Chicago native, Lego expert helps MSI build new exhibit

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Adam Reed Tucker is a “Lego Certified Professional” with an architecture degree from Kansas State University. He’s working with the Museum of Science and Industry on the “Brick by Brick” exhibit, which debuts in March. | Provided

It’s easy to marvel at the size of the Willis Tower: It’s a really, really, tall, square building. But that simple description does not sit well with Chicago native Adam Reed Tucker.

Together with the Museum of Science and Industry, Tucker says he “peels back the elements” that created iconic architectural structures around the world, highlighting a process not many have seen. He does all this with Lego bricks. Thousands of them.

Those talents will be on display at “Brick by Brick,” a new exhibit that opens at the museum in March.

Tucker, a “Lego Certified Professional” with an architecture degree from Kansas State University, will take patrons through a visual journey of why and how these structural marvels stay standing.

“I want people to recognize and have an appreciation for what goes into building stuff,” he said. “Some people just don’t appreciate what goes into building something like the Hoover Dam because they’re not exposed to it.”

A Hoover Dam model will be on display at “Brick by Brick.” It will replicate a construction site to highlight some of the details inside the actual dam, as it is — or was — being built.

The Colosseum in Rome will be presented as a radial evolution — as you walk around it, it builds itself.

“Or it gets deconstructed. All depends on perception,” Tucker said.

All three Pyramids of Giza will replicate theories of how they were built, with one cut open at the top to view the rooms and corridors inside. Others on display will include the International Space Station; an operating version of the American Eagle roller coaster; the St. Louis Gateway; Cinderella’s castle; and a 60-foot model of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Tucker builds the bulk of each model in his Arlington Heights studio. From there, pieces are bubble-wrapped, packaged and transported to the museum. It’s not uncommon to find some of the structures have separated during the journey.

That’s because Tucker does not use glue. Or steel frames. Or modified pieces. Sometimes, he’ll even cut a piece to get the desired size.

“I want the limitation of the Lego to speak for itself,” he said. “I want the audience to know it’s 100 percent Lego with no tricks behind it. It can be inspiring.”

But don’t call him a purist.

“I’m a minimalist,” he said. “Anything I do, I’m trying to capture the essence. I’m not overly occupied with minor details. I’m trying to freeze-frame the spirit of the structure.”

Of the 14,000 different Lego bricks available, Tucker said he builds with only about 50 of them.

Nine years ago, he started making architectural models that he eventually took to Lego Brick Fest, after an invitation from Brick Journal Editor Joe Meno.

“I drove 15 hours in a rental truck with my dozen skyscrapers to D.C.,” Tucker said.

Paal Smith-Meyer, head of Lego’s now-extinct New Business Group, saw Tucker’s models and had the vision of turning them into sets. Lego Architecture sets were created, designed by Tucker, and included 14 different modern marvels such as the Louvre and Lincoln Memorial. They’re targeted at adults, and at some very adult prices ranging from $39.99 to $129.99.

This will not be the first time MSI and Tucker have collaborated on an exhibit. “Art+Science = Architecture,” held in 2009, showcased more than 15 Lego recreations of iconic structures put together by Tucker, some 10 feet high. Among them were Chicago’s Willis Tower, China’s Jin Mao Tower and the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

“That one was an elaboration of super–tall skyscrapers,” Tucker said. “This one is a deeper dive into the aspects of architecture.”

Along with Tucker’s pieces, MSI will host “hands-on building challenges that reinforce principles of engineering, construction and architecture” while encouraging creativity, according to the museum’s website.

Visitors can create structures using Lego pieces, foam and wood blocks and test them against an earthquake and heavy winds. An earthquake table will set the stage for the structures and their architects, while a fan blowing at different velocities will challenge their stability.

Another activity will be a simulated feeling of walking across an I-beam. In an open-air room, visitors will walk across the beam, looking down at a reproduced aerial view of skyscrapers. Anne Rashford, director of special exhibitions, said the museum might use of holographics to create the aerial view.

MSI also is looking to showcase futuristic buildings.

“We’ve reached out to architecture firms and asked what they see as buildings of the future and challenges they may face,” Rashford said.

But aside from architectural aspect of the exhibit, Tucker has another goal: “I want to be an inspiration for people who are creative but don’t know how to express themselves,” he said. “Or don’t have a vehicle to express that creativity.”

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