If you’re a parent of a young child, like I am, you likely have LEGO® in your house. With some relief—since Legos are a fairly wholesome, harmless distraction—and maybe even pride, you’ve watched your kid stack and lock those distinctive bricks of plastic for hours on end. You’ve probably gotten down on the floor to join the fun. [Less fun: stepping on a Lego.]
Lately it feels like I encounter Legos in more places than my living room. In early summer, I kept hearing about an exhibition, The Art of the Brick®, on view at a surprising venue: Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. At its hilltop museum, my family and I eyed thirty awe-inspiring sculptures by “brick artist” Nathan Sawaya, who used thousands of Legos to handcraft each work. A few weeks later, two separate groups of friends reported that the new hotel at LEGOLAND was actually pretty cool. In mid-July, I stumbled upon a story on NPR.org probing why the Danish toy company had launched a product line specifically for girls. The reporter concluded with the right question: “Would it be so hard to develop—even market—toys for girls and boys to enjoy together?” On his “Thinking Brickly” blog, David Pickett studies the Lego gender gap more closely.
As summer waned, Legos continued to pop up in my life. Lost in a Breaking Bad internet vortex as the series finale drew near, I learned that a Lego imitator, Citizen Brick, quickly sold out of its controversial “Superlab Playset,” featuring “minifigs” of Walt (in yellow lab suit), Gus (in Los Pollos Hermanos button-down), and Mike (sporting grey stubble but looking far less hard-boiled as on TV).
Eventually Legos became a topic of conversation at work, as we geared up for our fall exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, opening October 22. As it turns out, the renowned architect, who has designed and built our Skirball campus in four phases over thirty years, used to toy around with Legos early in his career. In his book The City After the Automobile: An Architect’s Vision (Westview, 1998), Safdie describes how he began to develop a new concept for urban housing:
I began constructing large models out of Lego, stacking plastic blocks representing houses one on top of the other, each one forming a roof garden for the unit above…. This would lead two years later to Habitat, a project I designed and constructed as part of the 1967 world’s fair in Montreal.
For Safdie, the design challenge was this: “to invent a building type that provided the lifestyle of a house with a garden, but that was compact enough to be constructed in the central city.” Sounds good to me. Habitat ’67 went on to become a memorably modular housing complex—and, by the way, Adam Gopnik grew up there—much admired for its embrace of prefab construction. Now an architectural landmark, Habitat ‘67 was recently voted the next model in the LEGO Architecture Series (and just last week Safdie’s ten-million-square-foot Marina Bay Sands in Singapore was also picked for the series).
Meanwhile, it looks like Moshe Safdie remains a fan of the popular building blocks: he contributed an essay to the guidebook packaged with the LEGO Architecture Studio. Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Hawthorne gave the set a try… and seemed to like it.
With the opening of Global Citizen just two weeks away, our design team is hard at work installing hundreds of objects, including scale models of some thirty projects by Safdie Architects. Habitat ‘67—along with a few un-built Habitat projects—is presented in its own gallery. I’m looking forward to discovering the genius—and the Lego-ness—of it all.
Want to go nuts building Legos? Bring the whole family to the Skirball’s Lego Day: A Celebration of Building and Architecture this Sunday. Fan builder Tim Johnson will be on hand to lend some inspiration and expertise.