LEGO Turns 80, Remains Architecturally Awesome

LEGO Turns 80, Remains Architecturally Awesome
National Building Museum's Towering Ambition exhibition by Architect Adam Reed Tucker. Towering Spiral via Flickr User © 2010 Brian Mosley. Used under Creative Commons

“Legos were the ultimate building tool, capable of making the most advanced space ships, powerful vehicles, impressive buildings, and incredible cities. As a child, everyone I knew loved Legos, and this never seemed to change. In high school, whenever a conversation with friends happened to shift upon Legos, everyone would gleefully reminisce about their days making fantastic structures out of those awesome little building blocks. No doubt Legos played a supporting role in my growth in appreciation for architecture.” - Architect Albert Lam, in a Blog post for the LPA

When you ask architects what inspired them, almost all (according to one study, 99%) can trace the calling back to the same, simple origin: playing with their LEGO bricks.

The LEGO Group, which turns 80 today, can boast that there are approximately 62 LEGO bricks for ever person on earth. However, it wasn’t until 1958, when the newly-plastic LEGO bricks incorporated the classic knob-and-tube-connecting-system, that they overtook the Froebel block (Frank Lloyd Wright’s toy of choice) to become the massively popular architectural inspiration they are today.

But while the influence of LEGO on architects may be self-evident, not many know about Architecture’s contribution to LEGO. In fact, only through the lens of Architecture, can you truly understand why LEGO merits its bold moniker as “The Toy of the Century.”

Find out Architecture & LEGOs unlikely relationship, after the break…

By the early 1960s, the International Modern style had taken root in America. Austerity, functionality, and simplicity were its defining characteristics, embodied in unapologetic skyscrapers like Mies Van der Rohe’s Seagram building in New York; or Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill’s Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) and John Hancock Center in Chicago.

SOM's John Hancock Center in Chicago, via Ezra Stoller © Esto

Meanwhile, in a workshop in Denmark, LEGO was undergoing a revolutionary re-design of its own.

Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, the owner of LEGO Group at the time, gave his designers a task: invent a new set of components that would add a new dimension to LEGO building. What they came up with would have made their Modernist counterparts proud: five elements to match the existing bricks, but at a third of the height. The simple minimization made it possible to construct far more intricate models than ever before. Soonafter in 1962, the LEGO ‘Scale Model’ line, directly inspired by the work of architects and engineers, was born.

According to Washington Post writer Phillip Kennicott, the LEGO brick was the perfect toy for its age, “ideally suited to an era of rapid and seemingly infinite economic expansion.” As Modernist skyscrapers pierced our skylines, so too did an infinite combination of LEGOs rise perilously in our childhood bedrooms. This is what makes LEGO so inspiring – that first, tempting taste of what it could be like to dream and build boldly, a kind of Modernist assurance of the possibility and wonder of architecture itself.

Architect Adam Reed Tucker's LEGO creations for the National Building Museum's exhibition 'Towering Ambition.' © Flickr uploader kimberlyfaye. Used under Creative Commons

The Scale-Model line has been resuscitated as the LEGO Architecture series, models of architectural classics that don’t just memorialize the past and present of architecture, but Architecture’s special place in LEGO history. So, as LEGO turns 80 today, take a moment to think back to LEGO’s special place in your own history, and remember that sense of wonder that set you on this path in the first place.

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "LEGO Turns 80, Remains Architecturally Awesome" 10 Aug 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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