A Dream (Sort Of) Fulfilled

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I wasn’t the best student when I was in high school. Homework bored me to absolute tears, and thanks to several years in a private school that would just say “well, he knows the material, we can overlook the lack of homework and just pass him” I never learned the discipline of doing homework. As a result, I left school in my junior year and had my GED exactly a month later. With the lack of performance in high school, college wasn’t really much of an option, so I decided to enlist in the Navy. That lasted nineteen days before I blew a knee completely in basic and my options were to let the Navy replace both my knees (back when they were done one at a time – and oh yeah, I’d still be considered in basic training the whole time I was recovering, so I was looking at nearly two years without family visitation or even phone calls back and forth to them) or I’d get a medical discharge. Not looking forward to two years of isolation from my family except for letter writing, I opted to head home. I was already out of the Navy by the time I turned 18.

That left me with trying to determine what Plan C was going to be for the future. So I enrolled in the local community college in a drafting program, with the hopes that I would like it enough to turn that into a career as an architect. Problem is, I hadn’t matured enough to discipline myself when it came to homework, so my attempt at becoming an architect was short lived.

I eventually learned how to knuckle down and do homework, and have two vocational certificates in massage therapy and pharmacy technology to show for it. But this story isn’t about those educational pursuits. This is about my continuing love for architecture.

My all-time favorite novel is Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, which is set around the construction of a cathedral in 12th century England. While the story is driven more by the cast of characters involved with the construction and the towns around it, there is a fair amount of detail spent on the finer points of architecture and craftsmanship involved in creating such an awe-inspiring structure. I love both the epic story and the construction details equally.

In 2008, the LEGO Group announced and introduced its Architecture sub-brand. Chicago architect Adam Reed Tucker, who had hit upon the idea of making architectural models out of LEGO bricks, designed the first few pieces in the collection, which included the Sears (now Willis) Tower, the John Hancock Building, the Empire State Building, the Seattle Space Needle, the Guggenheim Museum, and Fallingwater, the Mill Run, Pennsylvania residence designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

In the eight years since its introduction, the Architecture sub-brand, split into the Landmark, Architect, and most recently Skyline series, has evolved greatly. The methods of construction are becoming more and more sophisticated, as can be shown when comparing the earlier, retired model of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (little more than barrel-shaped pieces stacked high to approximate the shape of the actual tower) to the recently released updated Burj Khalifa model, which uses more bricks, significantly more sophisticated construction methods, and is considerably more faithful to the original building.

I have constructed nine of the 32 models that have been released. The Guggenheim Museum was my first, and I have subsequently added Big Ben, the Seattle Space Needle, the United Nations Headquarters, Trevi Fountain, the Empire State Building, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and the new, updated Burj Khalifa. But the one that I always wanted to acquire the most – Fallingwater – always slipped through my fingers until it was finally retired, as many of the sets are now.

Fallingwater was the pinnacle of the series, in my opinion. Incorporating not just the building but the environment around it, its 811 pieces made it the third largest set, behind the Robie House in Chicago (2,276 pieces) and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1,188 pieces). That many pieces carried a high price tag and it was always out of reach for us. We could never justify its purchase while it was still available and I long regretted letting it slip away.

However, life sometimes has a funny way of working itself out. Recently I checked Amazon, just to see what was available in the line, and lo and behold there was a brand-new, never opened Fallingwater. It was significantly more expensive – it is said that LEGO kits are arguably a better financial investment than gold – but it was available. I checked the budget, found just enough room, checked with my wife to be sure that spending that much money on what was effectively a toy was okay, and hit the purchase button.

The set that I’ve been wanting for years is now sitting on my dining room table, awaiting my wife’s arrival. We have a system. She organizes the bricks into trays for easier access, and I build while she (usually) knits or crochets. It’s honestly all I can do to not go open it and get started without her here, but I figure I’ve waited for years for this, I can manage to wait a few more hours for the build.

I’ll put a picture of the finished build in tomorrow’s post, and will have the full photo series in my Facebook album.

This is my tenth LEGO Architecture kit, which in some people’s opinion officially makes this a collection. I’m very pleased to make it official with the one that got away – but not forever.

Building LEGO kits isn’t the same as being an architect, but I can still appreciate the principles of architecture. I also own the LEGO Architecture Studio, which is a collection of over 1,200 white and clear pieces to allow for creative construction without instruction. It’s a way for me to express my creativity. Some pieces I’ve built are worth sharing; some, well … not so much. The point is that I can build whatever I want within the limitations of a huge number of bricks, and the bigger point is that I’m having fun. I don’t count the Studio in my collection, since it isn’t designed to make a specific building and can’t accurately be called a “kit” in that sense. But the Studio, my eleventh LEGO set, is by far my favorite. It lets me explore. It lets me create. And it lets me wonder what could have been.

I try to live my life without regrets, knowing that even one different decision could have vastly altered the life I live now. Would those changes be better? I’ll never know, and it’s a frustrating thing to try and speculate what decisions would have made my life better and which ones would have made them worse. Granted, I don’t have the best life. I’m practically a shut-in due to my mental illnesses, money is exceptionally tight, and I have a host of other physical illnesses that I would prefer not to be dealing with. But I have an amazing wife and a supportive network of friends and family that love me and want the best for me, and that’s honestly the most important of all.

The door to becoming an architect isn’t entirely closed off for me. I wouldn’t have a very long career, but it’s a possibility. And that’s what life is, a series of possibilities. Tonight my possibilities will involve building my dream LEGO kit.

And who knows what possibilities will present themselves tomorrow?

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