Designing and Inventing the LEGO Way Isn’t Just For Kids

Is there knowledge to be gained from LEGO besides the obvious ‘stepping on a small plastic brick in bare feet really hurts’?

This is where LEGO started when it came to toys-a simple wooden duck.LEGO is a brand that has been around since the early 1930s, although it took a few years before the company stumbled across the building blocks that would eventually become its stubbly calling card. Master carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen founded the company with his 12-year old son Godtfred at his side and when the doors of the LEGO business were initially opened in Billund, Denmark, in 1932 it made wooden toys, step ladders and ironing boards. It should be noted that no assembly was required for any of these items.

A limitation of creating with blocks is sometimes your ‘G’ has to look like a ‘6’.

LEGO is all about the happy accident

In 1934 the name LEGO was made official, splintered down from the Dutch phrase ‘leg godt’, translating to ‘play well’. It’s just a happy, and completely accidental, coincidence discovered after the fact that the word ‘Lego’ also means ‘I put together’ in Latin.

It was when a salesman showed up at the LEGO factory in 1949 with a plastic mold injection device that the LEGO brick was first stumbled upon-there was a plastic block sample that caught the attention of the Kristiansen’s. The LEGO brick pattern was officially patented in 1958 one year after Godtfred Kirk Kristiansen took over the company following his father’s passing and after almost ten years of what one can only assume would be fun-filled tweaking, experimenting and perfecting. What history has brushed aside is that when push comes to shove, it was not LEGO that invented the interlocking plastic block; that honour falls to Hilary Fisher Page, whose company, Kiddicraft, would eventually be bought out by LEGO. In that timespan over 400 billion LEGO bricks have been made.

Surround a kid with LEGO and odds are better than great something is going to get built.

It’s a creative time waster

LEGO claims that if you add up all of the time kids spend on playing with its bricks each year you would be topping the five billion hour plateau. With that much influence on growing minds it’s no wonder that this day and age LEGO is looked at as both an influence and a potential tool across a variety of platforms. Just ask any AFoL (Adult Fan of LEGO). Chances are good you probably know one.

Minecraft is all about blockiness and where there’s blocks there’s usually LEGO. Photo: Steven Saus/Flickr

Blockheads love the stuff

A few years ago, Minecraft creator Markuss Persson (‘Notch’ if you’ve spent anytime online swinging a pickaxe and avoiding creepers) told ToyNews he grew up with LEGO and when he was asked about the possibilities of Minecraft becoming involved with the brand in the living, breathing 3-D world he responded, “…it probably having subconsciously affected the design of Minecraft I’d say it’s a perfect match.” Jump ahead to present day, and you’ll find Minecraft and LEGO seemed to have formed a rather mutually beneficial relationship.

No instructions with this set, thank you very much. Photo: LEGO

It’s trying to inspire present and future architects

On the educational side of things, budding and already practicing architects along with those with any flair for creating dwellings or domiciles have specifically been centred out with the company’s Architecture Studio. What makes this set different from others in the LEGO universe is what it doesn’t have-blocks with any colours, or an instruction manual.

Well, it certainly is stark when it’s put together. Photo: LEGO

Thinking that the 53 possible colours normally found in their sets with instructions to be too distracting and at times too limiting, LEGO decided that the 1,210 pieces in the Architecture Studio would only be white or transparent in an effort to guide LEGO lovers or architecture students to use the 73 different kinds of the included bricks in truly original ways. And while it may not have step-by-step guidance on exactly how to build a specific model, it does come with a 277-page manual with helpful hints on design concepts such as negative space and name drops Frank Lloyd Wright. There’s also an age recommendation: 16 years and up.

The LEGO concept brought to life with The Mobile Factory’s Q-Brixx building construction. Photo: The Mobile Factory

Its construction concepts are re-building cities

But in a real-world application of the inspired-by-LEGO concept, look no further than The Mobile Factory. This Dutch company’s invention, which fits into two shipping containers, is designed to have rubble be pushed through one end and then be processed into liquid concrete, finally leaving the machine at the other end a building block that looks very similar to anything you’d find while playing with LEGO. (Their website explains it like so: Crushed rubble in, LEGO bricks out.) It’s a machine that’s being used to re-build Haiti right now after the country was hit hard by an earthquake in 2010 that levelled 280,000 buildings and produced 25 million tons of debris-much of which can be recycled to construct new homes using the device. The Mobile Factory blocks (Q-Brixx, to be official) require no cement-just design, stack and go.

3.3 million LEGO bricks looks like this. Built for a U.K. television show, the house included many amenities like a working toilet. If you thought stepping on LEGO was uncomfortable… Photo: Wiki Commons

It’s still fun to just stick lots of them together and see what happens

Amongst the accomplishments achieved with the plastic blocks, people (1,000 of them, actually) have built an entire house out of LEGO bricks (3.3 million of them, to be exact), a child inventor created a functioning braille printer out of LEGO and entire websites are centred around LEGO architecture. Let’s not forget the PancakeBot-built from LEGO and two ketchup bottles that automatically makes Mickey Mouse pancakes.

The AFoLs out there would say that’s worth the occasional sore foot from stepping on the odd stray brick. Pass the syrup.