Lego will go down in history as being one of the most influential toys in most childhoods. You take building blocks, you slot them together and you end up with a structure. You could end up with a whole micro-city if you wanted. To build a Lego house, you need a couple of hours and a bit of imagination. To be an architect, you need years of training, expertise and technical skill. No matter the difference in scale, there is an obvious, inherent link between the two practices.
Lego was initially created to replicate the craft of construction, except Lego doesn’t collapse quite so catastrophically if you make a mistake. With Lego, you can start again, rebuild, redesign and improve. The scale and flexibility of Lego as a design tool allows for experimentation and the childlike, free abandon to build without the constraints of Building Regulations or health and safety.
Lego themselves have recognised this potential over the years. Initially, back in the 1960s, there was a ‘Scale Model’ series that contained much smaller Lego bricks and allowed for highly detailed constructions. Now, we have the ‘Lego Architecture’ Series; a conscious acknowledgement of this intrinsic connection between the vital practice of architecture and what is essentially a brightly coloured toy.
What Lego is incredibly good at is replication. Or should I say the artists and designers that use Lego to replicate real life buildings are incredibly good at it. All you need to do is Google ‘Lego’ and then whatever building it is you want to see. Someone has built it. The natural progression of this is to use Lego as a tool to visualise and physicalise the construction of a building. How better for an architect to show you what the exterior of your home will look like, than with a tool that can not only closely replicate its appearance, but that everyone in the world can identify with.
This brings me to a book, The Lego Architect by Tom Alphin. It acts as a brief tour through the historical progression of architecture over the last five hundred years, from neo-classical to ultra-modern and hi-tech. It even covers the progression of design through the Greek and Roman periods and how that influenced neo-classicism, as well as how Egyptian style influenced art deco.
Now you may ask, where does the Lego fit in? Well, Tom Alphin and the Lego builders that are featured in this book illustrate my previous point perfectly. They have used Lego to illustrate the buildings and styles that Alphin writes about.
This edition is part coffee table book, part practical guide. By buying it, you are not just learning about different periods in architectural history, you’re also increasing your Lego construction skills. The book goes through the key characteristics of each of the architectural styles and walks you through how to replicate it in Lego. There is even a couple of those iconic Lego instruction pages for each of the styles included and these run you through how to replicate the look that you would want (even down to telling you which bricks and colours to use). There are instructions and numbered parts so that you can recreate the buildings yourself.
Particularly relevant is their treatment of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style. Here, these Lego craftsmen don’t simply replicate landmarks of national interest; they replicate an entire branch of domestic architecture. They show exactly how Lego can be utilised to demonstrate how a project might look on a smaller scale.
Their treatment of hi-tech and modern architecture is mentionable too. It shows how the flexibility of Lego can be used to experiment with styles of architecture that are only just in reach. Examples they use are the Aqua Tower in Chicago, the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, and the Kranhaus Sud in Germany. These examples all show how Lego could be used as a tool for building prototypes — a tool many architects have already played around with. Before a house is designed or put on to paper, structures and shapes can be tested on a much smaller scale. There wouldn’t be any design restrictions, no institutional rules to follow. What could be construed as play time could quite easily become a step in the design process — a great way for clients and architects to understand one another’s ideas.
If you like architecture, buy this book. If you like Lego, buy this book. If you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, buy this book.