Thinking outside the brick

I never really gave much thought to the idea of someone being a LEGO visionary until visiting the LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition exhibit at Henry Ford Museum.

With one glance, it’s clear this isn’t your kids’ LEGO exhibit. It’s not that they won’t enjoy it, because they most certainly will. My 11-year-old son and his friend will attest to that. Their jaws were dropped in awe walking through the exhibit space. They were officially blown away. So were the adults.

I found the exhibit much more of an art exhibit than a toy display. We took the kids to the LEGO Castle Adventure exhibit in the same space just a few years ago, and although I wasn’t expecting a repeat theme, I certainly wasn’t imagining dramatic structures of this detail, beauty and scale.

Burj Khalifa iPad photo

A visitor captures a photo of the Burj Khalifa with her iPad

LEGO artist Adam Reed Tucker takes the familiar building brick out of the box and uses it in some not-so-familiar ways to create remarkable replicas of some of the world’s architectural icons. Some buildings included in the exhibit are the Empire State Building, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the Sky Needle, Transamerica Pyramid, Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Adam Reed Tucker works on LEGO Ford Field

LEGO Certified Professional and artist Adam Reed Tucker works on a LEGO rendition of Ford Field

Also part of the exhibit is Detroit’s Ford Field. The completed structure will be moved for unveiling and display at the field on Thanksgiving then returned to Henry Ford Museum the next day.

Tucker talking with visitors

Tucker explains to visitors that he uses architectural drawings and photographs for planning each structure, but that most of the work is in his head as he is “free building.”

Tucker was on hand the opening weekend of the exhibit. He continued work on the Ford Field replica, took time to answer questions, sign autographs and even gave an impromptu tour.

Tucker showing visitors his architectural drawings

LEGO Artist Adam Reed Tucker shows visitors the architectural drawings of Ford Field he used as inspiration during the planning and creating process.

An architect by trade and in practice, the tough economy put Tucker in a position of reconsidering his life’s work. After years of working with computer renderings in the business side of architecture, he had a desire to create with his own hands and inspire others to do the same. That’s where building with LEGO came in.

Tucker came up with a plan to use LEGO to recreate some famous buildings and sell them. In an effort to get reacquainted with the building bricks – he hadn’t built with them since before high school – he said he went to Toys R Us and filled 13 baskets with LEGO kits. (There was an audible gasp from the children present.)

Tucker demonstrates repurposing of LEGO pieces

Adam Reed Tucker demonstrates creative repurposing of a standard LEGO piece.

Tucker said the reason he chose LEGO was simple: to inspire others. “I wanted to teach people about architecture and encourage them to build models with just LEGO pieces. Using LEGO doesn’t require glue, putty or any special skills or tools.” He said the only difference in skill is in how you use LEGO. For many of the buildings in the exhibit, he creatively repurposed parts by at times using them in ways not originally intended.

Tucker demonstrates how he transports his structures

LEGO artist Adam Reed Tucker demonstrates how he transports the large structures. He uses no adhesives or putty.

Tucker came up with the concept of “artitecture” and his work eventually led him to an association with LEGO as a creator of LEGO Architecture sets.

Replicas of Falling Water, St. Louis Gateway Arch and Transamerica Pyramid

Replicas of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the St. Louis Gateway Arch and Transamerica Pyramid.

Playing with LEGO as a child fed Tucker’s interest in architecture, and now in some ways he has come full circle. I asked him if he ever in his wildest dreams thought he’d be doing this, he laughed and said, “No, I didn’t.” But he also said he plans to continue doing it for the rest of his life.

Tucker is working on a bridge exhibit slated to open in 2014 at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

I can honestly say, I will never look at a LEGO quite the same. I’m not sure if that means I won’t howl quite as much when I step on a wayward piece, but I will recognize the piece for the possibility, potential and inspiration it can bring to the minds of the young and old.

The exhibit includes a very large LEGO play area for visitors of all ages to put some of their newly found inspiration into practice. My son and his friend spent nearly two hours creating some architectural gems that they eagerly added to the growing LEGO city display table.

Free building in the LEGO pit

Andrew and Henry create in the LEGO play area of the exhibit.

LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition is at Henry Ford Museum through Feb 24. Tucker is scheduled return during the closing weekend to visit with guests and sign autographs. The exhibit is included with general admission to the museum and is free to members of The Henry Ford.