Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
The exhibit “Brick by Brick” features the painstaking creations of master Lego builder Adam Tucker.
Adam Tucker has built architectural wonders like the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, and the Burj Khalifa. And now, in a new exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, he can add more than a dozen engineering marvels to his resume, including the Hoover Dam, the International Space Station, and the Roman Colosseum. All were done brick by tiny Lego brick.
Tucker, who was an architect for 20 years before he became one of only 14 certified master Lego builders, has spent the past year putting together a 7,000-square-foot exhibit titled “Brick by Brick.” The exhibit, which runs through next February, features Tucker’s work alongside the creations of 10 architectural firms from around the world who were tasked with building their idea of a future city.
Each of Tucker’s pieces can take hundreds of hours and countless Lego pieces to complete. His 60-foot-long replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, for example, is composed of roughly 64,500 pieces. His replica of Cinderella’s Castle took him 145 hours just to design it, and another 230 to actually build it.
Each piece has incredible detail—you can see the individual rows of seats in his Roman Colosseum replica—but Tucker says capturing the fine details is the least of his concerns. “I more or less try to capture the essence of a structure in its pure sculptural form,” he tells CityLab. “I will research a given structure and I will try and 'squint' my eyes, so to speak, and see the main engineering or architectural principles.”
In replicating the Hoover Dam, which was built in the 1930s, Tucker primarily used gray bricks. “During that time, it was the height of the Great Depression, and no color photography was invented yet,” he says. “I wanted the model to reflect that time period, so I did it all in gray tones so it looks like a black-and-white photograph.”
Just as remarkable as the sculptures themselves is Tucker’s research and design process, which takes up 75 percent of the time he spends on each model. He says there are no instructions for building, say, a working replica of the American Eagle roller coaster. And he doesn’t use computers to generate his designs.
Instead, he combs through old-school resources: documentaries, DVDs, books—and if he’s lucky to get his hands on them, blueprints. “I just collect anything and everything I can, and then I just start tinkering and playing with different parts that I think might replicate this well or that well,” he says. “The journey for me is more important than the end result.”