Regular readers will recall that a couple of momths ago Rich here reviewed a new book from No Starch Press: The LEGO Architect by author Tom Alphin. Well I have been fortunate enough to interview Tom and bring an exclusive Brick Talk feature for the benfit of you Brick Fanatics. Enjoy!
Hi Tom, thanks for taking the time to chat to us. I’ve got some questions for you which we’d like to share with our readers, so without further ado let’s get stuck in.
What is your earliest memory of LEGO?
I have no memory of a time when I did not have LEGO, so it’s hard to say what was my “first” memory. I think the first relatively large set I ever owned was 6971: Inter Galactic Command Base. Most of my sets were Town, Planes and Trains. The last series I enjoyed as a kid was the 1989 Pirates line.
Did you have what is called a ‘Dark Age’? If so, when did you rediscover your passion?
My interest in LEGO decreased as I got older, as my interest in Computers and Video Games increased. In High School, I started making levels for the popular “Quake” PC based video game. I was actually offered a job to build levels for an expansion pack to that game when I was 16, but I decided it was a better idea to finish high school and go to college.
That said, my sister or parents got me a new LEGO set for Christmas almost every year, and I always enjoyed building the models. The one year (probably in college) where I didn’t get a LEGO set was a bit disappointing, and I have always gotten a small LEGO set or some type of building toy ever since.
My interest in LEGO grew when they started the LEGO Architecture series. The first one I got was the Space Needle (naturally, since I live in Seattle), and this was quickly followed by the Sears Tower, Empire State Building, White House and eventually every model in the series.
When did that passion expand in to you wanting to write a book?
When the LEGO Architecture Studio set came out, I was drawn to the open-ended nature of the set. It contained 1200 white and clear bricks perfect for creating your own Architecture creations. The book which was included in the set is a bit disappointing – it contains chapters written by famous architecture firms, but the text and images are not very interesting to someone like myself who does not have a degree in Architecture. That said, the book also included some projects to try, such as building a model which explore symmetry, repetition, scale or form.
This got me thinking that I could expand on this idea, and I challenged myself to do 30 LEGO Architecture Studio projects, and share the results on my blog at http://tomalphin.com/2013/10/lego-architecture-studio-30-day-challenge.html
The book wasn’t my idea – I was approached by a publisher who found my 30-day challenge and wanted to see if I was interested in writing a book. My initial proposal matched the format of the completed book: A book which teaches common architectural styles using LEGO.
It was important to me that the book included some instructions (unlike the Architecture Studio set) as I wanted to give readers a starting point to learn about each style by building. Hands-on learning is a powerful tool. It is my hope that readers build the small model in the book, then build a model of their own design based on what they learned.
What was your favourite model that appeared in the book and why?
My favorite of the models with instructions that I designed is the ‘Postmodern University Building’, as I love how it illustrates how Postmodern architecture is generally constructed using Modern construction methods with a decorative façade on top.
The book includes 50 LEGO models built by 37 different talented artists from around the world. I am not sure which one is my favorite, but I can definitely say that I am happy with the decision to put the LEGO model of Unite d’Habitation (by Ken Parel-Sewell / Dan Madryga) on the cover of the book! It has resonated well with readers as a very engaging example of Brutalism, which can be a difficult style for people to enjoy.
Do you have any further LEGO-related books in the pipeline? If so what could you tell us anything about these possible books?
Right now, I am focused on supporting the book’s release: doing talks / book signings, interviews and sharing news on my Instagram and Facebook pages, and updating my new website at http://brickarchitect.com.
Now that I have a little free time, I have been able to explore some of my other hobbies: cycling, hiking, board games, and spending time with friends and family. (I did just finish reorganizing my LEGO collection, and have some new LEGO Architecture projects in mind.)
Has LEGO found its way into your work surroundings, or is it purely a hobby for home?
I am a User Experience Program Manager at Microsoft, where I have every model in the LEGO Architecture series on display in my office. It is a great discussion piece, and the models are very professional and workplace appropriate.
Ok, moving on now with some more light hearted questions, firstly do you have a favourite LEGO Theme?
Architecture, obviously 🙂
I want to learn a bit more about Technic, which is tough because I don’t have many parts. I’m thinking about building a great ball machine some day.
What is your all time favourite LEGO set and why?
I absolutely loved building the Death Star, because it includes almost every scene from the original Star Wars movie. (…which is the best movie in the series; people who think Empire is best are insufferable hipsters.)
From my childhood, my most cherished set was probably Black Seas Barracuda, which was huge and had awesome details.
Do you have a favourite LEGO Minifigure?
I love the classic design of the LEGO minifigure (despite their weird proportions: http://tomalphin.com/2013/11/lego-challenge-19-calculating-minifig-scale.html )
I like the LEGO adaptations of iconic figures like Indiana Jones, Chewbacca, or R2-D2. (My wife’s favorite is the tiny Mouse Droid.) I also like how the cut scenes in the LEGO videogames recreate scenes from the movies, but with some creative twists.
If you had an unlimited number of LEGO bricks what would you build?
I’m not really sure – I find the more interesting challenge is to capture the essence of a famous building using the smallest # of parts.
I think it was initially successful because it was a more “high tech” toy than things like wooden blocks; a product of the machine age where they could finally create precisely moulded parts out of space age plastic materials. The decision to do licensed products clearly saved the company during the first half of the digital revolution when kids were being drawn to TV and Video games.
Most recently, I believe LEGO is popular for the opposite reason as its initial appeal – it’s a relatively “low tech” toy that parents love because it encourages time away from screens, and kids love because they can build actual physical creations.
I think the real challenge going forward is how LEGO stays relevant in a world of advanced maker solutions such as Laser Cutters and 3D Printers.
2015 has been another massive year for LEGO. What are you looking forward to the most in the future?
I’m not really sure. The leaked photos of the next wave of LEGO Architecture sets shows a slightly different direction for the product line. I’m a little worried that it is less about Architecture and more about creating urban scenes, but at least we have 4 new sets to look forward to.
Do you have a favourite author? (of LEGO books or any other kind)
I don’t read a lot, although I enjoy fantasy books the most. I loved the new movie ‘The Martian’ and keep hearing that it is worth reading.
Finally we ask everyone this question (with some surprising answers) but if LEGO came knocking at your door would you want to work for the company?
My greatest pleasure in writing this book was an opportunity to tell a complete story around the history of architecture. I am using LEGO to tell my story because LEGO is a rich creative medium which resonates with people of all ages.
At the core, LEGO is a toy company, but I find the adult uses of the LEGO brick much more interesting. That said, I love telling creative stories visually. In my day job at Microsoft I use visual storytelling to help people understand the value of potential new features. It seems like visual storytelling is something that the LEGO group does well too.
I love living in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m not sure that I would want to live in Denmark. I honestly don’t know if I would want to work for the LEGO Group.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us here Tom and we all wish you the very best with this book and all future projects.
To learn more about the book, find bonus materials, as well as upcoming author events, you can visit Tom’s website at http://brickarchitect.com/book