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What If We Made Buildings Out of Lego?

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
What if Lego was everywhere? Wouldn't that be... AWESOME!? For this video, we're answering the question we all asked ourselves as children (and a lot of us are still asking ourselves as adults)... Why don't we just use Lego to build everything? The multi-coloured plastic building toy is pretty versatile, after all. But, could we really survive in a house, town or city made of Lego? And would we actually want to?? Emmet Brickowski, eat your heart out!

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What If We Made Buildings Out of Lego?

Everyone loves Lego. Well, everyone but the poor parents all over the world who step on them every other day. Around long before the advent of fancy things like smartphones, Lego has entertained kids and adults of all ages for decades. And these brightly-coloured bricks produce incredibly complex designs in the right hands – being used to faithfully recreate the Coliseum, the Kremlin, and Westminster Abbey (as well as loads of other locations). Hey, there are even Lego versions of the Loch Ness Monster and the Titanic. But, there has to be a limit to the apparently endless possibilities – right?

So, why aren’t we living in actual houses or working in actual offices made entirely out of Lego? Can it even be physically done? Well, to some extent it has been done. James May, of “Top Gear” fame, built a functioning Lego house back in 2009 with the help of some particularly hard-working and diligent volunteers. May’s project was a full-size house, complete with Lego furniture, a shower, and even a working toilet. And, it’s true, there are some genuine benefits of building with Lego. The plastic, called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, is very durable and resilient. In 2012, a BBC radio show called “More or Less” worked with the engineering department of the Open University to determine the strength of individual Lego bricks. Their research found that one foundational brick could support up to 375,000 others, which means that a very slim Lego tower could feasibly soar 11,780 feet into the air! This is much higher than even the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which stands at a measly 2,717 feet in comparison. So, it seems that a lot of the boxes for building full-size, functioning buildings with Lego have already been ticked. So, why don’t we?

Well, for one thing – and perhaps most importantly – building a sizeable Lego structure of any kind would be unbelievably expensive. In 2015, contacted Lego Certified Professional Sean Kenney to ask about the logistics of a Lego house. Kenney crunched the numbers, and his findings weren’t exactly encouraging… as he calculated that while a standard sheet of drywall costs around $10 at your local hardware store, the same sheet would retail at around $2,000 if it was made of Lego. And that’s before you’ve paid for labor – with up to 9,000 pieces needed to create just one sheet of Lego drywall. Even if we take Kenney’s estimates as an upper limit, it’s clearly a costly venture, not to mention an incredibly time-consuming one. Of course, you could cut out the exorbitant labor costs by rolling up your sleeves and building the thing yourself. But, while it’d no doubt be fun to try, could you really trust yourself with building and installing a lifetime’s worth of ultra-expensive Lego?

Say the logistics just don’t scare you, and you go ahead, though. Another major obstacle is the uncompromising rigidity of Lego bricks. Everyday homes and buildings aren’t perfect constructions. Walls jut out, wood bends, and the concrete foundation often slopes. Luckily, most houses can withstand these minor imperfections without crumbling into a giant pile of rubble. Lego buildings, however, would require absolute perfection, thanks to the ungiving nature of the Lego bricks themselves. The foundation would need to be perfectly level and without any minor faults. The walls would need to be built at precise angles without any margin for error. And building at awkward angles would be almost impossible. It’s easy to cut and mould wood and various other building materials into complex and even imperfect shapes. But, not Lego.

And, Lego’s not watertight, either – another thing you’d do well to remember before you blow all your savings on Lego lodgings. While the pieces appear to fix together fairly well, the spaces between each brick are simply too large to contain water, meaning you’d be wading through puddles or sleeping under a dripping faucet of a ceiling before too long. To ensure that your house is watertight, you’d need to bind the bricks together with some sort of adhesive, like a glue or a coating. In theory, it’s fixable – but it’d make the project even more expensive and time-consuming… turning what started out as a fun social experiment into a very major headache. And that’s before you’ve even considered home maintenance and improvements, which would involve ungluing and disassembling hundreds of thousands of Lego pieces every time you needed something done. Unlike with most other household jobs – where plumbers, plasterers and electricians are on hand – it’d be a tough task finding a local Lego expert to offer any kind of help.

But, for imagination’s sake, let’s say you somehow did manage to construct a freestanding Lego house – built completely out of toy bricks with no wood, steel or concrete foundations. Your next problem? Insurance. Rates would be through the plastic roof, as you struggle to convince insurers that your house is structurally sound and sufficiently safe. In the incredible unlikelihood that some company actually agreed to insure your Lego house (which they wouldn’t), you can guarantee that the bills would be eye-watering.

Overall, most of the problems boil down to one simple fact; a Lego house is made of plastic. Walls would melt in the sun; floors would become seriously slippery in the rain; Lego chimney stacks would threaten to topple off Lego rooves every time any kind of forceful breeze blew across them. Heating systems would also be out of the question, given that every room would lack any kind of viable insulation – with cold draughts easily travelling between the cracks and boiling conditions inescapably setting in during summer. As for an air conditioning unit – how would that even work? There’d be nothing to plug it into. Same goes for all appliances, unless you ran them off of some kind of central generator. Plus, you’d need your Lego walls to somehow hold water pipes, and your Lego foundations to somehow stand atop sewage lines. Or else your plastic paradise could reek within a day.

Those iconic, nostalgia-inducing bricks would also chip, crack and warp over time, leaving you to constantly worry that the novelty home you so lovingly built could collapse around you at any second, burying you in millions and millions of Lego bricks. In short… Genuine, real-life, life-size, Lego lodgings pose a logistical nightmare. It’s not that a Lego house can’t be done. Theoretically, it can. But, there are plenty of reasons why it hasn’t yet become a top trend in real-estate. Perhaps one day we could somehow combine Lego with pre-existing, generally reliable building materials – so we get the look and feel of living in Lego, without the pitfalls. Until then, it’s a distant dream, but it really would be ‘awesome’.

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