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Arthur Gugick's Lego Angkor Wat

Shame on you if you don't love Legos. Legos are the greatest toy ever invented. Just the thought of those bright plastic bricks is enough to bring a smile to the face of any kid... or, for that matter, any adult whose spirit hasn't been crushed by the weight of a thousand dull days at the office.

These days, Legos are finally getting their due. Artists like Nathan Sawaya are appearing on network television to show off their creations. Soccer great David Beckham spurred a run on high-end kits when he told journalists that, during a recent stay in Italy, he had spent much of his time assembling the Lego Taj Mahal. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are Lego fans. It wasn't just for fun, either: one of their early search engines required large numbers of hard disks, and the inexpensive disks they used tended to run hot. They solved the problem by building lego boxes to hold the disks in positions that would allow air circulation. Other scientists have also called the venerable plastic bricks into service as well; researchers at Johns Hopkins, for example, use Legos to visualize the behavior of microscopic particles.

Still, it's not the research applications that make Legos popular: it's the models. It's all about what you can build. A box of Legos is a box of potential, and if you want to see what happens when creative people exercise that potential, you need to see Brickworld.

Brickworld is an annual convention, held in Wheeling, Illinois. It's fantastic: it's table after table after table of incredible, intricate creations. A Lego Sears Tower. A Lego Jurassic Park. A Lego roller coaster. A Lego Futurama. All terrific, yes... but the one that brought the biggest smile to my face, however, was this:

Lego Angkor Wat

Yes, that's Angkor Wat, re-created in Legos.

The builder, Arthur Gugick, is an expert at small-scale building. It would be easy to overlook Gugick's models at a place like Brickworld, where many of the structures stand three or four feet high, and incorporate thousands and thousands of pieces.

Yes, the big models are impressive: but in a way, Gugick's models are even more impressive. Creating a model of a large, detailed structure in a relatively large scale is an exercise in patience; a relatively large scale gives you the ability to imitate that detail with smaller bricks. A small-scale model, on the other, is problematic: even the smallest Legos are far too large to capture much detail. Gugick manages to create the impression of great detail through the use of color and surface texture. If someone who had never seen Angkor Wat were to look at Gugick's model, he would know: this is a model of an old, intricate, ornate stone structure.

It's heartening to see Gugick's work at a show like Brickworld. Think of it as Plastic Outreach. Maybe people who've never heard of Angkor will see Gugick's model, and be inspired to learn about the real thing. Toys have the ability to bridge gaps; they tap into something universal. This is something I've written about before, a few years ago, when I was shocked to see that Mattel had released a new doll: Barbie, Princess of Cambodia.

It will take lots of toys to overpower Cambodia's painful past.

No worries. We've got plenty of Legos.

Arthur Gugick

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