In 2002, architect Adam Reed Tucker filled eleven shopping carts with Toys R Us Lego sets, hauled them home, and started building. In the decade and a half since, Tucker’s work has become a second career. “Brick by Brick,” which opened earlier this year at the Museum of Science and Industry, includes Tucker’s renderings of 13 of the world’s great architectural feats. He designs them all in his mind—no computer models and minimal sketching.
Tucker sees his work as taking architecture’s intimidation factor down a notch. The bricks don’t require skill, he says, because they come with built-in instructions: You can only put two bricks together in so many ways. Ask two people to make a Lego square, and, “your square is going to look like my square,” he says. But Tucker isn’t building squares. Across the exhibit, he spent an average of 89 hours designing and 105 hours building each structure. Add it all up, and that’s 63 40-hour work weeks. The man isn’t playing: “I would challenge anyone to look at my structures and see them as toys.”
Here are some of Tucker’s most unbelievable works—and how he made them.
The works are as long as 60 feet (Golden Gate Bridge) and up to 12 feet tall (Burj Khalifa). Across the exhibit, his pieces contain 316,150 Lego bricks. If that sounds like a lot…
Tucker’s Arlington Heights home doubles as his studio. How many Legos can you fit in one house? By his count, nine million.
Tucker estimates that his collection beats any but Lego’s official archives. His upstairs studio is full of models and carefully organized brick.
But Legos also fill a side room on the ground floor. And the basement, attic, and garage.
The basement workshop includes a bin of hundreds of discarded Lego figures. They come with the kits, but Tucker never uses them.
Tucker freebuilds—that means no computer models and minimal sketching. From documentaries, books, old photos, and site visits (for his American Eagle, he made it to the top of the coaster’s lift hill), Tucker designs in his head. And then, he builds.
And re-builds. “It’s like a rubix cube that’s never solved,” Tucker says. “If I had six more months to work, I’d find a way to use that time.
To build a working roller coaster (14,500 bricks), Tucker had to commission special parts.
Every tweak meant removing the rails. “It takes four hours to put the track on and take it off,” he says. “I probably did that 20 times.”
At 60 feet and 64,500 bricks, the Golden Gate bridge is one of Tucker’s largest works. He designed and built it over 475 hours in the long ground-floor hallway of his home, the only place it would fit. It took six trucks to carry the bridge to the museum.
“My structures are not 100 percent realistic,” he says, “I’m constrained by the limits of the brick. I want it to speak Lego. I’m trying to capture the essence of the structure.”
Tucker likes the challenge of projects he hasn’t seen done before. For ones that have, like the pyramids (24,000 bricks) or Colosseum (195 build/design hours), he built cross-sections to convey process.
“It’s 2016. If something hasn’t been done out of Lego, there’s a damn good reason why,” he says of the Disney Cinderella’s Castle. “The castle, the bridge, the arch—no one’s done them. No one could figure out how.”
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