Macaulay was born in England and moved to the United States at the age of 11. He discovered a talent for drawing which lead him to the Rhode Island School of Design where he studied architecture.
He has never practiced as an architect, but uses his architectural training both in the obvious sense of the subject matter of his first several books and in his breaking down of large problems into smaller details.
He began his career as a picture-book writer with Cathedral (1973) and Castle (1977). Macaulay’s longest work, the way things work, has been adapted to an interactive CD-ROM format. While some people in the book world are threatened by the computer’s assumption of books’ traditional role in disseminating knowledge, Macaulay finds interactive multimedia to have enormous educational potential.
“We’re not going to go back to books in libraries,” he says. The fact that we have all these things available now because of digital technology, we should not give that up–as long as we know what we want.” Several of Macaulay’s educational books have also been turned into television programs for PBS. As an educator Macaulay is linked to the Rhode Island School of Design. he has taught there since 1975 with only a brief hiatus to lecture nationwide and a year off now as he tackles his biggest book project to date.