How 10 Architects Used The Same Box Of 1,200 White Legos

Put down that rendering software. Pick up the Lego.

Lego is the great equalizer. It requires no skill to wield, unlike CAD software or cardboard models. So when the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) shipped boxes of Lego bricks to some of the top architecture firms in the world, what it got back had none of the high production values of a big-budget Bjarke Ingels promotional video. Instead, it was a series of 10 models that any eight-year-old could have built.

Kengo Kuma’s Organic City. “Concrete architecture makes for boring urban environments,” the firm writes. “As we dismantle our concrete culture, the future manifests as consciousness atomized into small particles.”

The challenge was relatively open: Create a building of the future that responds to a problem of the future, such as climate change or overpopulation. Each firm was mailed three Lego Architecture Kits, consisting of 1,200 ivory Lego pieces in total. They were encouraged to hack their builds as much as they wanted, via 3-D printing and other methods. The museum’s only real requirement was that every model had to fit inside a 14-by-14-by-18-inch display case for its latest exhibit, Brick by Brick.

The results, viewable in the slideshow above, range from a self-sustaining ocean reef tower by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, which shows how we could usefully harness sea level rise in coastal cities, to a scalable, infinite lattice by Skidmore Owings and Merrill, which illustrates how architects can use minimal, simple materials to build complex structures in a resource-scarce future. Others, like Adjaye Associates, designed structures for specific future scenarios, creating a modular design for easy assembly. “The design easily allows expansion up and out, empowering communities to be resilient in the face of natural disasters and population growth,” the firm writes. “It features solar panels for heat and energy, and breezeways for free cooling.”

Chicago’s UrbanLab designed a “living machine” that uses plants to filters waste water inside the blue-hued tank. “How can we transform massive, centralized infrastructures like waste-water processing for greater efficiency?,” the firm writes.

But the most radical proposal came from University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture, which broke all rules by ditching the ivory pieces for chunky Lego Duplo, chopped and reassembled into a sporadic pile. Why? Because “solutions to future conditions only can be discovered through unconventional and disobedient methods,” the team writes. “The key is to identify and challenge preconceptions to escape contemporary anxieties about the future.”

Brick by Brick is on exhibition at MSI through February 2017.

All Photos: J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach