Learning From Legos

from NYTs

WHEN I was a boy, my father, an architect, attempted a no-toy policy, with the significant exception that he’d buy my brother and me almost anything — any birthday, holiday or restless rainy Saturday — as long as it was Lego.

And so, if I needed a gun, I made it with Legos. The same with a walkie-talkie. And a lie detector. And all the life-size artifacts — let’s face it, mostly weapons — that were then my heart’s desire. Plus every scale-model spaceship, supertruck, planetary fortress, recombinant Tyrannosaurus and transforming robot.

These days Lego — with its namesake movie’s opening weekend box office of $69 million, and with global sales revenue tripling, recession-proof, between 2007 and 2012 — appears to be something more than just a Danish construction toy based on snap-together plastic bricks. Some of the film’s success comes from the charm of its intrepid construction worker hero and goth-ninja heroine, both remarkably expressive despite the limitations of Lego figurines’ cylindrical heads and hands.

But the film’s celebration of adaptive improvisation and spontaneous mythmaking also resonates deeply with our current moment of so-called maker culture. Thanks to new rapid-prototyping technologies like computer numerical control milling and 3-D printing, we’ve seen a convergence between hacker and hipster, between high-tech coding and the low-tech artisanal craft behind everything from Etsy to Burning Man.

Whether it’s Google’s first server rack having been made of Lego-like bricks (pragmatically cheap, heat-resistant and reconfigurable) at Stanford in 1996, or the programmable Lego bricks developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Architecture Machine Group (later the Media Lab where, no coincidence, my father worked), Lego is literally built into the computational and architectural history of maker culture.

More here.

3 Responses to Learning From Legos

  1. Samantha Voltmer April 29, 2016 at 5:35 pm #

    If you think hard enough I bet you would be able to hear the sound of Legos rustling in their container. You might even be able to feel their sharp corners on your finger tips or recall the stabbing pain in your foot if you ever accidentally fell victim to their touch on your foot. Needless to say I can almost guarantee that whoever is reading this has had at least one encounter with Legos. I listen to Z100 every morning on my way to Seton Hall and one morning this week the radio hosts were reminiscing about their childhoods and what they still do now that they did when they were children. They opened the discussion to their listeners, and one man called in and said that he still plays with his Legos and that every Christmas his mom buys him another set, even though he is almost thirty. He said that his mom meant it to be a joke but he still loves playing with them.

    Legos are not only fun to play with they are also extremely educational and multipurpose. As a child you only see them as a toy, however they are much more diverse than that. Legos can be used to portray models for construction and as the article mentions even modeling computers and software. I find it very interesting that the article’s author wasn’t allowed to lay with any other toys besides Legos. I see the logic behind this idea though. Not having other toys to play will incited a sense of imagination and creativity into the minds of him and his brother. He talks about wanting to always build guns or weapons to pretend they were spies or something of the like, and how if they wanted to achieve this then they had to build it. Now a days, children don’t play the same as they did before. I love technology and all the advances that it brings to the everyday life, but I have babysat for one too many families who just put on the television when their child is upset or if they are crying they hand their kids an iPad to play on. Although these advancements are important and one should introduce their children to them at a young age so that they can be on top of the trends, there is a consequence that comes with things of this sort. Children rely too much on electronics for entertainment that they forget that the greatest form on entertainment is within themselves. Granted these forms of electronics were spawn in someone’s imagination themselves, they are depriving other children of using theirs.

    However, even with this new emphasis on electronics and technology Legos has stood firm through times of trouble. This article calls Legos recession proof as they were not affected by the stock market crash in 2007 as many other companies were. Interestingly enough another company, which is said to be recession proof is Apple Inc, Apple managed to thrive during the recessions and saw a consumer increase when other companies saw consumer decreases. I find it almost humorous that two companies selling two completely different forms of entertainment, we able to stay afloat during that time of trouble. It just goes to show that no matter how much adversity and new technology comes upon us we will always look back to our roots and take joy in the simple things, especially Legos.

  2. Brendan J. Kane April 29, 2016 at 6:50 pm #

    If you born in the 1990s or the 2000s, then Legos were probably an integral part of your childhood. As the article mentions, a builder can make anything with Legos at their disposal. Imagination is honestly one of the greatest powers in the world. This is due to the lack of limitations that comes with it. The best example of the power imagination is Walt Disney. Walt Disney was able to create one of the most popular entertainment corporations ever because he was being creative. In my opinion that is the purpose of Legos. They are supposed to be used as an outlet or a tool for children at young age to start thinking and being creative. Too many children would rather play through a story in a video game than try and do something by themselves. Most of those kids would most likely be lost in you sat them down in front of a pile of Legos because they would claim “I do not know what to do.” However, that is the beauty of imagination. It is purely up to the creator to make whatever he or she wants with the tools that are presented. That is why it can be argued that Legos are one of the best toys ever because there are no rules or restrictions, besides not eating them, for when someone is using them.
    Sadly, for a while it appeared that Legos were fading away from popularity. However, with the giant success Legos were able to make it back in the mainstream. That movie also showed the endless possibilities of Legos can provide a child. Even though the accomplishment that comes from building a giant Lego set is incomparable, I do find a lot of enjoyment in creating whatever I want. The sets that the Legos come in should be seen more as a basis of what you can create from these building blocks. The possibilities are endless.
    Imagination is a powerful tool that is in a rare form in our society these days. It seems that the only ones who fully utilize it are the people who feel socially shut out and lonely when they are younger. A perfect example of this is Robin Williams. He says that when he was younger he felt lonely so he used to make up voices and different personalities. In other words, he was fully utilizing his imagination to have fun and enjoy his personal time. It is a shame people would feel this way in the first place, but it often results in brilliance – especially in Robin Williams’s case. The man became a comedic genius and a great actor as a result of his imagination. To me it seems like a no-brainer. Using your imagination can very easily lead to success. Success can easily be achieved by doing things you enjoy and how can you not enjoy using your imagination.
    Imagination is also important because it can be used as an outlet for your feelings. It appears that kids are becoming more neurotic in a way because they have no way to relieve their stress. However, by using imagination you can easily escape your demons or whatever problems you might be facing in the real world and create a whole new world for yourself. That is why people believe that the cardboard box is one of the best toys a kid can have. A cardboard box can turn into anything: a sled for a grassy hill, a spaceship, a plane, a racecar, an asteroid, a fort, etc. No matter what the cardboard box becomes it is providing more enjoyment to the child.
    This article was a great reflection on what Legos are supposed to do: provoke thought in a person’s mind on what they can do. When I get home after this semester, I am going to go into my closet at home take out my tub of Legos and just build. See what comes out from my imagination. It would be interesting to see how it has progressed over the years.

  3. Matthew Bacho April 29, 2016 at 7:51 pm #

    This article immediately caught my eye as I noticed a peer of mine comment on it too, as I have been the biggest Lego kid ever since I was a wee little lad. Being born in The Netherlands in Europe, Lego is like second nature over there, considering Lego’s origin in Denmark. The word itself in Danish means “play well” or in Latin or Italian “I put together.” Both definitions work well, as this architectural toy has taught or harnessed the creativity of millions of children, myself included. I remember getting my first Lego set at an age of three or four, and found I had a knack for building and visualising a creation, without the need for instructions. Throughout all my life, I have been able to create something wonderful from a collection of bricks. My friends used to be so impressed with me, as I could just look at the image on the box of a set and create it without the instructions. It was only until I started building the bigger and more complex sets that I used instructions, as to avoid any failure, because I loved (and still love) displaying my Lego sets. One of my greatest works still sits displayed today, a Lego Star Wars Galactic Star Destroyer used by the Empire. This giant set cost more than $120 at the time (when I used to think that was a lot of money, and not just the price of two video games), and had several thousand pieces including a fully decorated interior featuring Darth Vader. More pertinent to this article, I loved reading what the author said, especially how he opened it. He mentions how his father attempted a “no toy policy,” where he had to create anything he wanted, solely with Legos. I didn’t have that no toy policy, as I was (and still am) a spoiled youngest son who got practically any toy I desired, but almost all of the time, the toys I desired the most were Legos anyway. Legos are brilliant toys as they teach even the smallest of kids (assuming they’re not attempting to swallow the bricks) the simplest ideas of architecture and art and using creativity to become the “master builder” as was said in the Lego Movie. The article also brings up the 2014 movie Lego Movie showing the widespread love and cultural influence of a toy that has been around for 83 years now. As early as post Great Depression era, children have been assembling blocks, but not even just children, as adults, especially those that grew up with them, enjoy assembling them as well. Legos are the most fun things to play with, because you can let your imagination take over. You could have Japanese samurai from the 10th century fighting dragons and driving race car transforming giant robots that can fly and destroy cities. The combinations are endless, and it doesn’t even have to make sense, because it is fun and it gives a sense of accomplishment as you know you built something. Legos are also useful because they help us notice patterns and designs and let us visualise how to construct things all in our head. This is especially useful for the future when you actually need to be able to determine patterns and build properly, especially if you want to be an architect. Only problem with Legos now, is that due to their high demand, they are quite expensive, as opposed to their prices decades ago.

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