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Lego Pilots New Product in Chicago

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Lego Pilots New Product in Chicago

Adam Reed Tucker works with his Hancock building Legos.

Visitors coming to Chicago this summer will encounter a product that will give them a chance to take home a little piece of the Windy City. For Chicago Public Radio, Eilee Heikenen-Weiss has more.

TUCKER: This room is probably 20 by 20, and it's probably filled with about half my collection—probably about half my collection, five million bricks.

These are colored, pegged bricks—not your usual masonry bricks. And for artist Adam Reed Tucker, they create masterpieces.

TUCKER: This is Burge Dubai, this is about 17-feet tall.

Tucker's home in Northbrook showcases the Burge and other buildings like the Sears Tower. He has four of these, ranging in size from 15 feet to eight inches. At a distance, they appear to be sculptures or structural models.

TUCKER: And then you get up close, about a foot away, and you're like, ‘Oh my gosh, that's lego bricks.'

Tucker runs a company called Brickstructures, which has partnered with Lego to pilot new line called “Lego Architecture.” The goal is to take Tucker's replicas and boil them down to easy to create, eight-inch versions. Sounds of legos

The idea was born years ago, when Tucker was co-owner of a development firm and also working as an architect

TUCKER: I was having a lot of fun with that, and some challenges, but then I started getting a little complacent. I felt like there was more for me to do. I really didn't know what that was, and there was a couple things that started falling into my mind.

One of those things was 9-11. As an architect, 9-11 affected Tucker differently than most people.

TUCKER: 3,000 people were lost that day, on September 11th, and we all mourn the loss, and we still are. But in the architectural community, two great buildings were also lost that day. And a lot of recognition, I don't think, was given to the architect, the engineers, and also to the two buildings that were lost.

Disheartened by the public's intimidation of big buildings, he set out to find a way to promote skyscrapers and architecture, while also returning to the more tactile experiences he enjoyed in college. A year before leaving his jobs, Tucker headed to the local Toys-R-Us and dropped thousands of dollars on Legos to explore their potential. He kept his new project quiet though.

TUCKER: You know, having friends or family over and seeing a 34-year old grown up in the midst of pounds and miles of legos, it was something that maybe I was not too proud to do or share at that point.

Tucker adds it's not so much that he was ashamed, but rather he wanted a chance to fully develop his idea. He started big, often building skyscrapers on a one to two hundred scale. To make a living, he decided to downsize their size and pitch the idea to lego. Lego had already made its mark on big retailers, so Tucker took a different approach. 

TUCKER: So I thought museums, landmarks, airports, basically places of tourism, lego is not sold as a product. Instead of buying another shot glass or t-shirt, here's an interesting way of recapturing/recreating a memory or experience you had visiting a landmark.

This line has a fancier feel and might appeal to a smaller niche market. Tucker's goal was to focus on architecture education and include information about the landmark. His ideas struck a chord with lego.
 
SMITH-MEYER: Adam came along at a good time.

Paal Smith-Meyer is head of New Business Group for Lego.

SMITH-MEYER: The lego company has actually been involved in architecture for quite some time. It was one of the visions from Godfred, that the bricks should be used by architects, and we actually launched some sets in the 60s. But at that time, it never took off.

The corporation is returning to its traditional roots and is more open to small business ventures with individuals. That's part of why they're willing to pilot the new architecture line with Brickstructures. Two of Chicago's most prominent buildings were selected to pilot the line—The Sears Tower and John Hancock Center. Sets are currently for sale in the Chicagoland area at specialty stores like The Chicago Architecture Foundation and at the landmarks themselves. 

In a store beneath the John Hancock Center, most of the kids I talk to are fans of Lego Architecture. 10-year-old Benjie Fountain:

FOUNTAIN: I kind of want this.
HEIKENEN-WEISS: Why do you like it?
FOUNTAIN: Because it looks like it, and John Hancock's historical, so it's kind of educational I guess.
HEIKENEN-WEISS: What do you think is educational about it? FOUNTAIN: I Like the architectural stuff in it.

But if parents want to bring home a piece Chicago's skyline through legos, they'll have to pay almost 22 dollars for it, which might not be worth the history or architecture lesson.

PARENT: I would pay ten dollars.

Lego's next endeavor in its architectural line includes New York's Empire State Building and Seattle's Space needle, which are scheduled to come out later this year.

For Chicago Public Radio, I'm Eilee Heikenen-Weiss.

Music Button: Fatigue, “C-Nut” from the CD Glow No (Shadow Records)

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