DESIGNER COLUMNS & BLOGS / Architecture Is Fun

Posted in Architecture Is Fun on April 24, 2014 11:15 am EDT

God is in the Details

Bloggers Peter and Sharon Exley share insight into design, collaboration, and God's work within our own.









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TAGS: architecture, collaboration, creativity,


By Peter Exley, FAIA, and Sharon Exley, MAAE, ASID

It has been a long winter in Chicago. Housebound over bleak weekends and chilly evenings, we began to entertain ourselves with creative projects. Our favorite activity has been assembling the Lego Architecture kits, historic sites and contemporary masterpieces, which we’d collected as each limited edition set had been released. Our penchant for play and a belief that busy hands are happy hands led us to construct replicas by Frank Lloyd Wright, Sir Charles Barry, James Hoban, SOM, Mies van der Rohe and others—and we were warmed by the delight we found in building together.

LEGO as Theology

We know constructing with Lego is serious play, where one “thinks through your fingers.” Yet, it is play with a purpose. The Lego module and palette are magnificent in their simplicity and limitation, yet apparently six identical eight-studded bricks can be combined in more than 900 million ways. The designers for each of the model kits have demonstrated incredible ingenuity to achieve aesthetic and construction idiosyncrasies. We marveled at the interior finesse of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. We were giddy over the engineering that permitted the lean of Pisa’s campanile. Night after night, we made discoveries and learned tricks of the trade, such as creating the illusion of a curve made with only rectilinear building materials or rotating bricks 90 degrees so we could build sideways.

"Our penchant for play and a belief that busy hands are happy hands led us to construct replicas by Frank Lloyd Wright, Sir Charles Barry, James Hoban, SOM, Mies van der Rohe and others."

—Peter and Sharon ExleyArchitecture is Fun, Chicago, IL

We were delighted to see each and every architectural icon emerge. Once our model town was completed, we began to arrange it, first geographically, then chronologically, and finally architecturally. We documented our progress on Facebook and Instagram. Building as a team, we developed our own lexicon of terminology and we mulled over what potential inclusions Lego might add to the architecture series. We fantasized about rendering our own projects using plastic bricks and placing them alongside our growing collection. Eventually, some of our Lego Architecture models have made their way onto our dining room sideboard, sat in harmony with our English Toby jugs and a plaster bust of Mozart. These curiosities provide constant inspiration. Armed with bags of all white Lego and our recently acquired construction knowledge, we set off constructing a friend for Mozart. In Chicago especially, there is a history of respectfully adapting imagery associated with architect Mies van der Rohe. When we found an iconic portrait of Mies perched above a model of his design for Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology, we used it as inspiration for a Lego sculpted bust. Why Mies?

Mies van der Rohe is credited with the aphorism that God is in the details. For us, playing with Lego is a playful portal for using a diverse and innovative lens to look closely at details that exist in our world. Sat at the table building, we were equals. When designing sacred spaces, bring everyone to the table—their insight, knowledge, and ideas. Play out possibilities. Model scenarios. Tell stories. Lego’s branded “systematic creativity” is based on the belief that everyone can contribute to design through discussion, decision-making, and determining outcomes. When we “seriously play” together, we can find a common language. Design is problem-solving: it’s the quest of providing details that bring joy and meaning through the creation of place—places we should build together. Just remember the almost infinite possibilities found within a single Lego brick.



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