Since 2008, Architecture sets have offered accurate scale models of legendary landmarks. Buildings, cities and other structures from around the world have gotten tributes in LEGO form, while another one-off set has also helped awaken the budding architect in all of us.
LEGO Architecture history
LEGO Architecture sets first appeared back in 2008. Before the theme’s arrival, realistic depictions of specific places were rare in LEGO form. 3450 Statue of Liberty is an early example; it came out in 2000, at a considerably larger scale than most Architecture sets.
The theme’s initial models are rather simple, even by contemporary design standards. They mostly consist of stacked bricks and plates, without intricate texture or even names. There are some exceptions like 21005 Fallingwater and 21003 Seattle Space Needle, but it would take some time for the theme to come into its own.
By 2011, Architecture started to iron out some of the kinks. Buildings began to receive nameplates, more extensive texture and elaborate construction techniques. The range also expanded beyond the US for the first time. Architecture fans (both LEGO and otherwise) could now visit the likes of Dubai, Berlin and Sydney from the comfort of their coffee table.
While its models don’t lend themselves to much customisation, the Architecture theme didn’t forget it was still LEGO. 21050 Architecture Studio hit shelves in 2013, and contains over 1,000 white and transparent pieces. Its ‘inspirational’ guidebook gives fans various techniques and exercises to try. While it’s not exactly an architecture degree, it remains a solid choice for LEGO fans just getting to grips with free-building.
Even as building techniques improved, the sets themselves had room to grow. 2016 saw the first Skyline sets arrive, depicting miniaturised versions of major cities with significant landmarks highlighted. Since then, a dozen different models have appeared in this subtheme.
Architecture hasn’t been afraid to return to old ideas from LEGO more broadly: 10189 Taj Mahal was one of the LEGO Group’s most iconic sets, and a new version appeared in 2021. 21056 Taj Mahal remains the lone Architecture release of that year, and recreates the 1632 tomb with reasonable accuracy.
Today’s Architecture theme contains a mix of intricate Skyline sets and impeccably-detailed landmarks. This more sober approach to LEGO products seems to have won over many LEGO fans, and we anticipate many more tiny buildings in the future.
LEGO Architecture sets
LEGO Architecture lets us get to grips with many different buildings. While most make a one-off appearance, the more popular ones have had new versions down the line, allowing the LEGO Group to take advantage of new design innovations.
21006 The White House was one of the first sets in the Architecture range, and got a much more sophisticated version in 2020. In addition to refined building techniques, 21054 The White House includes the building’s east and west wings for the first time. Red and blue colours (in reference to the US flag, or possibly its dominant political parties) feature in the internal structures as well.
The Burj Khalifa has also made repeat appearances. Located in Dubai, this skyscraper opened in 2010 as part of the Downtown Dubai development. It is currently the tallest building in the world, measuring 829.8 metres from bottom to top. Its most recent depiction (as part of 21052 Dubai) captures its intricate array of sections more accurately.
Indeed, the Architecture theme’s skylines offer many attractive slices of city life. 21051 Tokyo is a recent highlight. It features a number of colourful landmarks including the Tokyo Tower, the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower and a trio of cherry blossom trees.
21043 San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is similarly impressive; its use of forced perspective instantly differentiates it from other sets in the range. Other interesting features include the hilly landscape and tiny Alcatraz prison, complete with rare printed window detail.
While most Architecture sets recreate fairly new buildings, there are a few exceptions. 21041 Great Wall of China draws inspiration from a truly ancient structure; sections of the real thing date back to the seventh century BCE. Unusually, this set is intended to be bought in multiples. Sections of the base are designed for easy attachment, allowing copies of the set to sit flush with one another.
Conversely, one traditional LEGO icon is conspicuously absent from the broader Architecture theme: minifigures. That’s mainly by dint of its small scale and mature subject matter. The closest we’ve gotten is 21047 Las Vegas, which features a tiny Luxor Hotel. Its Great Sphinx of Giza puts an Egyptian crown piece to excellent use.
The Architecture theme would revisit Egypt in 2022, with 21058 The Great Pyramid of Giza. This is one of the more expensive and ambitious sets in the Architecture theme, recreating the pyramid in its prime. A section of the Nile river and riverbank is also modelled in it.
A particularly impressive feature of this set is its time-travel feature. The outer shell of the pyramid can be removed, to show it at an earlier stage of construction.
Ultimately, though, the most desirable Architecture set may also be the most meta one. In 2017 the LEGO Group released 21037 LEGO House, a scale recreation of its interactive attraction in Billund, Denmark. Its colourful, overlapping bricks recreate a highly distinctive structure, and a dream destination for many LEGO fans.
Unlike the other sets, 21037 is rather tricky to acquire. The model is currently only available in the gift shop of the real thing; you currently have until the end of 2026 to pick up one for yourself.
LEGO Architecture London
The capital of England and the United Kingdom, London’s history spans approximately 2,000 years. The city has seen fire, plague and civil war in its long lifespan, and hosts several of the world’s most famous landmarks.
The LEGO Group released a miniature London skyline in 2017. 21034 London has proven one of the range’s more popular models; it is still in production until at least the end of 2023. It naturally features several London attractions, some of which have received LEGO versions within and without the Architecture theme.
Blending old and new, this skyline includes models of the National Gallery, Nelson’s Column, Elizabeth Tower (home to Big Ben) and Tower Bridge. The London Eye also makes an appearance, and its use of four outer cables lends it an appropriately large footprint.
A section of the Thames is featured, with a mini Tower Bridge bisecting it. This tiny Tower Bridge features hinged sections that can raise and lower as necessary. It mimics a larger version, 10214 Tower Bridge, which was released in 2010. While some fine detail is sacrificed, the small one captures the essence of its cousin rather effectively.
Architecture sets tend to eschew printed pieces, although they’re occasionally necessary at this scale. The model of Elizabeth Tower features a tiny printed clock face, though – sadly – only on a single side. This building would also receive a larger LEGO version. Released in 2016, 10253 Big Ben recreates the classic clock tower as well as a section of the Palace of Westminster.
The Architecture theme has explored London in a few of its other sets. 21013 Big Ben was released in 2012; while its design seems simplistic now, it does feature all four clock faces. 21029 Buckingham Palace brickified the royal residence in 2016; a black cab and London bus lend it some life, while a tiny Royal Standard – flown when the Queen is in residence – appears above the palace itself.
21045 Trafalgar Square is the theme’s most detailed slice of London to date. A 2019 release, it features a larger model of the National Gallery and – of course – Trafalgar Square itself. Nelson’s Column sits at the centre, flanked by four tiny lions, with trees and vehicles adding some life to the model.
The National Gallery itself has a few secrets to share. Sections of the back wall can be removed, with a number of tiny (if inaccurate) artworks behind them. This kind of interior detail is rare across the Architecture theme; it’s usually reserved for larger structures, given the small nature of most Architecture sets.
Whether you’re a foreign fan or want to show your national pride, Architecture has plenty to offer those who like London.
LEGO Architecture New York
The city so good they named it twice, New York’s history dates back to the 1500s. Today it is the most populated city in the United States; in 2020, almost nine million people called it home. New York has also been the setting of dozens of movies, comics and TV shows; the Ghostbusters, the Avengers and the friends from… er, Friends have all lived in versions of it.
Like London, New York enjoys multiple appearances in the Architecture theme. 21028 New York (from 2016) captures the biggest slice of it, blending old and new with its building selection. The art deco Empire State Building is probably its most recognisable part; it includes much more detail than its older, standalone counterpart. It’s joined in this set by the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building and the One World Trade Center, which first opened in 2014. A tiny Statue of Liberty can also be found on the left hand side.
Some of the structures in this set would prove to have a long LEGO life beyond it, including the Statue of Liberty. A legendary New York icon, the real thing was gifted to the US by France in 1886. The LEGO Group has recreated it multiple times, producing both brick-built and minifigure versions over the years.
21042 Statue of Liberty – released in 2018 – may be the best to date. 1,685 pieces build into a model that’s 44cm high, and benefits from the LEGO Group’s current part selection. Numerous curved elements allow for a good representation of the statue’s robes, while a gold minifigure hair piece depicts the flame. The real one is appropriately covered in 24-karat gold.
21046 Empire State Building is almost 23 times bigger than the 2009 standalone model in terms of piece count. Released in 2019, it features a much larger structure, an abundance of detail and yellow taxis around the base – a rare sign of life in the Architecture theme. The set may be better seen as a test of endurance, however. To achieve the external texture, 684 separate grille tiles must be attached.
Other New York buildings have made fewer appearances, but are still worthy additions to the theme. The Flatiron Building was erected on Fifth Avenue in 1902, and features a striking triangular design. The LEGO Group released a standalone brick-built version – 21023 Flatiron Building, New York – in 2015, its angular construction presenting some unique design challenges.
That said, 21035 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum may have proved more popular. The LEGO version appeared in 2017, with its curved, bulbous shapes preserved in translation. Distinctive even by Architecture standards, the city’s yellow cabs can also be found on the streets outside.