Ask anyone who has ever made his or her own LEGO creation and you’ll find that there’s a story behind every build. No matter how big or small, creating something out of LEGO is a process that involves inspiration, ideas, and looking for that one piece at the bottom of the LEGO parts box. Author, Sarah Herman, manages to capture the stories of huge builds in Extreme Bricks: Spectacular, Record-Breaking, and Astounding LEGO Projects From Around the World.
Seeing the cover, I was expecting this to be more of a coffee-table photo book, but the pages told a different story. There are plenty of amazing creations to be seen in the pages of Extreme Bricks, but unlike other LEGO books, such as the Beautiful LEGO series, Herman has chosen to focus on the stories behind the creations and the people who made them.
Right from the get-go, it’s clear that Extreme Bricks has been written by someone who understands the Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOL) community. The introductory pages conjure up memories of my childhood, building Classic Space and Blacktron sets, dreaming of having more pieces to make larger models (OK, that wasn’t just when I was a kid… I was doing the exact same thing a couple of weekends ago).
The book takes you on a journey, starting (as many LEGO books do) with a brief introduction to the LEGO Group’s beginnings and in particular, its use of large models in stores to promote products and spark imaginations. What follows is a look at how these sparks (and a fair bit of money) have resulted in large, complex LEGO models from individuals, groups, businesses and professional LEGO builders.
As I read through the stories, I found it interesting to learn how builders who work in such large scale address issues such as structural integrity, transportation, and the maintenance needed when keeping LEGO outdoors. There’s a lot going on here that the average LEGO fan probably won’t come across. We get to see glimpses of wood and steel frames, suspension strings, treatments, and yes, even the use of glue.
A few highlights for me were the ‘The Walker’ by Jørn Rønnau – which could be the forefather of the “Greeble”, a giant Mario by Dirk Van Haesbroeck, Nicholas Foo’s Bus Stop Murals, and the minifigure-scale Grand Palace of Thailand by Vincent Cheung Sin Luen.
The book itself is well structured, examining interesting aspects of each project such as the elements used, objectives of each builder, and the challenges they faced. I particularly liked the ‘Super Studs’ section of each project, where the builder shares aspects of the build that stood out to him or her. For example, Carlyle Livingston II talks about how he and fellow builder Wayne Hussey created depth and discovery in their 20,000-piece Batcave. We also hear how students at Cowley St Laurence Primary School sparked discussions about religion and faith among parents and school governors when some chose to create religious icons as part of a school mural (among robots, rabbits, and other symbols).
The challenge with any book showing large MOCs (My Own Creation) is that it will always lose out to the digital world where viewers can zoom-in to see finer details, or flick through an entire album of the same build to see it from difficult angles. Thankfully, Herman seems to be quite aware of this and shares plenty of links to websites of the LEGO artists and focuses on sharing their story rather than just images of what they’ve built.
But to say this book is just about people building amazing LEGO feats would be to miss a common thread that is woven throughout every chapter and just about every individual’s story.
Extreme Bricks is as much about the AFOL community as it is about the creations.
Many of the builders talk about how local LEGO communities and user groups provide a source of inspiration, support, and camaraderie that helped drive their own builds. In many cases, community members have also been directly involved in the build or provided assistance in designing or even just transporting the huge models.
Even the way Herman describes the handful of LEGO Certified Professionals focuses on connection, relationships, and collaboration.
What also stood out to me is that some of the Master Model Builders (professionals employed by LEGOLAND) separate their ‘day job’ of building from their involvement in the community. One of these Master Model Builders, Gary McIntire, even attributes his success to his connection to other AFOLs, saying, ‘If I hadn’t discovered the fan community I probably would have just done LEGO as a hobby on the side… But people in that community inspired me to build more and be more creative.’
I really enjoyed this theme of community throughout the book as it resonates closely with why the Southern Bricks LEGO User Group exists.
My only gripe with the book is not so much with the content but rather the design of the pages. The use of bold blocks of yellow colour behind the text can be jarring. At times the yellow provides function, framing text or filling large margins, but at other times it’s just… there… awkwardly behind the text, often breaking it up for no real reason and without consistency. It’s a minor gripe, but an annoyance all the same.
Overall, Extreme Bricks is a good read for anyone who’s interested in not just looking at large builds but also learning the stories behind them. Australia’s own Ryan McNaught, and builder of that Hogwarts display, Alice Finch, are featured, alongside many well-known LEGO builders from around the world.
Extreme Bricks can be placed on hold at any South Australian Public Library or purchased from online book retailers.