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Creative Block: Google's Interactive Lego World Gets Back to the Basics of what Makes Lego Great

The humble Lego brick is rejuvenated by this collaboration with Google, Build With Chrome

Lego bricks occupy a nostalgic position with architects. How many of today’s designers spent hours in their youth piecing together miniature Lego worlds in their bedrooms? Even for those who did not dabble in Lego as children, the seductively monochrome blocks hold an iconic charm, harking back to a more innocent design process, free from the beady eye of the planning officer and the tribulations of client-architect interface.

World-renowned architects from Zaha Hadid to Jorn Utzon have seen their work recreated in plastic in tributes that seemingly hold an enduring appeal. In 2007 Danish architects Bjarke Ingles Group unveiled a 250,000 brick housing proposal modelled entirely from Lego. Their investment clearly paid off as the firm was eventually commissioned to design Lego’s new headquarters in Billund, Denmark. The Royal Academy even hosted a Lego building workshop in the middle of the recent Richard Rogers monographic exhibition, supposedly encouraging children to think about urbanism.

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Lego Sydney Opera House

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Lego Aquatics Centre

The role Lego plays in the formative years of children is under constant scrutiny and often held to a higher standard than rival toy manufacturers. A coalition of columnists from across the political spectrum recently lined up to denigrate Lego’s decision to heavily market a line new line of toys at young girls freighted with dated feminine stereotypes: vanity cabinets, hair dryers, exaggerated feminine figurines and ubiquitous pink bricks.

Worst, the sets were highly prescriptive offering little opportunity to build anything other than the twee scenarios depicted on the boxes which writers from the Guardian to the Telegraph argued would stifle girls’ creativity for the sake of a more predictable sales.

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Lego’s recent move to target girls with overtly feminine, inflexible sets was greeted with disappointment by many

The increasing prescriptivism of Lego is nothing new. Readers will have struggled to avoid noticing a boom in ‘Lego Architecture’ gift sets. These peculiar re-workings of Modernist classics in the tiny plastic bricks make charming additions to the recipient’s desk clutter but are entirely prescribed suggesting a switch in the role of Lego to immortalising an already much-loved design rather than generating something new.

As Lego continues to diversify their portfolio of side-projects (which now include theme parks, a computer game franchise, and a soon to released feature film) the humble stud-and-tube brick seems an increasingly archaic throwback to yesteryear. But now a co-project with data giant Google, may breathe new life into traditional Lego bricks.

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Lego Villa Savoye

Build With Chrome is a digital Lego building environment that works through an internet browser. Users can assemble virtual Lego models on a 32 x 32 stud grid using a refreshingly limited set of generic pieces – no pink molded vanity cabinets here. Best of all the system is integrated with Google Earth allowing users to build their own version of existing cities in an a giant collaborate Lego world.

Lego’s decision to place the emphasis of Build With Chrome firmly on the classic brick is admirable. It returns to an idea of Lego where any creative capacity is firmly in the hands of the user or child rather than with an injection-molding design team back in the factory.

To mark the moment the AR is launching a mini competition to test the limitations of Build With Chrome. Simply design something, publish it and email the link with screenshots to areditorial@emap.com by Monday 17th February making sure to include a contact email address and telephone number.

Happy building!

AR Lego Competition Rules

  • The overall winners will have their design published and receive a free year’s subscription to The Architectural Review.
  • Runners up will have their designs published and will each receive a copy of the latest issue of The Architectural Review.
  • All entrants will receive a set of limited edition postcards showing highlights from the AR covers archive.

Build With Chrome's promotional video

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