The Canterbury Cathedral by MicroDesigns: Phenomenal Vaulted Style, Itty Bitty Footprint

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Though I’m a LEGO devotee, I do branch out into other building systems occasionally. I have a number of Nanoblock sets, for example. They’re (almost) all the fun of LEGO but they take up so much less room.

I recently learned about another company, MicroDesigns, who makes similar, tiny building sets based on some notable locations in Britain, including The Roman Baths (Bath, England), Edinburgh Castle (Edinburgh, Scotland), Stonehenge (Salisbury, England), and Canterbury Cathedral (Canterbury, England), the last of which I was able to try building.

Building these architecturally important sets is a fun way to be reminded of a trip you’ve taken to these places, or to feed your dreams of traveling there in the future, as is my case. They can also be a fun activity to do with your kids—since their fingers are probably smaller than yours!—and to learn about important British sites.

  • MicroDesigns
  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • Ages 8+
  • 823 Bricks
  • Finished dimensions: 8cm deep x 16cm wide x 11cm tall
  • Tiniest brick size: 4mm x 4mm

The Canterbury Cathedral

The packaging highlights some facts about the Canterbury Cathedral itself. I won’t spoil them all, but here’s a good one: the Cathedral was founded in 597 AD and was continuously rebuilt, ending up in the form we know, in 1498. This kind of long history is nothing for Europeans, but for those of us in the U.S., that’s a long time ago.

If you want to learn more about Canterbury and its cathedral, check out the official website for it, of course. You can also visit their gift shop online as well, which contains a variety of items, from traditional to modern celebrations of this site.

Or, from my favorite travel show, watch this clip from Rick Steves’ Europe about the Cathedral and related stories.

Assembling the Set

You might be fooled into thinking that assembling this Canterbury Cathedral set could be done pretty quickly. Its small size is misleading, though. There are 823 pieces in the set, some of them excessively small, and each one gets placed individually. The smallest piece is 4mm x 4mm.

The box and what comes in it.

All 823 pieces come packaged in one bag, but it is pretty easy to rifle through them and pick out the pieces you need. There is only a small-ish number of easily-discernible shapes, though most of the pieces are beige. The set also comes with a tiny brick separator, too, which is really helpful when placing (or fixing) pieces in tight areas. The blue, transparent bricks are used to stand in for all of the stained glass in the cathedral.

The diagrams in the building instructions are very similar to those I’ve seen in the Nanoblocks kits, with each new layer shown in color and older layers in blue and white. Everything is tiny, so you’ll need to look closely, and you might find you weren’t paying close enough attention a couple of times and had to undo some of your work to fix a misplaced brick (ask me how I know). But this is operator problems; the instructions are generally well done. A couple of the later steps include two layers in one step, but each layer has few pieces so it’s easy to figure out. One thing that these instructions do better than most LEGO ones I’ve seen is, when showing how to put two pieces together that might be confusing, they use vertical lines that go all the way through the pips so you know exactly which pips line up with which.

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The biggest challenge (otherwise known as “fun”) of this set is the tiny size of the pieces. If you have large fingers or long fingernails, you might find it difficult to place the tiniest bricks in their spots. But those who are more nimble will be able to do it. I found that medium-length fingernails aid in brick placement and also in securing the bricks.

This set really does take quite a while to put together. I put it together a little bit at a time, one or two steps/layers per sitting. It was fun to work on over the course of a week or so.

The large number of pieces left after building.

Not all the pieces are used in construction, though. As with many building sets, this one comes with extra pieces, which is helpful if you lose some, or if you want to build a tiny outbuilding to go along with the main construction.

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My only real complaints are that the piece construction isn’t quite as solid as LEGO (or even Nanoblocks), and the design of the cathedral construction lacks enough supports, so that you have to “balance” pieces on other pieces, sometimes causing a minor collapse when you push too hard on a future layer. And there is a mistake in one of the steps of the instructions—they display the wrong pieces to pull from the pile for that step, but it’s easy to figure out what you need by looking at the picture instead.

Still, the price is very good for how many pieces you get, you get hours of fun out of this kit, and the end result is beautiful. Plus, after the build, you end up with a ton of extra pieces to play with.

If you have a love of British sites and architecture and love to build, check out the Canterbury Cathedral set, available at the Canterbury Cathedral gift shop. It’s worth your time, and is around $25 (£20).

Note: I received a sample for review purposes.

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