The Secrets of Mankind's Greatest Structures, Illustrated

An artist and author sketches and contemplates what makes cathedrals, castles, and mosques last—beautifully—for centuries

An early sketch of flying buttresses and one gargoyle.


Castles. Cathedrals. Mosques. Those are some of humanity's greatest feats of architecture, design, and civic engineering, but how exactly were they built and what makes them stand the test of time? That's excatly what Caldecott Medal-winning artist and prolific how-things-work author David Macaulay explores in Built to Last—a fascinating illustrated volume of insight into the how and why of mankind's greatest structures. It combines three of Macauley's most beloved construction books—Cathedral (1981), Castle (1982), and Mosque (2003)—into a single tome full of never-before-seen full-color drawings and new material.

A reference model for the ribs of the vaulting on the roof truss.


Laying out the drawing of the roof trusses.


A quick reference model for the roof trusses.


Sketch for the kitchen scene while making dinner fit for a king.


Macaulay modeling for the drawing of King Edward I. Note the headband and royal Tin Tin watch.


"Whether the three building types in this book were built to last or simply to impress, they were certainly constructed with determination and care. And without the lessons they offer, our past would be more remote and therefore less useful as we stumble into an uncertain future." ~ David Macaulay

Combining rigorous research, poetic illustration, and the captivating human stories behind these architectural marvels, Built to Last is equal parts illuminating and inspirational, brimming with a kind of visceral curiosity that makes Macaulay's timeless drawings spring to life.


This post also appears on Brain Pickings.
Images: Courtesy of David Macaulay

Presented by

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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