Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

This site uses cookies. By using our services, you agree to our cookie use.
Learn more here.

Et in Arcadia Lego: The case for back to basics Lego

Self-confessed Legomaniac, Finn Williams argues the proliferation of custom pieces inhibits the creative potential of Lego’s classic bricks

Lego have gone back to basics with the new Architecture Studio set; 1,210 elemental monochrome bricks that come with no instructions, just an open-ended invitation to build, and rebuild. Writing recently for the AR, James Haldane criticised the set for being ‘in rigid thrall to the International Style’. Too white. Too rectangular. Too limited a toolbox for architecture’s ‘resurgent eclecticism’. As an unreconstructed Lego fundamentalist, I argue the only limitation of the basic brick is your creativity.

I’m part of a generation that was indoctrinated in architecture by rummaging through a primary palette of plastic bricks, and then prising them apart with our teeth. It’s easy to be nostalgic about the purism of these basic building blocks. For Douglas Coupland as a child ‘Lego was the future. White. Clean. Plastic.’ We’ve seen the sets evolve from unscripted construction kits to pre-packaged narratives licensed from film franchises like Star Wars. As a result Lego bricks became increasingly specialised - Hogwarts Castle comes complete with precast plastic spires. By 2004, 90 per cent of new elements were developed and used just once. This realisation prompted Lego to slash the number of elements in half, not only for efficiency savings but also to encourage creativity. As anyone who has tried to repurpose the customised laser cannons from a Star Wars X-Wing model knows, the more specific an element the less you can do with it.

21050_prod_02

Lego’s new Architecture Studio set includes 1,210 monochrome pieces

The same goes for the colour of the Architecture Studio set. James sees white and all he can imagine is a ‘conservative selection from Richard Meier’s canon’. For me the lack of colour doesn’t impose Modernist orthodoxy, it works like Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf dolls which are deliberately simple to strengthen children’s imagination. Just look at three of the most spectacularly creative uses of Lego: Douglas Coupland’s Super City show at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, The Collectivity Project by Olafur Eliasson where 3 tonnes of Lego were tipped into a square in Albania’s capital city Tirana, and Build Up Japan involving 5,000 children and 1.8 million bricks.

All three projects chose all white bricks. All three resulted in fantastic and unprecedented forms, from glitch-Gothic towers to coral-columned megastructures, and hardly a flat roof in sight. These children weren’t converted into Miesian robots by the narrow palette. In fact, they embarrassed contemporary architects with their originality. For further proof that a limited kit of parts can counterintuitively inspire creativity, play Minecraft.

2ce68231a8eb4883f61c45c30bc3a1b91345153403_full

Build Up Japan

c5e1bce0ccee4407ca9d191c01a9dd4c

Olafur Eliasson, The Collectivity Project

So if form follows building blocks in Lego, are architects’ buildings also the products of the kit of parts available to them? The Elements of Architecture exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale catalogues how the fundamentals of our buildings - floors, walls, windows, doors - are evolving into increasingly technologically specialised, even mediatised, products that are wresting control away from architects. These are the architectural equivalent of Lego’s customised laser cannon, resulting in buildings that strictly follow the instruction manual. No alternative interpretations. No extensions. LegoArchitecture Studio is based on simpler elements which empower the designer, pointing us back towards the fundamentals of architecture. And what could be more fundamental than the brick?

Douglas Coupland has a theory that the building blocks we play with as children feed back into the real world through what we produce as adults, ‘like alien baby eggs, these kits and their implicit programmes remain inside us where they grow and bind with our inner cores, so that when we’re adults they explode from us in new and unexpected ways’. I hope it is open-ended systems like Architecture Studio and Minecraft that mould what future generations create; cities we all feel we can take part in building, and rebuilding.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.