Christian Long

David Macaulay: All Roads Lead to Rome Antics

In TED Talks on April 10, 2010 at 9:59 am

Reflection by MEIGHAN A.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

David Macaulay:  All Roads Lead to Rome Antics

David Macaulay gives an eye-opening talk about his favorite place, Rome.

In his last year of college studying to be an architect he was granted the chance to study in Rome and he couldn’t help but become attached to the city. He uses his outstanding art to express to people the beauty of the city and make them understand why it is so important to him. His drawings vary from each other in both mediums and style. Each to express different key points to the observers. He’s been in search of the ideal way to share his adoration and perspective of Rome. He shows his attempts at putting together a way to show his art and how without a real goal, he didn’t really get anywhere.

His first attempts were in map form. The maps began as sketches of his favorite streets and haunts with words leaving trails across the map. Then he realized that this wasn’t quite working as he’d have liked. He thought of showing the places he loved as he kicked a soccer ball about and followed where it fell. But again, this didn’t quite satisfy him. He wanted to portray Rome in all its glory in a genuine way that others could appreciate, and was becoming desperate. It was so difficult to find the right way to show his view of Rome so others could understand his admiration for it. He tried packaging; box sets of four books to be guides to people’s introduction to Rome. Then he got a new idea that was genuinely his own while sketching.

It occurred to him to draw different vehicles at different speeds traveling through Rome to show the variations in size of one building to another or help give a different view of the building. He began with the intention of showing different aspects of Rome from the viewpoint of a dirigible. Like snapshots when you are speeding down the road of fascinating places whereas you would stop and study them if you were walking down the road. As he continued his sketches he kept being drawn to the idea of the dirigible, and after going to Alberto Santos-Dumont he found the dirigible to use as a model. Once he had the proportions down he was able to use it as a scale for the rest of the sketches. Yet it remained a part of the pictures without ruining the art side of them by looking like a ruler stuck in the page. The dirigible then goes about on its journey and the people viewing the pictures can follow along on the artistic aerial tour of Rome.

He even puts text upside down so that in the view of the Pantheon and others you are encouraged to see it from both the air and from the ground-view. This helps move you around the space and really get a feeling for what it looks like inside. Your journey even has a very human aspect as your tour guide Beatrix takes you along in the dirigible and even encounters some boy-scouts who get tangled in the anchor lines. They are then given an upside down tour of Rome that you get to tag along on. Then they are let down and she continues on through Rome. Beatrix then lowers Ajax her dog, down with a list of necessities for a meal since she realizes she is hungry. He brings back the food but lunges for her prosciutto when she tries to eat it. She keeps a hold of it, but in the process loses the tablecloth. She decides like many of us would, to forget the tablecloth and continue to find a place to settle down and have a lunch. They come across a wall that seems ideal for their landing. It turns out to be a remaining wall of the coliseum. After their lunch and phenomenal view of the coliseum they head out past the Baths of Caracalla. They travel to the Pyramid of Cestius with its lightning rod. Unfortunately they get too close and their adventure has to end because the dirigible isn’t meant to be near spikes.

The journey is then continued by Marcello, who has a habit of driving too fast without respect for those around him. He rushes through the city to work on his scooter running into people all along the way. He gets linguine sauce on his face after running into a waiter, which slightly affects his view for a little while. His job is to remove scaffolding, which according to Macaulay, is one of the reasons for Rome remaining such an extraordinary place. Marcello also drives the number 64 bus, which he drives as recklessly as his scooter. Lastly you meet Carletto, who lives in an apartment. He is planning on proposing to his girlfriend this afternoon and cant seem to get his table to look quite right. When he is on the job fixing televisions in time for a big soccer game, he finds the tablecloth, which Beatrix had dropped. It turns out to work very nice for his table arrangement.

Macaulay still isn’t pleased with his works and doesn’t feel like its portraying what he wants it to. He tries a few more creative ideas, but then realizes that books are neat ways to represent information and are supposed to represent layers. So why not make his drawings layers of Rome? After much desperation he decides to show the layers of Rome, from the old scarred building beneath to the top layer of stucco. He developed a simple yet ingenious way to show the different layers of buildings. Pages have top flaps pulled back to show the inside compared to the outside, or show the top layer of stucco as apposed to the original building. You can even fold out the pages to make a pop out of the buildings. Then he drew so that from different angels you got a different perspective of the place he portrayed. It seemed like the idea he’d been waiting for, but then he felt it had lost its ‘human’ quality.

He then tried having a pigeon, much like the dirigible travel through the city landing on his favorite buildings to give an aerial view. In this case, the pigeon has lost its home and travels to try to find a new home. Later he decides to add an old man to the story and the old man spends his time looking for sick pigeons to take care of. The pigeons he takes care of become like friends and entertain him. Then the old man gets sick and the pigeons have to help him. He taught them to spell his name, which is Aldo, so after not seeing him for days the pigeons spell his name and fly around his house. Then he gets enough strength to climb to his roof. The pigeons then lift him and fly him to the outer wall of the city, like he would do with dead pigeons in the old Roman fashion of not burying dead inside city walls.

He starts to try out titles in hopes it will give him the inspiration for a book. With some of the titles he got a few pictures going, and eventually it led him to the story he used. The book focuses on a young lady that lives outside the city who sends a message on a homing pigeon to someone inside the city. You follow the pigeon’s progress from afar and also from the pigeon-eye view. The pigeon chooses a scenic route that allows for the book to be longer and keep to the point of showing the Cities highlights. While flying the pigeon is even struck by a soccer ball. The bird manages to right itself and continue on to the palazzo attic, which is its destination. The reader sees that the man inside the attic has been drawing the exact route of the pigeon bringing him the note.

Macaulay tried many different ideas out before settling on the one he did. His art was always impressive but he wanted the book to give off a certain view and feel. His determination led to his finally achieving the piece he wanted. If he had settled for less and given up on his first attempt he never would have know if he could achieve the story he wanted. He managed to pull together a creative and complex story that those who have read it, appear to thoroughly enjoy. His creativity allows us to view Rome in a way we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see it.


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