10 Reasons Why Architects Love The LEGO Movie

An Animated Film Tells Important Truths About the Architecture Business

3-D characterization of white-haired, bearded blind man called Vitruvius
Vitruvius, ancient and heroic wizard in The LEGO Movie (2014). Image courtesy LEGO Downloads, thelegomovie.com, LEGO Media Asset Library

You think The LEGO Movie is for kids? Think again! Sure, it's got plastic oceans and skyscrapers, and maybe the LEGO minifigures are a bit too polymer, but who in the architecture business hasn't been frustrated by plasticity—in inexpensive building materials and in people without imagination?

The 2014 Warner Bros. movie is filled with colorful action, loud crashing, fast talking, and a ton of ideas—just like in the building trade. It's all there.  Here are my Top 10 Takeaways about architecture and the construction process that I got from watching The LEGO Movie.

1. Vitruvius is the true Master Builder: The story's "ancient and heroic wizard" character is called Vitruvius. He's the character that's always around, even after death, to advise the movie's other heroes. This is great, because Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was also a real person in ancient Rome. Sometimes called the first architect, Vitruvius wrote a multi-volume textbook called De architectura (On Architecture) that people still use today. In it, Vitruvius documented Greek Orders of architecture, building materials, urban planning, engineering, and most famously Geometry and Architecture. Yay, Vitruvius!

2. Design comes from some magical part of your brain: Literally, we get inside the brain of Emmet, an "ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure." Emmet's brain is a vast and empty place until his one unique creation appears—his double-decker couch, which figures prominently in the movie. His couch design is mocked and appears silly, but, turns out to be useful. And, like any LEGO construction, it can be modified.

3. Think outside the box: Vitruvius tries to make Emmet see "that the key to true building is to believe in yourself and follow your own set of instructions inside your head." The specifications for any building project may need some modifications from time to time, and the task of the Master Builder is to know when and how to modify the instructions.

4. Planning is how you get things done: The best part of The LEGO Movie is this seemingly contradictory message: don't blindly follow instructions (i.e., think outside the box) AND follow a plan of instructions. This is the essence of the business of architecture and construction. Architecture practices that are highly creative without the structure of planning will quickly fail. Likewise, building contractors who strictly follow directions without questioning or understanding might find themselves with time wasted and cost overruns. Building is a team effort. To accomplish tasks, both rigidity and flexibility are necessary.

5. "Everything is awesome": "Everything is cool when you're part of a team" is the next line to that upbeat, awesome theme song from The LEGO Movie. The tune sticks in your head for days. Awesome.

6. People who do one thing well are useful additions to a team: I love the enthusiastic character of Benny. This spaceman minifigure is super-excited about building spaceships, and he builds them well, but that's all he can do. Needless to say, in The LEGO Movie, Benny's expertise proves useful.

7. Don't Kragle: Krazy Glue (Kra**Gl*e) is the evil substance that creates a permanence to LEGO creations. Instead, the filmmakers promote a non-static, ever-changing metabolist approach to architecture. Let things grow and evolve.

8. Accomplishments happen one brick at a time: Making a movie is a process of choosing designs and then putting them together—just like building a house or creating a LEGO masterpiece. The LEGO brick is the literal "building block" of LEGO construction, but even it has evolved and stayed the same. The "automatic binding brick" toy was first introduced in 1949, renamed in 1953, and patented in 1958. The LEGO minifigure was introduced in 1978. After all, what use is a built environment without characters? The complicated concept of creation and growth is imbedded in all things LEGO.

9. Girls should be included, even if they bring a different element to the process: BECAUSE they bring a different element to the process, females make a team stronger. This idea historically has been lost in the world of architecture, but maybe the 21st century business model will come from a future generation raised on The LEGO Movie.

10. Office equipment all works the same way: A LEGO copy machine replicates a LEGO butt just like it makes a copy of a human butt. Unexpected, funny, and very logical.

Final Thoughts: The LEGO Group is a family business founded in 1932 Denmark. LEGO is a combination of two Danish words, leg godt, meaning "play well." The company motto, "Det bedste er ikke for godt," is also the company's core value—"Only the best is good enough." Above all else, The LEGO Movie teaches us that value.

Sources: Vitruvius, Emmet, Benny, and LEGO History Timeline, LEGO.com website [accessed April 28, 2014]