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Lego Capitol Building at Madison Children’s Museum

Art is Basic

BY MARCIA BECKETT

This 12,000 brick model of the Wisconsin State Capitol building was built by my husband Andrew.  It was commissioned by the Madison Children’s Museum to help celebrate the 100th birthday of the building.  Hear about this project in his own words.

1. How did this opportunity come about?

“I was contacted by the Children’s Museum after the staff found a picture online of a much smaller version of the Capitol that I had built. They were interested in commissioning a LEGO model of the Capitol as part of a larger celebration of the building’s 100th anniversary. The project was expected to be one of several replicas of the Capitol being built, with each being done in a different medium.”

The picture below is the microscale Lego capitol building that Andrew had made previously.

 

2. What was your process for designing/building?

“Working a block from the Madison Capitol building for over a decade, I was already familiar with a lot of the features that are easily recognized by visitors. I also took several of my own photos and used others I found online as reference material, which I used while working on different sections of the building. I was helped by the fact that this didn’t need to be built to scale – the museum was giving me latitude for some artist’s interpretation on ratios.
While there are CAD programs available that allow you to digitally build with LEGO, I prefer to just start experimenting with bricks in my collection. I began by working with different techniques to build the rotunda and dome of the building, which I knew would be the most difficult aspect to capture. The size of the dome would also help dictate the scale of the rest of the building. Doing large curves in LEGO is not easy, but I eventually came up with a prototype I was happy with that captured key features and hit the size targets the museum was looking for. I also found a sphere generator online that was super helpful when it came to figuring out how to create the dome section. After the museum approved the dome design, I did a prototype of one wing of the building for the museum to approve. Overall, there was probably about 30 hours of time put into the design phase over the course of about four months.
Once I had the designs finalized, I needed to source all of the parts. The Capitol is made up of just under 13,000 bricks.
Some came from my own stock, but I rely heavily on a site called Bricklink to order the pieces I need from third party sellers. Using the prototypes sections, I was able to figure out counts for the parts I would need and began placing orders. We also have a local independent LEGO store, where I was able to buy some used bulk to help build the internal support structure of the building. This process took about 10 hours, since I was doing some shopping around to keep the project within a budget.
The museum made a portable display case for the finished building and fabricated a base for me to mount the build on. I glued down 9 standard size baseplates to that board (the only glue used in the entire build), which I then set up in my basement workshop area. The museum provided me with an iPod touch with a time lapse app on it, which I set up on a tripod overlooking the build area. Construction of the model took about 14 hours over the course of about three weeks.”

Visitors to the children’s museum on the opening day got this mini-Lego build of their own.

 

3. Have you always been creative and have you done other building or artistic projects in the past?

“Outside of about a 12 year period, I’ve pretty much been building my own designs with LEGO for most of my life. I’ve been publicly showing my LEGO builds for about five years, although the Capitol is the largest solo project I have done at this point. I have done some larger projects that were part of collaborative efforts with other adult members of my LEGO Users Group. Those include a large train layout that covers about 100 linear feet and a spaceport that was about 10 feet long.”

 

4.  What projects are in the works next?

“I always have multiple projects in the works, which are usually tied to upcoming public events. Right now, I’m in the process of finishing some builds for LEGO-related conventions my group will be displaying at this summer. I’m also recreating a few buildings and other structures based on sites in Wisconsin’s Door County area, for an event we are doing in Sister Bay, WI in late July.”

5.  Any advice for people starting out with their own builds?

“As with most projects where scale modeling is involved, it’s important to remember you can never copy something exactly. Sacrifices will have to be made to get to a smaller size, especially when dealing with LEGO where you are limited by the library of parts available. The goal is to focus in on enough key features of the real thing so that the finished product is recognizable.
It’s also important to just build, even if it’s from the instructions. Many of the techniques I used in the Capitol are ones I actually learned from building the kits LEGO produces. I’m a big fan of the Creator line of sets LEGO produces for this reason – especially some of the larger buildings from what’s commonly called the “modular” line.”
The Lego capitol building was on display at the Children’s Museum for several months and it’s a part of the collection there.  Currently, it is on display in the Monona Terrace.
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