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Lego turns 50

by Edan Corkill

Fans of Lego will likely remember the exhibition in 2003 in Shibuya’s Parco building that featured spectacular models of World Heritage sites made entirely of the children’s building blocks. The Great Pyramid of Giza, the Parthenon in Athens and even an appropriately tilting Leaning Tower of Pisa helped make the show a popular hit.

Now, the Parco Factory and Logos Gallery, both located in the Shibuya Parco Part 1 building are putting on a new show, featuring the models from the original exhibition and 10 more of other World Heritage sites.

Lego’s official model-makers have again put their product to the test, creating endearingly clunky versions of everything from the remains of ancient Ryukyuan Kingdom castles in Okinawa to the decorative architecture of Antoni Gaudi in Spain.

One highlight of the show is the historic center of Rome. Romulus and Remus would no doubt have appreciated some Lego blocks to help them finalize their vision for the city they founded in 753 B.C.

Then there’s Brasilia, a city whose planners could conceivably have enlisted the help of the plastic bricks when they built it in 1956 — but only if they’d used an early version developed in Denmark seven years earlier; Lego was not patented in its current form until 1958.

Speaking of which, it was just last month that Lego celebrated the 50th anniversary of that 1958 patent, which was filed by then-Lego boss Godtfred Kirk Christiansen. He was the son of Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, who made the first, 1949 version of Lego bricks — which differed from the current version in that they had only limited interlocking ability. Father and son went on to create the company that has since become synomynous with children’s toy bricks the world over.

To date, the firm has manufactured more than 400 billion pieces of Lego — from their original four-by-two-stud bricks to the more complicated pieces now included in kits to make “Star Wars” or “Harry Potter”-themed models. And, as the popularity of the current exhibition attests, Lego continues to thrill its fans.

The Parco exhibition, running until Feb. 25, is titled “Piece of Peace,” and in addition to the 20-plus Lego models, it also features a series of artworks by young artists from Japan and abroad. Designers such as Tycoon Graphics, illustrators such as Kinpro and photographers such as Naoki Honjo have all contributed drawings, objects (some even made of Lego) and photographs on the theme of peace.

Admission to the exhibition is ¥300 for adults and ¥100 for elementary school students, and the gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more details, visit www.parco-art.com/web