Sketches by David Macaulay


Portion of David Macaulay’s exhibit on the waterfront. (Photo by David Brussat)

Strolling along the RISD embankment during WaterFire last Saturday, I stumbled upon “The Way Macaulay Works,” an exhibit of the work of David Macaulay, the prolific illustrator and creator of books about how buildings, cathedrals and other places are built. His is a magical talent, and it was on full display at the Illustration Studies Building – I assume that’s what ISB stands for; spelling something out is so old hat – 55 Canal Walk, and will be until Sept. 21. A closing reception will be held that Wednesday evening at 7.

RISD’s online description of the event (link above) offers this interesting assessment of Macaulay’s work process: “A MacArthur fellow, Macaulay offers an expository installation revealing his characteristically convoluted and extraordinarily inefficient process from endless sketching to the occasional finished product.” I assume the artist OK’d the description if indeed he did not provide it himself. Intriguing, to say the least!

Also intriguing is why it took RISD so long to think of offering a gallery experience on a WaterFire evening.  Barnaby Evans’s famous art installation has been with us for at least two decades, some 200 events at the very least. Why, for that matter, has RISD never opened a café of any sort along its section of the embankment? And while I’m at it, let me wonder out loud why, after the city and state provided RISD with a free waterfront campus, would the school express its gratitude by plopping the abominable new wing of the RISD Museum of Art on North Main Street?

I took photos of the waterfront and west slope of College Hill from the 11th floor windows of Old Stone Square (the Rubik’s Cube building), and it was impossible to get away from the garish orange brick that sticks out of the hillside like a sore thumb. I expect to post that shot (see below) along with others from my photo shoot in a post tomorrow.

You have almost a month to go see Macaulay’s exhibit. Imagine a whole exhibit of stuff such as inhabits the wall in one of the pictures I’ve included here and you will be able to imagine the thrill in store for anyone interested in architectural drawing at the uppermost level of quality.





The ISB, on what used to be Canal Street before the rivers were daylighted in the 1990s.

Oh yes, the ISB is lovely from this side. It is one of the old warehouses that H.P. Lovecraft loved and tried to save (this one was not at risk), but RISD covered the North Main Street façade with modernist crap glitz. Thanks a heap! Still, good on ya for finally opening a gallery on a WaterFire night. Keep up the good work. RISD has done much to make Providence a great place, including its preservation of many great buildings. It nevertheless has much to atone for. Not the least of it is the orange of the brick from its museum wing below. (Architect Rafael Moneo, who designed the wing, is said to work well in historic settings – that must mean he knows how to punish them.)


About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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