Warren Elsmore’s Brick City – Lego for Grown Ups

St Pancras, all photos courtesy of Michael Wolchover
St Pancras, all photos courtesy of Michael Wolchover
Brick City by Warren Elsmore
Brick City by Warren Elsmore

Warren Elsmore is one of the most prominent AFOLs (Adult Fans Of Lego) here in the UK; he is a former chairman of the Brickish Association and also organises AFOLCON, the UK’s largest convention (where he broke a world record that my daughter and I helped set, but I won’t hold that against him). He has just published his first book, Brick City, featuring gorgeous photos of some his best models alongside others by his friends in the worldwide AFOL community, and he was kind enough to send GeekDad a copy.

London's Olympic Park
London’s Olympic Park

Brick City starts with an informative introduction from Elsmore where he tells us a bit about himself, the history of the Lego company and introduces us to some his favourite bricks and building techniques. From there he delves a bit deeper into where to get hold of bricks in bulk, the (over 140) available colours, and nice bit on customising minifigures from Caroline Savage of the excellent minifigs.me. Then we get into the meat of the book as it follows a hypothetical round-the-world journey, stopping off in various major cities and showing a few of their sights lovingly rendered in our favourite plastic bricks. Inside the front and back covers, there are fold out posters of two of the biggest models in the book too, which is a nice bonus.

Chicago's Tribune Tower
Chicago’s Tribune Tower

The journey starts in San Francisco, with the TransAmerica Pyramid and a fabulous model of the famous cable cars. If, like me, you think “How did they build that?” when you see these kinds of models, then this book is for you as it features parts lists and basic instructions on how to make over 50 of the models featured in the pages. Of course, they’re mostly only for the smaller models, but it’s still great fun.

From San Fran, we cross America, visiting Vegas (with a teeny version of the famous strip to build), Chicago’s Tribune Tower, and on to New York with many of the most famous skyscrapers (including the new World Trade Center) featured and instructions to build a Brownstone, mini Yellow Cab and a Hot Dog stand amongst others. Washington rounds off the American stage of the trip before a quick visit north to Montreal and a longer one to South America with ancient Mayan monuments and the Rio Carnival to marvel at.

Macy's Day Parade
Macy’s Day Parade

European cities featured include Elsmore’s hometown of Edinburgh, Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Berlin, Praque and many more. I’m slightly biased, but my favourite has to be London. The 180,000 brick, 1.4m x 3.5m model of St. Pancras station is simply amazing in its complexity and detail. The photo above doesn’t really do it justice as its only showing the hotel part of the building; the really clever stuff is around the back on the platforms. The massive arched roof is built using the same structural technique as the real one, with the walls supporting the weight of the arch as beams attach them to the floor. Each beam of the 1.5m arch is made from 1×4 plates which overlap by just one stud, which gives just enough flexibility to curve them around – even with Lego’s famously tight tolerances. If you’re in London before the end of May, you can see the model for yourself at the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

The giant Westminster Abbey model, built for the Royal Wedding in 2011, is similarly impressive, with its many arches and columns, diagonal black and white nave floor and amazing stained glass windows. There’s no way us regular builders would ever have the 180,000 bricks need to build these monsters, so I was pleased to find that many of the buildable models of London are ‘nanoscale’ versions of some of the most famous landmarks in the UK’s capital city. My daughter and I had a great time building the tiny versions of St. Paul’s and the National Gallery, and a bit trickier time with the mini Westminster Abbey due to a lack of bricks – but this just meant that we had to work out our own way of doing it with what we had, which was even more satisfying! I even went on to do my own nanoscale version of Nelson’s Column as I knew there wouldn’t be anywhere near enough bricks to make Warren’s one.

Nano Westminster Abbey and St Pauls Cathedral
My version of the Nano Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral

The Brick City journey continues through Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Far East and ends in Australia and New Zealand with many more incredible models to both marvel at and build yourself. Some more favourites include the gaudy St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, The (buildable) Petronas Towers, a beautiful picnic scene amongst Tokyo’s cherry blossom trees and the awesome microscale rendition of Melbourne’s Flinders Street by Aaron Amatnieks.

Nano Trafalgar Square
Nano Trafalgar Square

Overall, it’s a great book for fans of Lego of all ages and inspires you to go and build things that you might not normally attempt – if you’ve got the bricks of course!

Brick City: Lego for Grown Ups (Brick City: Global Icons to Make from Lego in the US) by Warren Elsmore, published by Mitchell Beazley is out now, RRP $19.99/£12.99, and available from Amazon. GeekDad was provided with a review copy of the book.

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Nathan (aka @geekDadNath) is a stay-at-home Dad from London in the UK. He is an ex-beebie, designer, coder, and now helps build geniebelt.com - bringing the construction industry into the digital age.