Published in 1973 and 1977, David Macaulay’s Cathedral and Castle won Caldecott Honors for their crisp black-and-white line art and meticulous architectural detail. In 2003, the author added Mosque to his canon of books on monumental structures, and included color in that volume’s art. This month, Houghton Mifflin publishes Built to Last, which brings together revised versions of the three books in a single volume, featuring full-color illustrations throughout. By all reports, the scope of the project changed dramatically from inception to finished book. Here’s how.

At the beginning of 2009, the publisher approached Macaulay with the idea of reissuing the three titles in one compendium, digitally coloring the illustrations in Cathedral and Castle to make them more consistent with the art in Mosque. “We really wanted to find a way to re-present these wonderful books, and originally floated the idea to David of perhaps even having someone else add the color to his earlier books,” explains Cynthia Platt, editor at large for the HMH Children’s Book Group. “But with David being David, so very dedicated to his craft and having such an insatiable curiosity, what began as a simple project turned out to be something very different as soon as he began to dig deeper.”

Much deeper, as it turned out. “When I first heard about this project, my initial reaction was mixed,” says Macaulay. “As I remember it was one of great suspicion—or at least potential dread! These books worked perfectly fine as they were.” Recalling the creation of the original versions of Cathedral and Castle, the author remarks, “Back in the ’70s, I was completely unknown, and making a book in color would have been a huge gamble, in terms of what we’d have to charge for the book. And when you fill images with what appears to be miles and miles of black lines, it seems impressive and works in your favor.”

Realizing the benefits of now adding color to Cathedral and Castle to bind them together with Mosque, the author signed on to the project. “Over the years I’d been intrigued by the thought of what these books would be like in color, all the more so after doing Mosque,” he recalls. “That book, because of all the decorative work and tiles, could not have been done without color. Mosque showed me that these earlier books could work in color. There’s something to be said about black-and-white, but life is after all lived in color.”

Yet adding color to Cathedral and Castle was easier conceived than executed. “I realized that if I added color to the cross-hatchings, I’d end up with mud,” Macaulay says. “So my initial idea was to trace the drawings, leaving out the cross-hatchings, and then add the color. But I soon realized that the art was not worth tracing. There were too many little mistakes or oversights on my part in the original art, and the reason for that was quite simple: I’ve had so many additional research opportunities after Cathedral and Castle were published, largely because of all the time I spent with scholars and architecture experts when the public television specials based on those books were being made. I even got to climb onto cathedral roofs! I knew I couldn’t simply retrace the original drawings, since I had too much new information I didn’t have at the time I created the original drawings.”

Macaulay finally found a way to use his new knowledge. “Built to Last gave me a chance to use all that I had in my head to improve the books, with new drawings and new text,” he observes. Though the updated versions of Castle and Mosque include new material, Cathedral is the most heavily revised, featuring (among other things) additional information on the creation of clear and stained-glass windows and a reworked timetable for the castle’s construction. “I realized that the sequence of building cathedrals needed to be explained differently in order to be more accurate,” Macaulay says, “and there’s a difference in the rhythm of the book because of that.”

After drawing the new illustrations on tracing paper—in pencil for Cathedral and Mosque and in pen for Castle—Macaulay added color to his drawings with colored pencil. “But you can only build up so much color on tracing paper, and I thought it would be nice to have some strong color,” he explains. “So I decided to try this new-fangled contraption and I bought a scanner and scanned the sketches. Then I took advantage of good old Photoshop to heighten some of the colors and increase the intensity and contrast in some cases. For years I’ve said, ‘Give me a pencil and I’m all set,’ but I’ve changed my tune. This is a terrific tool and I’m comfortable using it. It doesn’t change the content, but definitely improves the images.”

Platt and senior designer Cara Llewelyn, who was the book’s art director, both emphasize that pulling together Built to Last involved a dedicated team effort among Macaulay and the editorial, art, and production departments—and also entailed multiple revised schedules. “The book became quite the undertaking once we realized that the art had to be redone,” says Llewelyn, who also credits art director Scott Magoon for his significant contribution to the project. “I remember how great it was to see David’s eyes light up at the thought of revisiting and correcting the illustrations and content. We all rolled up our sleeves, clenched our teeth, and made it work, and we couldn’t have done it without every single member of the team.”

The designer, who helped with the digital coloring under Macaulay’s direction, believes that in the end, the final product was well worth the extra effort: “It’s so wonderful to work so hard on something and have such an awesome product. I’m sure people who built cathedrals and castles felt the same way. And their structures, as did this book, probably took a bit longer to finish than anyone initially thought it would.”

Macaulay notes that he is “as excited as I’ve been in a long time to see a new book of mine” and is gratified that he was able to use what he’s learned over the years to improve his work. “I know there will be those people who won’t want to let the black-and-white go, but I’m certain this is a better book in many ways,” he says. “Back in the ’70s, these books were as good as I could make them at the time. In Built to Last, I chose my point of view as a participant rather than an observer. Going to color images let me do this, and I think that’s a major difference between the old and the new. I think I have learned a lot in my simultaneous roles as teacher and student—student even of my own work—and of the process of visual communication.”

Houghton Mifflin will launch Built to Last with a 75,000-copy first printing, national trade and institutional advertising and promotion, online consumer advertising, a discussion guide, a promotional postcard, and select author appearances.

Built to Last by David Macaulay. Houghton Mifflin, $24.99 Oct. ISBN 978-0-547-34240-5