Brick by Brick” is a new yearlong exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. Its subject? Legos! The show connects the childhood activity of playing with the toy bricks with serious subjects like physics and architecture through replicas of iconic buildings, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, One World Trade Center, the Hoover Dam, Cinderella’s Disney World castle, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater House in southwestern Pennsylvania, the Great Pyramid of Giza, Saint Louis’s Gateway Arch, and the Colosseum, among others. Adam Reed Tucker, one of Lego’s 14 professional builders, led the project, which begins with a quote on a wall from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: “Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.”
Scattered between these models are hands-on, child-friendly activities that challenge visitors’ understanding of physics and the principles of construction. One gives attendees 60 seconds to assemble a structure sound enough to withstand the 30-second simulated earthquake that follows. The makeshift buildings almost always fall apart once the buzzer sounds and the waist-high surface begins its surprisingly powerful vibrations.
The introductory video asks viewers to see the world as a playground, and in “Brick by Brick” that’s taken literally. This becomes increasingly apparent during the latter half of the exhibit, where multiple stations are set up for kids to construct whatever they please from psychedelically multicolored Lego bins.
Toward the exit is the adult foil: a series of postmodern Lego designs made by cutting-edge architecture firms. Each outfit was given a set of 3,600 mostly white bricks, the basis of a row of impressive, monolithic creations from the likes of Adjaye Associates (London), wHY (Los Angeles, New York), and locals Krueck + Sexton and UIC’s school of architecture, among others. It’s meant to be interactive—there’s a trough full of white Legos running alongside the long mantel to tempt the grown-ups into reconnecting with their inner child.
Of course, science is the purview of the Museum of Science and Industry; “Brick by Brick” is still weirdly lacking in imagination. Granted, it’s hard to take issue with an exhibit that more or less effectively achieves its stated goal of framing famous feats of artful engineering through the lens of childhood recreation. Yet for all its championing of the naive, far-reaching ambition of children and architects, the show could use a dose of the absurdity and failure such visionaries are subject to—a big part of what made Legos so much fun in the first place. v
Correction: This article has been amended to reflect the correct title of the exhibit.