At the beginning of the year, I learned that Warren Elsmore's Brick History exhibition was coming to Derby and it soon renewed my interest in building with LEGO® again. However, before I started digging out my childhood collection, I instead discovered a free digital design application called BrickLink Studio 2.0. This powerful piece of 3D software holds an ever growing library of parts that can be easily snapped together in just the same way as the real bricks can and it even allows you to render your creation as a flat image with some surprisingly photorealistic results.
With infinite LEGO® at my fingertips I started building as a hobby in my free time until several months later I had started work on recreations of each of the public spaces from my workplace at Derby Museums. This familiar setting was a good way to see just how accurate I could get a model to be and after showing my colleagues what I had been making, I was very kindly offered the chance to display the images as posters alongside Brick History in addition to the opportunity to run a workshop showing people how to make their own virtual models in the same way. As of a few weeks ago, these are now finished and up on display for all to see, so I'm writing about them here to talk more about the unique process of converting a museum into LEGO®.
For all of these models I made extensive use of the online 3D scanned tours from V21 Artspace to use as my references and in select places Google Maps and my own photos were needed to try and be as accurate to the real locations as possible.
Pickfords House & Gardens
Although originally built by Joseph Pickford as a Georgian townhouse in 1770, Pickford's house has had many modifications over time, resulting in an unusual mash up of architecture that presented a challenging template for converting into plastic bricks as some floors are staggered against others and rooms can veer off at odd angles. Although you can take many creative liberties with LEGO® it can be tricky to walk the line between functional and improvised architecture when your building materials are mostly rectangular.
This large Pickford's House construction contains over 10000 individual bricks.
It’s important to remember that the scale of this model is also unusual compared to a traditional playset, and not many official sets have fully furnished interiors and exteriors that function together in quite the same way as I have made them here. Some sets use various hinging methods to reveal different sections by lifting up roofs or walls to reveal the inside the same way as you would for a dolls house but for the scale and complexity of this building I found using techniques similar to the ones in the Modular Buildings series. Each room stands as in independent model that can be pinned horizontally and stacked as a 3D jigsaw in order to make a completed house.
A demonstration of the modular pin system.
For each room I tried to include as much relevant detail as possible from clocks, fireplaces, furniture, glassware and mirrors, right down to wall and floor patterns. Even the more museum orientated fixtures such as barriers and information plaques have been converted into plastic with careful dedication. It's been unnecessarily exhaustive to add some of this detail and much of it cannot be seen from the angles these images, but the advantage here is that I can call the house "complete" and satisfy my compulsive building needs.
Derby Museum & Art Gallery
After the mammoth task of Pickford's House was done, I used the techniques I had learned to make more representations for each of the galleries at Derby Museum & Art Gallery. These proved to be less restrictive designs and I found it refreshing to assemble these without the constraint of making them functional in the same way as Pickford's House. Instead, each gallery section sits comfortably on a square baseplate and by building only the back two walls I could create eight cosy miniature showcases for each gallery space.
Overall, this runaway project took unexpectedly longer than I had initially intended as despite the virtual way of building, each brick still needs to be placed individually with colours matched and alternate variations attempted for some fixtures. Few designs allowed for shortcuts and this has given me a new appreciation for all the professionals at LEGO® that have to problem solve like this when designing new products as it's as much a form of engineering and architecture to design playsets as it is play. For now though, it has been well worth the time and effort in the end as having any of my work out on display is always a great privilege.
As mentioned at the start of this blog, I will be running a drop-in workshop session showing visitors how to build your own virtual models just like these on Wednesday 24th of July 2019 at derby museums, so I hope some of you will join me in designing your own creations!
The images featured in this blog and more are currently available to see alongside the
Brick History: A World of LEGO® Awaits exhibition at Derby Museum and Art Gallery until the 8th of September 2019.