Former Chicago-based professional architect Adam Reed Tucker is one of 11 Lego-certified professionals in the world, designing scale models of famous buildings and structures out of Lego bricks. His models, including the World Trade Center, the Gateway Arch, Fallingwater and others, are on display in the National Building Museum until September 5, 2011, in the exhibit, “LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition” in Washington, D.C.
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You got your degree in architecture from Kansas State University in 1996. How did you get from there to Lego Certified Professional?
In a nutshell, I worked for a number of architecture firms, and then I had my own practice. One day I had this idea of doing something a little different, being inspired by the events of 9/11 and realizing that a lot of people from the general public were intimidated by vertical architecture—skyscrapers. They weren’t really visiting the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, because of what happened to the World Trade Center.
So, I thought it would be kind of neat to educate people on the engineering and the design that goes into these buildings. And I really didn’t know how to go about it.
I thought “Well, the brick as a medium could be kind of whimsical to offset the intimidating nature of architecture.” It’s something that’s not typically thought of outside of its usefulness as a toy.
I went out one day and I went to Toys R’ Us and I filled up several shopping carts with Lego sets to get reacquainted with the brick. I didn’t know what elements, didn’t know what colors Lego had been making since I had stopped playing with them probably back in 1981. I just needed to get familiar with them to find out if they would work with my idea.
From there I started these large buildings and I was invited to a Lego event on the East Coast in 2006. I brought some of my buildings there—the initial ideas behind Lego Architecture. I actually got to meet some Lego executives and I shared some of my vision and my passion for what I was attempting to do with their product, and essentially they invited me with open arms into a relationship with the Lego group as someone who is using the brick in a positive and entrepreneurial way.
As a child did you have the same passion of making your own creations.?
Oh definitely, I probably got my first box [of Legos] when I was 3 years old, 4 years old. Probably stopped playing with them when I was 13. So, for about 10 years of my childhood, probably not much different than other young boys around that time. It was Star Wars action figures and it was Legos.
Do you think that passion for more building-oriented toys led you to becoming an architect?
Definitely, there is a component there. I actually started in art, in graphic design, and found it to be not really challenging enough. So, when you start adding the fields of science with art, you get architecture and you start dealing with natural forces, physics, budgets, building codes, it helps to harness your creativity and provides, obviously, much more of a challenge with your art. So, it has to be functional art instead of arbitrary art.
Tell me about your design process.
I have reference photographs, and what I do is—I don’t use any computers, I don’t do any sketching—I just do all free build in my mind based off of the interpretation that I naturally go through when I’m looking at a photograph or a reference image (and) my knowledge of all the different elements that Lego makes. That combination allows me to create and capture the essence of a structure into its pure structural form.
Essentially what I’m doing is not necessarily getting caught up in the details of the design, but I’m trying to naturally provide a balance between allowing the model to still look as if its made out Lego, then also trying to balance and capture the structure to where it is obviously identifiable, but doing so in, you know, kind of an artistic capture.