Michael Bleby Reporter

Michael writes on emerging markets, architecture and engineering. He has served as a correspondent in Tokyo, London and Johannesburg and has written for Reuters, the Financial Times, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Lego ups the ante for an unforgiving crowd of architects

Published 02 August 2013 11:59, Updated 08 August 2013 00:45

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Lego ups the ante for an unforgiving crowd of architects

It’s just another brick in the wall for Lego, as the toy maker releases another kit in its architectural range that focuses on design – an Architectural Studio kit that permits the practice of techniques such as creating surfaces, modules and repetition and symmetry.

If the responses of BRW’s queries to some of the nation’s leading practitioners, who are also parents, are any guide, the playrooms in their houses are likely to become a whole lot more cluttered.

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“I think it’s great,” said National Capital Authority chair and architect Shelley Penn, whose son already has a Lego version of the White House.

“If it’s introducing them to the ideas of design and the complexity of design, and issues around it, and they can have fun with it, then why not?”

The 1210-piece Architecture Studio kit, which carries endorsements by architects including Beijing-based MAD Architects, is the first in the range to focus on creativity and architectural principles, rather than a specific architectural icon such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge or Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Not really for kids

“The consumers who buy the architectural range are tourists – they’re a souvenir after all – and architecture fans, engineering fans, but it’s definitely skewed towards an adult consumer,” says Caroline Squire, Lego’s director of marketing for Australia and New Zealand.

But despite its fans, the architectural range, which came to Australia in 2011, risks incurring the wrath of a discerning audience.

Andrew Maynard has an architectural practice with a shopfront on Melbourne’s Brunswick Street. A keen Lego fan who uses his 10-year old son as cover when he goes buying (“I pretend it’s for him. He couldn’t care less”), Maynard has a display of cardboard and timber models of his designs in the window, along with a collection of “Star Wars” Lego, including a 30cm AT-AT Walker (the four-legged machine that wreaked havoc in the snow in “The Empire Strikes Back”). The Star Wars Lego display draws far more attention than his models, he says.

Maynard isn’t impressed with what he’s seen so far.

“When the architecture series came, my architect mates and I were so excited, but when we saw it, we were so thoroughly disappointed,” he says.

I really try not to sound negative about this, but it is awful

Call it a design flaw, but he says there’s something wrong with the series.

“Looking at the Sydney Opera House [kit], I really try not to sound negative about this, but it is awful, especially when you think about the love that’s gone into the Star Wars stuff,” Maynard says.

“I think it might be the limitation of scale. They’re very small, so they really had to dumb down some very sophisticated buildings,” he says.

He also complains about the price of the architectural range, saying they are even more expensive than other ranges. A BRW search found a 270-piece Sydney Opera House going on eBay for $53, while the soon-to-be released 2989-piece Lego Creator range Sydney Opera House is $599.

High construction cost

“We’re used to paying top dollar for Lego,” Maynard says. “They’re taking it to a new level with this architectural stuff.”

Still, even he can see the attraction of a set of all-white Lego bricks that comprise the new architectural studio kit, which is available online only, for $US150.

“I do like the idea of getting a whole lot of white Lego to try things out with,” Maynard says. “If you try to design something in Lego you’re getting distracted by the primary colours which stand out. Just a bunch of white Lego would be a bonus.”

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