Architecture as a discipline has the inherent potential of overlapping with areas that do not appear related to its own scope of functions at first sight. Along with town-planning, the discipline is closely linked with mass evaluation, mutual relations of buildings’ volumes impacting on the users’ and inhabitants’ everyday life. Contemporary IT technologies enable architecture to “materialise” in virtual space (to be performed in silico, i.e. on a computer or via computer simulation, transl. note) but the creative design process calls for the direct connection between the hand and the mind – using a “thinking hand” whenever one is in need of inspiration, as Juhani Pallasmaa argues. The idea is that, by suspending one’s critical faculties and letting one’s hand simply roam free, one’s fingers might fashion something unexpected. Besides sketching or modelling there exist other tools which can be applied in the design process. The aim of the article is to explain the relation between the Lego® set and architecture, urban planning and design, to identify its potential for creation, creativity, and design innovation, and also to justify it as a teaching tool.
History of Lego®
The Lego® Brick is a cultural phenomenon with its own history. It was designed by a carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen in Denmark during the Cold War that followed WWII. First patented on 28 January 1958, the use and popularity of The Lego® Group (hereinafter referred to as “the LEGO Group”) has grown exponentially through the decades. Taking its name originally by a derivation from the Danish phrase leg godt (meaning “play well”), Lego® mainly produced wooden toys. Following the trend of those years, the company’s expansion into the plastic toys segment took place between 1940 and 1949. It was not before in the mid-1950s that the company’s production predominantly consisted of plastic while wooden toys were discontinued in the 1960s. Today, the LEGO Group has developed a worldwide community of enthusiasts from a diverse set of age groups and backgrounds. AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego®) and youngsters organize fairs where they display their Lego® MOCs (my own creation). By the way, this toy has its lovers also among artists, architects and designers.
Lego® in architecture design
The Lego® Architecture’s Edition, very popular mainly among architects, aims to celebrate the past, present and future of architecture through the Lego® Brick. From the beginning of 2009 until 2019, 45 sets with 10 special editions were released, including the Villa Savoye, Empire State Building, Sears Tower, Sydney Opera House, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Guggenheim Museum and many others. The latest edition – Lego® Architecture Studio – comprises white block sets, using primarily the smaller “plate” pieces rather than the larger “brick” pieces. This allows creating very compact, yet highly detailed replicas designed to scale. The main aim of this edition is to get young and old bricksmiths across the world over to thinking about the core concepts of architectural design.
The Lego® Company also supports many other projects and competitions, such as the Inspireli Awards, the world’s biggest global student contest in architecture, urban design, landscape and interior design, involving 136 countries around the world. This year was a very special one for the Faculty of Architecture, Slovak University of Technology, Bratislava, Slovakia, and two of its students, Jana Hájková and Kristína Boháčová, who were awarded a special prize in the “Design a real project” section in October 2019.
In relation to design process, the Lego® set has many advantages such as modularity and variability with a high number of various types of elements which can be very quickly and easily assembled and disassembled. Among disadvantages, one can include mainly a high price.
Using Lego® for Medical Purposes
It is invaluable that the Lego® set is also applied to treat communication disorders of autistic children. The Lego®®-based therapy (also known as Lego® therapy) was originally developed by US psychologist Daniel LeGoff followed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, and Dr. Gina Gómez de la Cuesta from the University of Cambridge Autism Research Centre. Within this therapy, all persons involved take turns to play different roles – such as Engineer, Supplier, Builder – and immediately have a joint focus on the same thing. As a result, children work together, interact one with another and can learn without fear or anxiety. In 2019, the LEGO Group developed a brick version with printed letters and numbers from the Braille alphabet which are compatible with Lego®’s wider collection. Therefore, blind and partially sighted children can learn to read while playing with the Lego® set.
Impact of Lego® on Education Process
If one speaks about the positive effects of Lego® related to teaching architecture, urbanism and design, some specific learning approaches have to be mentioned. Many pioneers of this unusual teaching procedure are of the opinion that through Lego® sets students are able to:
- Compare the difference between towers by differing heights and base sizes and discuss other ideas to improve building stability. Hence, they are learning the basics of architecture, engineering, physics and creativity;
- Construct one or more Lego® models that can mimic a real-world software process that consists of many interrelated activities;
- Learn about the need for flexible design to accommodate stakeholder needs;
- Quickly and simply model the effects of large-scale urban-planning decisions – like through the CityScope project developed by MIT which enhances teamwork and intervention design using data-based physical and digital tools.
Therefore, the Lego® set can be enthusiastically embraced by teachers at the FA SUT who can become the AAFOLs (adult architect fans of Lego®) and who /will implement the sets along with contemporary information technologies into the early stages of the architectural, town-planning and design education process. After all, Lego® has inspired children and adults alike around the world to develop a spatial vision and a love for building, development and engineering, which represent crucial elements of our everyday life.