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The Omnipresent Brick

What is it that drives an otherwise fairly normal adult to compulsively play with a toy primarily designed for children? Even acknowledging its broad and ever-expanding popularity as a highly sophisticated inter-locking brick system, what is it that drives so many of us to invest our time and money in these curiously addictive little lumps of ABS plastic?

Everyone remembers their first set. For me it was the 6681 Police Van — a nice but fairly unremarkable set. Yet my parents must have seen value in it, as this was soon followed up with two iconic sets from the classic space theme — the 6980 Galaxy Commander and the 6971 Inter-Galactic Command Base. From that point there was no going back, and LEGO quickly became the mandatory requirement for any birthday or Christmas.


The 6980 Galaxy Commander set released in 1983

The appeal of building remains largely the same now, some thirty years later, as it was back then sitting on a bedroom floor with a drawer full of LEGO pieces building fighter jets and moon bases to fight off and defend against alien attacks. I think I was mostly hooked by the intellectual challenge in spatial and logical reasoning posed by trying to construct a structurally sound and color-coordinated model while minimizing compromises between functionality and aesthetics (though I might not have put it in quite those terms at the time).

Building a well-designed model from instructions also has the same appeal as reading a good book, as you embark on a journey exploring the author or designer's mind as the plot or model unfolds. There is also something profoundly relaxing and meditative to the process of scouring through a large collection of parts for that one specific part your model desperately needs.

Yet this aeon of creative bliss was not to last forever, as the dreaded dark age approached. Throughout my teenage years, the bricks went into storage as 'childish' interests were replaced with other concerns. Looking back, there were three clear developments that brought me back to the brick. The first was LEGO's release of quality sets with adult appeal — more specifically, the release of the Star Wars range in 1999 and Ferrari F1 sets in 2004. I still remember first coming across the early SW sets and being unable to resist the Scout Troopers of the 7128 Speeder Bikes set (though I foolishly and to my lasting regret passed on the 7140 X-Wing).

Star Wars and Ferrari sets which drew me out of a Lego-free dark age

The second turning point was my discovery of LDraw — that miraculous and entirely free piece of software that made it possible to record, dismantle, and rebuild completed MOCs, and also removed the boundaries of part and color limitations when designing from scratch. Suddenly anything was possible, and my only remaining frustration was not being able have physical in-the-brick models of the creations I was now designing.

LDraw and BrickLink — two services that have revolutionized LEGO modelling

This last hurdle was cleared with my discovery of BrickLink (aka CrackLink due to its addictive qualities), which introduced me to its global network of LEGO part re-sellers. It was now possible to design anything at all in LEGO parts, constricted only by the part/color limitations of actual part production, and then actually build the designed model at an (almost) reasonable price. In the meantime, a huge and supportive online building community had developed, with sites like Eurobricks, Brickshelf, and Flickr, where builders could share their MOCs and building techniques, and get feedback on their creations.

And now here I am, spending far more time than is reasonable unlocking the creative possibilities of the ABS plastic brick. What more can you expect from this blog? Look out for set reviews, building tips, useful tutorials on digital design and instruction-making, and ongoing commentary on all developments in the fascinating world of LEGO modelling.

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