Monday, June 27, 2011

Lego Architecture

Lego ain't just for kids, it's also for big kids – kids who grew up with Lego then never really grew out of Lego. The internet is the perfect place for these adult Lego obsessives to display their wares – there are hundreds of websites with individuals elaborate custom made Lego creations, many of which are extraordinary, often made with more imagination than anything Lego would actually produce (such as Brendan Powell Smith's The Brick Testament – the stories in The Bible made from Lego. Now also a book. See last Friday's post) – but that's the great thing about Lego.

Polish artist Zbigniew Libera created a controversial series of seven Lego sets of concentration camps in 1996. Whilst initially sponsored by Lego (they sent him some free bricks), when they realised what he was creating they immediately backed out, tried suing him, saw they were creating too much attention and finally left him alone. The sets were custom made from other pre-existing sets; presumably the boxes were Photoshopped and created by the artist. Inevitably, perhaps depressingly, people have enquired where to buy them, but these are unique artworks, though the Jewish museum in New York have managed to acquire a set.

For years Lego refused to franchise its products but in the last decade or so there's been numerous film and TV tie-ins including Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Batman, and most recently, Pirates of the Caribbean. There are now hundreds of different themed Lego products and thousands of sets, as well as video and board games, clothes, shops and Legoland (which is me and my daughter's favourite place in the world). Their Digital Designer software, free from their website, allows users to virtually create their own Lego creations (which sort of takes away from the whole point of Lego, but never mind).

Lego have also produced limited edition, 'Hard to Find', 'Exclusive' items (some of which are bizarrely rated 16+), including London's Tower Bridge, which looks identical to the one at Legoland and costs £209.99, a Maersk Container Ship (£102.99) and the Taj Mahal (available on Amazon Marketplace for £589.95), containing 5922 pieces.

Since last year they've produced a small series, presumably aimed mainly at Lego-obsessed adults, called Lego Architecture, featuring famous architectural landmarks including The White House and the Empire State Building, as well as buildings designed by influential architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. Though it's probably possible to custom create the Hard to Find and Architecture sets from other (cheaper) sets or buying the bricks online, the problem then is you miss out on a key component: the box. In the case of Lego Architecture, the boxes are mainly black with white Helvetica text, creating a modern, sophisticated look to them. With Zbigniew Libera's concentration camp sets, it's the boxes (with those shoddy Photoshop clouds) that complete it, making the camps even more chilling and real (in a way) in their 'official' boxes.

For years now I've had a Lego project in mind: Roehampton's Alton Estate, the Grade-II council estate designed in the late 1950s and heavily influenced by Le Corbusier (for more information see Alton Blues). I'd love to see Lego Architecture do a whole series of England's council estates, including, say, famous, iconic examples such as Goldfinger's Trellick Tower as well as the more infamous, such as Broadwater Farm in Haringey. I almost can't believe Lego hasn't produced council estates before, after all, most estates look like they were designed in Lego bricks in the first place.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Star Wars Lego

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