Fantastic in plastic: Building the great wonders out of Legos

The versions of the world’s great wonders that Adam Reed Tucker makes out of interlocking plastic pi
A view of Adam Reed Tucker's Lego rendering of the Golden Gate Bridge, part of the exhibit 'Brick by Brick' at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. (Chicago Tribune)
A view of Adam Reed Tucker's Lego rendering of the Golden Gate Bridge, part of the exhibit 'Brick by Brick' at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. (Chicago Tribune)

CHICAGO — The versions of the world’s great wonders that Adam Reed Tucker makes out of interlocking plastic pieces are attainable and impossible.

They’re attainable because you, too, can buy thousands of Lego bricks and piece them together, one after another after another.

That’s how Tucker got his start, he explained one morning this week, standing near his replica of Six Flags Great America’s American Eagle roller coaster.

“I literally went to Toys R Us and bought ten grand worth of brick,” said the Arlington Heights, Ill., resident.

His pieces are impossible because, well, take a look at the gallery-width Golden Gate Bridge that is a centerpiece of “Brick by Brick,” the Museum of Science and Industry’s exhibition in Chicasgo showcasing more than a dozen Tucker creations. If you read that the reimagined San Francisco landmark is 60 feet long, you’ll know that is really big; a comparison that jumps to mind is the length of two first downs in football. But until you see the bridge in the museum’s central traveling exhibition space, you cannot quite grasp what a feat it must be to not only conceive and execute this intricate, almost lacy, behemoth, but to also get it to all stick together. (And then there is the delicate question of getting it from your house to the museum.)

“The biggest piece in that entire bridge is a 1-by-12 plate, and there are 14,000 of them in red,” Tucker said, putting his finger on one of the Lego pieces under discussion, a thin, flat red piece with 12 of the brand’s lock-dots on it, all in a row. “I don’t use glue. I don’t modify the parts. I don’t want there to be any tricks. That would not be very inspiring.”

“Brick by Brick” aims to inspire. Asking people to “Find Your Inner Builder,” it surrounds the work of Tucker with DIY building tables targeting elementary and middle-school kids and even adults. There are mini seminars on the construction of skyscrapers, in both steel and scaled-down plastic editions.

One table will shake periodically to test whether your structure can withstand an earthquake. Another uses video to give an extreme close-up view of what you’ve made so you can see it on a different scale, a key element to design.

And along the back wall is a series of constructions by architectural firms and design schools. The museum gave them three Lego Architecture Studio sets (at about $160 each, by the way) and asked them to create buildings for the future.

“I don’t know anyone that was more excited to be in the exhibit than the architects when they came to assemble those models,” said Anne Rashford, director of special exhibitions. “They were more interested in learning what Adam has done and how he works.”


Tucker’s availability was central to the exhibition, she said: “We worked with him about eight years ago on a small exhibit, ‘Art + Science = Architecture.’ We had about 10 of his models.”

It was well-received and “beautifully done,” Rashford said, and the museum has wanted to do a follow-up since. “Adam finally had the time to put aside to build these models, and we had a hole in our schedule,” she said.

Tucker and the exhibitions staff began meeting about a year ago, with an original idea to do a series of bridges. “We thought there was a bigger story to tell,” said Rashford.

So early this week the 7,000-square-foot exhibition space contained Tucker’s Lego versions of the Pyramids of Giza and the Roman Colosseum, both executed in a sort of cutaway view that show the inner workings.

The roller coaster Lego structure is overlaid with plastic tracks Tucker commissioned that will run cars through the course every 10 minutes. His version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater masterpiece shows both the home and an elegant, skeletal rendition of the hillside on which it rests.

And a big white structure should look familiar to museum visitors who paid attention as they were approaching the building.

Monday afternoon, as he talked, Tucker was repairing a tower on his version of Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle that had become wobbly during the trip from Tucker’s home studio to the museum.

“I’m just an artist trying to repurpose a child’s toy as a creative tool,” he said.

Has his own line

Before turning to Lego, Tucker, 44, was an architect, a graduate of Glenbrook North High School and Kansas State University, whose “skill in life is I could make models,” he said.

Since that first outlay at Toys R Us, he has become widely recognized for his work and is the creator of Lego’s architecture line, featuring build-at-home kits of Wright homes, famous skyscrapers and more.

He is not a Lego employee, though. Tucker is a “Lego Certified Professional,” one of 13 sanctioned by the Danish company as skilled builders and “trusted business partners,” the company explains. The museum exhibit is created independently of Lego, although the company’s kits will certainly be available in the exhibition gift store.

In selecting pieces for “Brick by Brick,” Tucker wanted to challenge himself to do something new, he said. After having an idea, his first step is to check Google to see if anyone else has done the concept in Lego already.

“If it has not been done in Lego by now, there’s probably a reason why,” he said. But “there’s a balance between what’s deliverable and what’s the challenge. You don’t say you’re going to do something and have it be half-(way good).”

Yet to be mounted early in the week were his Hoover Dam, St. Louis Arch and International Space Station. But the transport of the Golden Gate Bridge sounded like an event in itself.

“It arrived at the museum in four trucks with the lights flashing,” Rashford said. “They had to go at a certain speed. They arrived in these beautifully made crates by Ravenswood Studios to protect the bricks. It was such precious cargo.”

And now those segments have been snapped back together and mounted under spotlights, a child’s toy turned into, literally, a museum piece.

Categories: Life and Arts

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