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Originally published Friday, January 31, 2014 at 6:18 AM

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The world’s greatest buildings, built from Legos

EMP Museum’s exhibit “Block by Block” comprises 10 of the world’s most interesting buildings, all built from thousands of Legos by Dan Parker of Tacoma. Yes, it includes the Space Needle.


NWArts&Life editor

Exhibition preview

‘Block by Block: Inventing Amazing Architecture’

10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through April 20, EMP, 325 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle; $12-$20 (206-770-2700 or empmuseum.org).

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Once a Lego project is done, most families are left wondering what to do next with all those little pieces.

Dan Parker has looked at such piles, and saw not detritus, but — literally — the building blocks of something great. The Tacoma-based professional Lego artist creates, among other things, replicas of the world’s most famous buildings, made entirely of tens of thousands of the little bricks. And all of them are standard pieces, the kind that can be bought at any store.

Ten of Parker’s structures (some built with the help of his team) are now on show at EMP, in “Block by Block: Inventing Amazing Architecture.” He selected these particular 10 because he “wanted buildings that have personality, a story. I didn’t want just rectangles.”

He chose wisely. Historic at full size, these edifices are something to behold in Legos as well. Take the award-winning Hearst Tower, which is nearly 600 feet tall and stands on West 57th Street in Manhattan. Parker’s take on the tower is 5 feet tall, but faithfully re-creates the building’s 1920s “sand castle” bottom and the 21st-century steel and glass tower, which rises 44 stories above its New York neighbors. The gloss of the plastic bricks gives the blue-tinted tower a glittery, glassy shine, much like a real tower would have.

Another glittery piece is his replica of Taipei 101, a 1,671-foot skyscraper that briefly made Taiwan a winner in the audacious tower arms race. Parker said Taipei 101 was made to evoke a growing bamboo shoot — “a shape I found irresistible to build.” His tower is made almost entirely out of the transparent bricks that are used for windows, windshields and doors in the Lego universe, making his Taipei 101 seem fragile and brittle, all sharp edges and reflected light.

Few landmarks are harmed in the making of these exhibits. Parker said that the buildings are broken down into segments for transport, then the tiers are snapped back together, as you would with a wedding cake. And they are free-standing when they are installed, resting on raised platforms with information about the real building and Parker’s version. “No special mounting, no glue,” he said. And most are hollow, which visitors can see by peering inside.

They travel pretty well, he noted, but he does admit his nerves have been rattled after sending his creations off without him. When “Block by Block” made a stop in Virginia late last year, it was in “a museum for little kids. I held my breath for two months.”

Parker himself played a little bit with his 30 St Mary Axe, which you may recognize better by the nickname Londoners have given it, The Gherkin. It does look a lot like a plump pickle, if Faberge did vegetables instead of eggs. Parker’s Gherkin, made from 13,800 bricks, is a 54-inch-tall plastic torpedo, built mainly from an exoskeleton of tightly packed rings of Legos in what he called a “triple pylon” system. How tight? Parker gleefully demonstrated during a preview of the exhibit, tossing one of the rings up and watching it break apart — blam! — once it hit the floor. The top floor of The Lego Gherkin is left partially exposed, with little Lego people (“mini figs”) perched there.

Other pieces in the exhibit include New York’s Chrysler and Flatiron buildings, the Burj Khalifa of Dubai and the Willis Tower of Chicago. Seattle wasn’t left out; Parker made a Space Needle, just 4 feet tall and made of 6,800 bricks. At a museum party on Jan. 24, he completed it, crowning it with a tiny 12th Man flag.

Melissa Davis: mdavis@seattletimes.com; Twitter @DuckMel



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