Dubai in 740 pieces: How Lego recreated Burj Khalifa and Dubai Frame for kit of the city's skyline
The toymaker's replicas of the world's tallest tower have become increasingly more intricate, explains a senior Lego designer
The original took 1,325 days to build, and while Lego's recreation of the Burj Khalifa won't take anywhere near that long to complete, the process that went into creating it was anything but straightforward.
With its bundled-tube design, spiralling setbacks and the needle-like spire that tops the structure at almost 830 metres, the world's tallest building was “an obvious choice” to be brought to toy-brick form, says Rok Zgalin Kobe, senior designer of Lego architecture.
The first Lego Burj Khalifa set was released in 2011, just a year after the Dubai tower was officially inaugurated on January 4, 2010.
However, in that year, the toymaker faced several challenges when getting their construction off the ground. The team studied the architectural plans of the Burj Khalifa and – as they do with every project – first worked with what bricks already existed.
“We wanted to do justice to the original structure,” Kobe says. “Not just in form but in concept as well.”
“For example, the Burj Khalifa has a flowery floor plan that spirals as it rises. We followed that in Lego as well, so that we could capture not only the look of the building, but its essence and the architectural idea behind it,” Kobe, who is an architect himself, says.
"It’s not only a copy but is, instead, respectful to the original idea the architects had. And we try to capture as much as possible with the limited scope of the Lego brick.”
The debut Burj Khalifa set marked the first time Lego Architecture looked outside the United States. The designers took a minimalist approach for the first kit, using mostly small, circular pieces to recreate the structure. It was a fun, 208-piece set targeted at collectors and younger builders.
The follow-up, which was released in 2016, was a more detailed model of the landmark. The set featured 333 pieces and, standing at 38 centimetres, was the tallest Lego Architecture model at the time.
The set, which maintained Burj Khalifa's characteristic flower form when viewed from above, also came with a collectible booklet containing information about the design, architecture and history of the building.
The third iteration of the Lego Burj Khalifa was released earlier this year, and though the set is shorter than its predecessor by five centimetres, its translucent, glass-like round pieces make it the most loyal replica of the skyscraper yet.
This new Lego Burj Khalifa is part of a 740-piece set that includes a number of other key structures that make up Dubai's skyline, including Jumeirah Emirates Towers, the Dubai Fountain and Dubai Frame. The kit includes a base with a ‘Dubai’ nameplate and a booklet that includes interesting facts about the city. The set is aimed at adult builders as, according to its product page, “an immersive, peaceful way to relieve stress".
Kobe says that, as with every set, the team scoured Lego's archives to find just the right pieces to make up the skyline.
“Computers wouldn’t be able to design it in such a way because the combination of how you can stack different Lego bricks together is truly endless,” Kobe says.
Kobe gives the example of the Dubai Frame within the Lego Architecture Dubai set, which he says are made of stacked Lego door frames. “There’s a bit of wordplay in there. We created a frame from a frame. It’s an existing element that we painted in a gold lacquer to represent the original.”
In comparison, the Burj Al Arab is made out of pieces used in the Lego Technic line-up.
"It’s always about using existing elements to create something in a new way," says Kobe. "Our Eiffel Tower set, for instance, is made from the mudguards of Lego cars, which creates a nice curve for the tower."
Kobe was tight-lipped about whether we would be seeing more structures from around the UAE or the region in Lego form, but implied that if we did, they would likely be more intricate that previous releases. The Lego Architecture sets have become increasingly more complex and detailed over the years, he says, especially considering how the line-up started.
The first six Lego Architecture sets were released in 2009, and split into the Landmark Series, which included models of four US skyscrapers – Sears Tower and John Hancock Centre in Chicago, the Space Needle in Seattle, and the Empire State Building in New York City – and the Architecture series, which included sets based on two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, namely the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater.
“The first Empire State model was massive. It was exactly the same shape as this,” Kobe says, holding up the 2019 iteration of the skyscraper during our Zoom interview. “But it was only made with 60 bricks and didn’t play with texture and so forth.
"When we released the New York skyline set [in 2016], the building kept its size but there were about 200 pieces.”
Kobe says that Lego Architecture sets target an older demographic compared to the toymaker’s other offerings, and offer a creative relief from everyday stresses.
“The architect is going to surprise you every year with bolder ideas,” Kobe says. “It’s about providing a boutique experience, it’s not just about stacking bricks. We are going to push the envelope a bit further with what is possible with Lego.”
Updated: October 23, 2020 09:44 AM