept of horizon and vanishing point via easy printed material and a straight edge as they create a perspective drawing of a railroad track.

At “Revealing Structure,” visitors are encouraged to make a quick study of the Williamsburg Bridge in New York by using basic shapes, eliminating details and concentrating on symmetry and spatial relationships.

The drawing station in “Inspiring Imagination” is the most fun. It poses these kinds of questions to young artists: “What if bridges were made from noodles? What if columns were made from doughnuts? You decide, and draw your structure here.”

This is the kind of imaginative thinking that got Mr. Macaulay started.

“I honestly think all of us would be better off if we took the time to draw,” he says in the exhibit placards. “If for no other reason than the better we see, the more inevitable curiosity becomes.”



Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s days.

Admission: Admission to the museum is free; a $5 donation to the exhibit is suggested.

Parking: Metered street and garage parking are nearby. The closest Metro stop is the Judiciary Square stop on the Red Line.

More information: www.nbm.org or 202/272-2448.

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