Years ago, a little boy named Adam Reed Tucker was taken to the Museum of Science and Industry by his aunt, who was an engineer (not a common profession for women at that time). There, he purchased his very first LEGO set in the gift shop. Today, Tucker is one of just 14 LEGO Certified Professionals in the world. His LEGO creations are showcased in the LEGO Architecture collection and around the world, and right now, some of the largest-scale pieces can be seen at “Brick by Brick” at the MSI.

In an exhibit that Manager of Special Exhibitions Jeff Buonomo calls “sophisticated and elegant, but still kid friendly,” 13 large-scale LEGO sculptures on on display in 7,000 square feet of space. The sculptures include a 60-foot-long Golden Gate Bridge, the International Space Station, St. Louis Gateway Arch, Hoover Dam, the Roman Coliseum, One World Trade Center, and the Pyramids of Giza.

msilego1Some are structures Tucker hasn’t built before – others, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, are from his usual repertoire. Cinderella’s Castle was part of the MSI’s previous Disney exhibit, but has been redone. There’s even a model of the MSI itself, when it was the Palace of Fine Arts at the Columbian Exposition, 1893, which was commissioned by the museum but never displayed until now. Each display includes information about the building, how many LEGOs were used to build it, and how long it took to build.

My personal favorite was Hoover Dam, a structure Buonomo says was finished just days before opening. After it was already in production, Tucker was inspired by a historical photograph he saw, so he compleely changed course. The entire thing is done in shades of grays, whites, and clear LEGO pieces. Apparently, this piece is also one of Tucker’s favorites in the exhibition, along with the Ping An Finance Center.

But this exhibit isn’t just for eyes only. The focus is on elements of architecture and engineering. That means there are hands-on activities, building areas, and more. Families can test the strength of an I-beam, use simple machines to lift themselves and their friends, build structures designed to withstand earthquakes, and view some personal items of Tucker’s, showing how he became inspired to pursue architecture. At the demonstration area, kids can get up on stage and design objects based upon a challenge provided by a moderator, “Iron Chef” style in front of a crowd (when I was there, they had to design something that would help them survive the desert).

The scope of the exhibit allows for inspiration, which is part of the point. “The root of everything,” Buonomo said, “is creativity. Creativity is the gateway to greatness.” He notes that Tucker, as is his usual modus operandi, doesn’t use any pieces that aren’t available to the regular consumer.

msirollercoasterAnd the exhibit seems to be living up to expectations. People are hanging out in the exhibit longer, enjoying the activities, letting kids build. “It’s nice to see people spending time in here and not just zipping through,” Buonomo said.

One of my favorite areas is right at the end. In it, the MSI contacted architectural firms and schools and asked them to imagine structures that will deal with the challenges that face our future cities. The museum sent each participating firm three LEGO Architecture Studio Kits, with a total of 3,600 white bricks. Those that answered the challenge sent back small-scale LEGO sculptures designed to tackle themes such as the environment, population growth, and virtual reality, and they did it in creative ways. These stuctures are set along a wall above an area full of these white LEGOs, available for guests of all ages. The diversity of designs that regular visitors are coming up with each day, adding to the display, is impressive.

“Brick by Brick” is at the Museum of Science and Industry through April, 2017. It isn’t included in general admission, so you must purchase a ticket package for entry. For more information on the museum and its exhibits, visit www.msichicago.org.

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