One of my fondest memories from childhood is of getting the Lego out on a rainy day during the summer holidays. Ours was in a battered old plumbers’ tool bag; a gift from a neighbour whose son had grown too old for it. We would spread it out across the living room carpet, putting the un-slippered feet of adults in imminent danger. From primitive forts through to complex intergalactic spaceships, Lego outlasted waves of other toys and games that came and went with the seasons. It was only when I left home to study Town Planning that the plumbers’ bag was exiled to the loft along with my Marvel comics and old school reports.
As it turns out I hadn’t grown too old for Lego. I’d just forgotten how much I loved it. The arrival of my own kids soon led to a re-acquaintance; as birthdays and Christmases generated a growing supply of new pieces. It all came back to me as we built together. The endless possibilities when you opened the box, the satisfying click of bricks joining together, the frantic hunt for just the right piece to complete the model. My sons started challenging me to build new things for them: dinosaurs, a steam train, a submarine, then a space shuttle. But it was only after we visited the Brickworld exhibition at Paisley Museum that my thoughts turned to buildings. The exhibition showed Lego models of iconic buildings from across the world; it demonstrated what was possible with a bit of imagination and creativity. I did wonder to myself, though, whether anyone had done any models of Glasgow’s many iconic buildings. I did a bit of googling but couldn’t find anything, so I set myself a challenge to see if I could right this terrible wrong.
I started with some initial scribbled sketches and then took some close-up photos of the building to get the colours and textures right. I soon realised that with Lego buildings, making exact replicas is neither possible nor desirable. What is important is the essence of the building – the broad scale and proportions, its key features, and the things that bring it to life. So my Barrowland model is way too long compared to the real one, due to the limitations of Lego brick sizes, but has the right number of sections, windows, stars etc. so overall looks the part.
I started up a twitter account to post pictures of my creations (@BrickingGlasgow) and I got such a brilliant response to the Barrowland model that I started another of Glasgow’s iconic buildings. I chose the Caledonia Road Church, one of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s churches. Living in the Southside I pass it quite a lot and it always makes me sad to see such a wonderful building lying half-ruined.
Thomson’s buildings have an almost primitive form, combining motifs from Ancient Egypt as well as neo-classical features like Greek columns. There are many of Thomson’s hidden architectural gems throughout Glasgow including stately homes, terraces, tenements, churches and warehouses. It’s definitely worth checking out some of his work.
Another of my favourite buildings is the Art Deco Rogano Restaurant on Royal Exchange Place. Designed by Weddell and Inglis, it was built in 1935 using the same design and materials being used on the Queen Mary ocean liner which was also being fitted out in Glasgow at that time. The sleek, tiled frontage lends itself well to a Lego recreation. But it was the lobster on the sign that allowed me to have some fun bringing it to life in three dimensions. My model even got a thumbs-up from the owners of the Rogano restaurant itself!
We couldn’t talk about Glasgow’s built heritage without mentioning a certain person who may have had just a wee bit of influence on global architecture and design; a certain Mr Charles Rennie Mackintosh! Mackintosh clearly didn’t have Lego in mind when he designed some of his most famous buildings; with their curves, intricate iron-work and complex glazing.
So I thought I’d better pick one of his smaller scale buildings to build in Lego: the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street. It was still a challenge though, particularly the long curved first floor frontage with its narrow windows. It took a fair bit of trial and error to get it to look right (and to stay in place!). And for the interesting curved ironwork? Well what else but a couple of Lego wheel arches!
Well currently I’m building the frontage of the Glasgow Film Theatre and after that who knows? I’d love to hear your ideas…
Images courtesy of 'Bricking It Glasgow'.