Lego. Six decades and Building

My three year old daughter has recently discovered Lego. I remembered I had an old box of it in the loft and she loves playing with it now. I loved Lego; it may well have been an early influence in my career as an Architect. The principle of Lego, in relation to architecture, bears many similarities – especially today, where we are increasingly constrained by standardised components. I have also recently been reminded just how painful it is to stand on one of those minute pieces of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene!

Lego has an impressive history – especially for a toy; which more commonly tend to come and go with children’s trends. It was founded, and is still manufactured, in Billund Denmark. Its roots go back to wooden toys built in the late 1800’s, but the plastic Lego bricks we know today have been around since the late 1940’s. “Lego” comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, meaning “play well”.

Legoland LondonThere is a Legoland theme park in Windsor, but I didn’t realise that there are two more in America, one in Germany, one in Malaysia and, of course, one in Billund. Windsor also has a Lego Hotel. In theory this surely has the potential to be an amazing building, but the reality is a real disappointment – imagine a Travelodge with a Lego clad entrance.

Lego remains a huge and diverse company. The limitless range of different assemblies ensures it can keep producing new ideas. It’s a globally recognised brand and turned over £2.65bn in 2012. It’s probably reasonable to assume that most people in the UK have owned/ played with it at some point. Lego believe that they have produced some 600 billion Lego elements to date.They currently produce approximately 36 billion elements per year. If all the Lego bricks ever produced were divided equally among the world population, each person would have 62 Lego bricks! Its also been said that Lego produces the most tyres in the world – small ones of course! They produce 318 million tyres a year, nearly half of all Lego sets feature tyres on them.

Lego Volvo XC90There have been many one-off constructions using Lego, these include; a full sized Volvo XC90 car and several towers, one reaching 32m high (around 9-10 storeys!) and utilising 500,000 bricks. In 2009 James May built a Lego house – as in a full size one. It was an impressive achievement, but not a great looking dwelling – hence why it was later demolished.

Lego people (or miniFigures as they are called) have become very popular in their own right. Last year, while at the Olympics, I saw a superb cutaway model of the Olympic stadium using 100,000 bricks, all the seats were then filled with 10,000 individual Lego people. Impressive!

Lego Olympic StadiumIn 2010 Lego launched a new sub-brand (I’m amazed they haven’t done is sooner). It’s called ‘Lego Architecture’. These are models of famous buildings/ landmarks from around the globe. There are eighteen models in the series now which includes; The Empire State Building, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, The Sydney Opera House,  The Burj Khalifa and Big Ben. My favourite is probably Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye house in Poissy on the outskirts of Paris. Take a look at the Lego Architecture collection, click here.

So Lego has enjoyed six decades of building. Its an impressive story. I hope Lego has many more years of evolving and will continue to inspire children with simple, creative and imaginative play.

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Nottingham can’t see the wood for the trees…

I have worked for Lewis and Hickey Architects in Nottingham for over 13 years now. I like Nottingham a lot (even though I grew up in Derby and still live there now). In my early years working in the city I always perceived Nottingham to be ambitious and leading – especially as it’s the largest ‘urban area’ in the East Midlands (Leicester is the largest city). However in recent years I think it’s lost its way a bit, and this view seems to be shared by a growing number of fellow property professionals I talk to. I’m now the managing director of our Nottingham office and therefore have a very strong interest in the city’s economic growth and property investment/ development.

monopoly_NottinghamWhen you consider what Nottingham is ‘famous’ for, there are many positive things, but how relevant are these today in terms of promoting the City?

  • Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest
  • Nottingham Castle and the Caves
  • Its Retail offer (?)
  • Two Universities
  • The Industrial Revolution and Lace Making
  • Bicycles (Raleigh cycles)
  • Tobacco manufacturing
  • Boots the Chemist
  • Trent Bridge Cricket
  • Torvill and Dean (and the national Ice Centre)
  • Goose Fair
  • A football club (with a sorry looking stadium)

Attracting people to Nottingham is very important on many levels, not least of which to promote inward investment for our economy and employment. Of the brief list I’ve stated above, I don’t believe many of those headings are properly celebrated in terms of the city’s offer. A couple of exceptions would be the two Universities and Trent Bridge Cricket Ground who all work hard to progress and support the city in different ways. In fact the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee campus continues to expand (on the old Raleigh cycles manufacturing site) and is a showcase for contemporary learning facilities and architecture (including our Si Yuan New China building). Nottingham’s 60,000 strong student population brings diverse and significant economic benefits to the city – from all over the world! Is this properly recognised?

It’s very easy to come to Nottingham and not really get any sense of Robin Hood or the Castle/ Caves – is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Nottingham’s major manufacturing focuses on Medicines, Cosmetics and Tobacco. Other big employers include Experian, Capital One and E.ON UK. The largest employers are public sector based – this can’t be sustainable?

Compare the above with neighbouring Derby who have a strong focus on “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” through manufacturing at Rolls Royce, Bombardier and Toyota. Derby is looking to lead innovation in these areas as part of their economic sustainability strategy, working in partnership with these companies and others.

Nottingham’s retail offer remains a historic thing I think. With both Derby and Leicester offering newer retail centres, the continued need for the Broadmarsh development to happen is hugely important and it needs to be impactful.

One positive thing that is emerging from the City is the Local Enterprise Zone, called D2N2 (“The postcode to be at” according to Peter Richardson, the recently appointed Chairman of the LEP who I met recently). It will be located on the edge of the Boots site, to the south of the City. My concern with this is whether Boots might then further diminish its presence in Nottingham under its new American ownership perhaps? I genuinely hope that D2N2 does generate some positive progress for the City and, importantly, that is can be realised. Another ‘Eastside’ or ‘Broadmarsh’ that have largely failed to materialise to date would be disappointing.

Another good thing for the economy is the current Infrastructure investment. This includes the NET tram expansion and the long overdue A453 dual carriageway. Super fast broadband is also a must. Connectivity, both physical and digital, is fundamental. But you have to want/ need to go there.

I know all this sounds quite negative and I guess it is on the face of it. However, my point here is that Nottingham needs to move forward and I’m not so sure it is . It needs strong leadership and vision that will maximise promoting investment into the city. If I don’t really understand what Nottingham is about, then how are people who don’t know the city meant to understand?

I think the future focus/ differentiators that should make Nottingham stand out are;

  • The Universities (and their student population)
  • Promoting a stronger cultural message (More Arts and Museums; especially Robin Hood and the Castle). Create a new leisure destination – to complement a new retail destination!
  • Provide a stronger message as to why major employers should consider investing in Nottingham.

I will continue to support Nottingham in any way I can, I genuinely want it to positively address these concerns – that’s why I’m writing about it. However watching other regional cities move forward, whilst Nottingham lacks a clear message, will not provide a sustainable economic future.