2 years with LEGO Architecture Studio

Two years ago, I purchased the LEGO Architecture Studio set. I never would have guessed that this would grow into a life-changing tidal wave of LEGO related activities, culminating with the recent release of my bestselling book The LEGO Architect which was released September 25th. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how this all happened.

Chapter 1: Only 1210 LEGO bricks

While I never really stopped building one or two small LEGO sets a year, I usually built the model on the box without putting much thought into the other things I could build. It just feelt unnatural to build anything else when the main model is so recognizable with strong LEGO themes like a Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings, or even the Space Needle in the official LEGO Architecture series.

My first LEGO Architecture Studio project was a re-creation of my home.

My first LEGO Architecture Studio project was a re-creation of my home.

I was drawn to the LEGO Architecture Studio set because it pulled at something from my childhood – the joy of building something creative and new. The first thing I did when I opened the box was to sort out the parts by type so I could see what I had to work with. Not unsurprisingly, the next project was to re-create my own home using this wide open canvas of new bricks.

I eventually took the time to thumb through the included book to see what it had to offer. I remember being disappointed, because the book isn’t especially instructive – it’s just a series of essays and architectural photos by respected architecture studios. That said, each chapter concluded with a “project” such as build a model exploring repetition, symmetry or scale. I was on my way…

Chapter 2: 30-day challenge

Inspired by the handful of challenges in the book, I decided to try and complete 30 LEGO Architecture challenges and document the project on my blog. I explored scale, made a sphere, some furniture, and an MC Escher model. I even learned about LEGO CAD software, calculated “minifigure scale“, and designed my own interlocking plastic bricks with a 3d printer.

Exploring Shed-style Architecture during my 30-day challenge.

Exploring Shed-style Architecture during my 30-day challenge.

My favorite challenges were the many architectural projects, where I learned about a specific style of architecture like Art Deco, Prairie style, Shed-style, Brutalism, or Craftsman.

Chapter 3: LEGO organization

Admittedly, it did not take long for me to break the first rule of my 30-day challenge, to only use the 1210 parts contained in the LEGO Architecture Studio set. I discovered Bricklink, a website where you can buy any LEGO part ever created, in whatever quantity you want. Having bubblewrap envelopes containing additional LEGO bricks appear in the mailbox is pretty awesome (but be warned, it can be addictive.)

I started organizing my LEGO using a combination of Ziploc bags, plastic tubs and craft boxes with dividers.

I started organizing my LEGO using a combination of Ziploc bags, plastic tubs and craft boxes with dividers.

My building style requires that I can see exactly which bricks I have available to me, so a big pile of bricks on the floor doesn’t really work. My initial solution was a stack of plastic boxes with removable dividers and tight fitting lids. They stack easily, but it is challenging to get the parts out of the small compartments without spilling parts everywhere.

Akro-Mils drawers with custom labels.

Akro-Mils drawers with custom labels.

My final solution was the inexpensive, yet durable drawer system by Akro-Mils drawers. The small drawers hold small or uncommon parts, and larger drawers are perfect for very common or large parts. To make things even easier, I developed a collection of LEGO labels which you can print and affix to the front of every drawer. You can download the labels from my website at: http://brickarchitect.com/labels. (The labels are designed for a Brother Label printer.)

Chapter 4: Writing a book

The longest chapter in my 2 years with the LEGO Architecture studio set follows my experiences getting approached by a publisher, conceiving of an initial idea for a book, finding the right publisher, writing the book, and seeing the warm reception by LEGO enthusiasts from around the world. This was an exhausting yet exciting experience, especially now that I can share my excitement for the finished book with the world.

Some of the models in my book require parts  not included in LEGO Architecture Studio set.

Some of the models in my book require parts not included in LEGO Architecture Studio set.

Much of this time was spent researching styles and editing the book, but I also spent a lot of time designing and refining the LEGO models featured in the book. I decided pretty early that it was more important to create compelling LEGO models that capture the most important characteristics of their respective styles than to ensure that each model could be built using only the parts from the Architecture Studio set. With the Brutalist Air-traffic control tower model, the only substitution you would need to make is to use three 1×1 tiles instead of the preferred 1×3 tile which isn’t included in the set. By contrast, the parts needed for the Postmodern University building can’t be substituted easily as it requires too many 1×3 curved tiles, and two 1x6x2 arches.

In general, I have to commend the LEGO group for offering a pretty good selection of LEGO parts in the Architecture Studio set.

Thoughts for Architecture Studio 2.0

Since I have arguably spent more time with the Architecture Studio concept than almost anyone else while writing my book, I feel qualified to call out some of the shortcomings of the set and my hopes for a revised edition.

  1. A more approachable book for folks who are new to Architecture. I feel like my book “The LEGO Architect” provides the right mix of history, inspiration and instruction, but I’m sure other approaches could work as well.
  2. A better way to sort and store your bricks. They including two plastic sorting trays, and two cardboard boxes, but this is far too coarse of a sorting solution, and the pieces don’t stay put when traveling. (I use Akro-Mils drawers which allow fine-grained sorting, but they do not travel well.)
  3. A revised selection of bricks. Even with just 1200 bricks, they could have made smarter choices by eliminating some awkward pieces (no wedge bricks, fewer slopes, slightly fewer basic bricks) and adding some extremely useful parts such as a few domes, a few hinges, 2×2 jumpers, 1x4x2 spindle/fence, 1×3 tiles, and some additional SNOT parts. (I shared an earlier list of missing parts in December 2013.)
  4. If cost is an issue, they could offer an introductory set containing basic parts, with optional “Expansion packs” adding the parts you need for specific architectural styles or building techniques.

I’m able to offer this critical look at the Architecture Studio set because it is an amazing starting point to explore the world of Architecture using LEGO. Despite these shortcomings, I would recommend the Architecture Studio set to anyone who enjoys LEGO or Architecture.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Architecture Studio set, so leave a comment below.

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8 Responses

  1. Chad Simms says:

    I would enjoy seeing building instructions for some interesting Studio Architecture creations.

  2. Susan Seaman says:

    I use your book to teach an architecture class to middle schoolers once/week in our homeschool co-op. I didn’t think the book that came with the set was very good, so I was really glad when I found your book. We did all the projects in it, though I did have to order a few extra bricks to do it. Thanks for this resource!

    • tomalphin says:

      Thank you Susan for taking the time to share your positive experiences with ‘The LEGO Architect’ in your classroom setting. When I wrote the book, I hoped that it would serve dual duty – Inspiring young people to explore Architecture as well as appealing to adults.

      I am blessed an honoured to hear from people like you that it is something that young people are enjoying too. I’d love to hear more about how the book has worked with the kids… For example, do the focus on the LEGO models and building instructions, or do you find them reading the chapter text and looking at the photos of real buildings as well? Do they tend to jump around in the book, or are the able to focus on a single style of architecture for a single session?

      Further, I hope that it was easy for you to acquire the extra bricks… Did you use the resources at http://http://brickarchitect.com/book/bricks/ to help acquire the extra bricks, or did you make your own list of bricks to acquire?

      Lastly, did you decide to organize the bricks? or just keep them in a large box?

      Sincerely,
      —tom

  3. Ross Johnson says:

    I’ve had your book for over a year now, and still enjoy it. It did offer some new ideas, like the art-deco inspirations, that id never explored. My only problem with the actual studio set are the limitations laced by so few blocks. I would much rather have spent more money to get some more basic tools and maybe a few green plates, just for display if nothing else.

    One quick question; where can I find new pieces in “bulk?” I don’t want to destroy my existing completed sets, just to have more pieces, but I don’t want to spend the hundreds of dollars on “actual store sets.” thanks for your work and any ideas.

  4. Ray Oakley says:

    In total agreement with your views on the LEGO Architect set, the more so about the limitations of the selection of bricks provided. As for the book which is included it left me feeling both frustrated and without inspiration. Having had the set since Christmas 2014 and having been developing my skills as an AFOL (returning after 30 years away). I’m in total support of your guide to the type of brick which should be included.

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