Design Your Own Structures With Lego Architecture Studio

Image: LEGO
Image: Lego

Lego came out with the Architecture series of kits several years ago. To this point, they concentrated on specific buildings that exist in real life with kits that you just build one way. But now they have come out with something new, something to help us stretch our creativity muscles.

Enter the Lego Architecture Studio.

I’ve long been a fan of Lego Architecture. My first kit was the White House, and later came the Robie House (which I reviewed for GeekDad). I’ve drooled over the other kits, large and small, and have many of them on my wishlist. (The top one on my list is the new United Nations Headquarters, followed closely by the Farnsworth House and the Villa Savoye.) And while I truly love to build things according to a set of directions, I thought it would be fun to stretch my mind and build some structures, especially houses, that appealed to me. No matter that the images I had in my head were very reminiscent of the Farnsworth House…

All of the pieces. Photo: Jenny Williams
All of the pieces. Photo: Jenny Williams

The Lego Architecture Studio came in a sturdy cardboard box that is obviously meant to be reused to store your pieces. The included book was right on top, with all of the bags of pieces below. The kit also comes with two clear plastic trays for sorting the smaller pieces, but not all of the pieces fit in the trays. Because of this, I also resorted to using some of the other cardboard inserts for sorting, and still had to use some extra bowls. This kit comes with so many different kinds of pieces that it’s virtually impossible to keep them organized. It’s a nice problem to have, though, because the piece variety gives you so many building options.

The kit comes with two of these trays. Photo: Jenny Williams
The kit comes with two of these trays. Photo: Jenny Williams

The Book

Before diving into building, I spent some time with the included 271-page book. It is long, and full of inspiration and ideas, but it has no step-by-step instructions. The purpose of this kit doesn’t seem to be to teach you how to build, but rather to unleash your imagination. Build spaces, structures, and houses. Build towers and monuments. My internal direction-follower yearned for directions, but then I had to be honest with myself. If the kit came with instructions for building, I would merely follow them. I wouldn’t use my imagination to invent new things. I see what Lego did there. Score one for them.

The back of the book does have instruction in a (very) few building techniques, however, such as Locking, Sideways Building, Size-Scaling, Details, Alternative Uses, and Building in Sections. This is enough to get you started. Then you can go on to do a variety of exercises which help you to learn about several different ways of thinking about architecture. Exercises in the book include:

  • Abstraction
  • Scale
  • Space and Section
  • Modules and Repetition
  • Surface
  • Mass and Density
  • Symmetry
Rory's mid-century modern masterpiece. I want to move in. Photos: Jenny Williams
Rory’s mid-century modern masterpiece. I want to move in. Photos: Jenny Williams

Most of the ideas included in the book are very modern, from about the mid-century modern style onward. This isn’t a classical architecture set, with lots of columns and capitals and pediments and friezes. That kind of set would be great fun as well, but this one is designed for you to invent your own styles that don’t exist. To give you ideas, the book includes plenty of inspirational photos regarding topics like Form, Space, Light, Structure, and Proportion.

If you read the book from cover to cover, you would get a non-systematic lesson in basic modern architecture. This book itself could easily sell on its own, but it’s particularly useful to include in this kit. It includes attractively laid out pages with plenty of “sound bites” in text form, and includes vintage photos, interviews, photos of architecture, some LEGO images, and instruction and inspiration. It talks about the history of building materials, discussing famous inventors like Froebel, Buckminster Fuller, and Frank Lloyd Wright. The book then takes us forward to more contemporary subjects. Did you know that Lego bricks are used in architecture studies? It makes sense. (And with this new kit, architecture students–be they 5 or 105–have a new set of tools with which to create.)

My attempt at mid-century modern, before being blown out of the water by Rory's amazing structure. Photo: Jenny Williams
My attempt at mid-century modern, before being blown out of the water by Rory’s amazing structure. Photo: Jenny Williams

Many actual buildings from all over the world are profiled in the book. It is more about architecture, and specific architects’ ideas, than it is about building with Lego. The building tips are only a small part of it. Consider this the coffee table book for your Lego Architecture Studio set.

If you, like me, are a bit imagination-challenged even when you try really hard, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before step-by-step instructions for some really cool buildings to make with this set are shared out there in the aether.

The Pieces

The Lego Architectural Studio comes with 1210 bricks. Most of them are white with enough clear ones to really make an impact. The clear ones can be used for windows, doors, glass block, or other uses. There is a huge variety of bricks, from standard ones, to round ones, to sideways ones, to plates, and to unusual ones that aren’t often included in kits. Because there is such a wide variety of pieces, though, there isn’t a large number of any one type. Plan out your creations in advance, or else you might get stuck one brick shy of a masterpiece.

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Rory’s post-modern lighthouse. Photo: Jenny Williams

One thing I thought the kit was missing was some larger plate bases on which to build or place your creations. It really helps to have these, so you can use the plates that are included in the set to make floors, roofs, verandas, and the like. Fortunately, I had a couple of 32×32 pip plates from way back in the day.

As you build, you will discover new pieces, and new ways to put pieces together. Just stick a few pieces together and try a new design. Or take a handful of random pieces and attempt to make an interesting structure out of them. Or limit yourself to two or three different kinds of bricks. Sometimes it helps to give yourself a bit of structure within which to design a building.

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Playing with non-square shapes, this is my mini-skyscraper/Tatooine-style cooling tower. Photo: Jenny Williams

Some things I was reminded about myself as I built: I like symmetry. I like squares. I dislike non-90-degree angles. I only like a few kinds of round things. But this kit will help get me out of my rut and try some angles and curves.

My man Rory had an interesting observation as well: “Oh, I want a piece to do this. And voila, there is a piece to do that. And there were pieces that I didn’t know what they did before, but because of the combinations in which they were packaged, I figured it out. It was intuitive.” He also thought it was the greatest Lego kit he’d ever seen.

Conclusions

This set is worthy to carry the Lego Architecture name. It deviates from the formula, but encourages people to use their imaginations. Though not cheap, this Lego set will offer fun for the rest of someone’s life. For anyone interested in architecture, or for those who prefer building structures rather than animals and vehicles, I recommend it without reservation.

So, get building. Start at the top. Start at the bottom. Design on paper and then build, or just dive in and see what takes shape. Find out what kinds of shapes you like. Do you like a lot of glass? Angles? Cubes? Tall and thin, or short and spread out? Create your designs, build them, and then share!

The Lego Architecture Studio retails for $149.99, and will allow for hours and hours of play. This kit has much more replayability than the other Architecture sets, since it’s meant to be taken apart and reassembled. You could even use it for real design work. The Lego website is marketing this kit to girls, especially, which was nice to see.

Image: LEGO
Image: Lego

If you like the look of this kit but don’t want to spend that much, check out the new United Nations Headquarters kit, which is about 1/3 of the price. You can pretend you’re a diplomat as you put together this iconic building.

GeekMom received a copy of this kit for review purposes.

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Jenny Bristol is an Editor at GeekDad and a founding Director at GeekMom. She is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, homeschooling her two wickedly smart kids, losing herself in history, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.