Chicago's skyline is world famous for its tall, monumental towers, and one person is on a quest to recreate the city's downtown using LEGO bricks. As a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology's College of Architecture, Rocco Buttliere is intrigued by design and how Chicago's buildings all fit and flow together. He started tinkering around with the idea of building a scale model of Chicago a few years back, and now he's completed the north end of the Loop and parts of River North and Lakeshore East. However, to recreate the entire downtown area, Buttliere estimates that the ambitious task could take nearly a decade to complete. Building the city's famous towers at a 1:650 scale, Buttliere has used tens of thousands of LEGO bricks to build his model of over 30 buildings, and he's only really just getting started.
At what point did you say to yourself, "I want to build a LEGO version of the Loop," and why?
Deciding to build the Loop really came as a result of my studies at IIT. I think studying architecture has shifted my focus with these models in a completely new direction. Wanting to study architecture got me interested in representing buildings, but actually studying architecture and urbanism led me to consider the importance of each aspect of the urban environment. This is why I strive to include more and more of each model's surroundings, so that I can more honestly express its context as truly being a part of a whole, not simply an individual and standalone monument as the designation of 'landmark' would have you believe.
How long has this project taken you?
I started making skyscraper models at a uniform 1:650 scale back in 2009. The first building in my North Loop Layout was Trump Tower, which I made in 2010. Since then, each building in the layout has been added individually over the past five years. I only decided to connect them all last year, by adding in several of the smaller North Loop buildings between Wacker and Michigan.
What are some of the challenges of building Chicago's towers in LEGO form?
The biggest challenge is keeping all the models within my uniform scale of 1:650. Any restrictions of working with LEGO tend to go back to the consistency of scale. LEGO pieces are their own modules, meaning one piece can be used at any scale for whatever purpose. It's finding the right piece at my scale for the right purpose that can be restrictive. Starting out on a model, I like to picture a moment or quality of the architectural fabric that would translate nicely into a combination of pieces I am picturing in my head. Sometimes this can take years, as was the case with my Marina City model. The nice thing going forward, though, is that lots of buildings feature some of the similar motifs as others. Already having a sizable chunk of Chicago has and likely will make things quicker in the design stage, as I prepare to expand my layout.
How far do you plan on taking the project?
I plan on expanding my current layout until it incorporates the majority of the downtown area. It's still too early to decide exactly which streets I will be drawing the lines for the borders at, but that also depends on how certain areas develop between now and whenever I complete this project. My current estimation is that this will take no less than ten years to fully realize. This allows ample time for many of the currently proposed Chicago projects to be completed, as well as new proposals to pop up. The adaptability of LEGO will make this layout a continually developing and redeveloping project. With so many new buildings (even a few supertalls) in the works for Chicago, who knows what the final model will look like. Though I suppose with that logic, the layout will never actually be in a state static enough to be called 'final.'
Have you had any discussions with organizations to display your work?
I display all my models at the yearly Brickworld Chicago convention in Schaumburg. This year, the convention public days will be held on June 20 and 21. I will also be displaying my complete collection of models at IIT's LEGO City Day on July 18. As far as less temporary venues go, I haven't had any recent discussions about doing so. I am totally open to the idea, though. I actually had my then-seventeen Chicago models displayed at Prudential Plaza for a month back in February 2014. I find public installations such as this to be one of the best ways to accommodate more of the people who are interested in seeing it.
·LEGO Loop is growing: More than 30 buildings now depicted [Loop North News]
·North Loop Layout, Chicago [MOCpages]
·Adventures in Architecture archives [Curbed Chicago]