Adam Tucker's model of the Roman Colosseum. J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

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.”

Adam Tucker building his 60-foot-long replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. (J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago)
The Hoover Dam model is meant to look like a black-and-white photo. (J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago)

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.”

Cinderella's Castle took 145 hours to design and 230 hours to build. (J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago)
Though Tucker's models are detailed, like this replica of the American Eagle roller coaster, he says he's more concerned with "celebrating the structure as a sculpture." (J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago)
Engineering marvels are found in space, too, like this replica of the International Space Station. (J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago)
Replicas of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. (J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past a boarded up building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Governors from coast to coast Friday told Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances and ordered nonessential business to shut their doors.
    Equity

    The Geography of Coronavirus

    What do we know so far about the types of places that are more susceptible to the spread of Covid-19? In the U.S., density is just the beginning of the story.

  2. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.
    Coronavirus

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  3. photo: A lone tourist in Barcelona, one of several global cities that have seen a massive crash in Airbnb bookings.
    Coronavirus

    Can Airbnb Survive Coronavirus?

    The short-term rental market is reeling from the coronavirus-driven tourism collapse. Can the industry’s dominant player stage a comeback after lockdowns lift?

  4. Equity

    The Problem With a Coronavirus Rent Strike

    Because of coronavirus, millions of tenants won’t be able to write rent checks. But calls for a rent holiday often ignore the longer-term economic effects.

  5. Charts

    The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams

    A new exhibit from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association showcases the simple visualizations of complex ideas that have changed how we live.

×