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Lego, the Tool of Young Modernists

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By Christopher Hawthorne

Lego has produced a number of architecture-related products, but they’ve tended to be kits to design a single famous building: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, for example, or the Sydney Opera House. The Architecture Studio is closer in spirit to the original Legos, the ones that allow you to build whatever you feel like building.

And as Edwin Heathcoate, the British architecture critic, pointed out recently, there’s something to be said for simplicity and open-endedness in toys. Part of that is nostalgia, I think, for a pre-digital age; but you can’t argue with the number of accomplished architects who talk about playing with Legos or wooden blocks as a formative experience. In that sense it’s surprising Lego didn’t release a set like this years ago.

The Architecture Studio comes with a pretty thick book featuring interviews with (and design advice from) architecture firms, including Tokyo’s Sou Fujimoto and the Swedish office Tham & Videgård. But it’s as much a collection of conceptual essays on the nature of architectural play as instruction manual — and to be fair, this is a product pitched at a target audience older than my kids, really teenagers and up.

I decided I liked the limited color scheme: It made the ungainly buildings I put together seem to come from the same architectural family as the ones the girls made, even if the shapes and sizes were quite different. I suspect more than a few kids, though, will open the box and immediately wish for brighter colors.

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