Retro computing with a touch of modern and the home for all things, retroCombs (aka Steven Combs).

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19 September 2015


by Steven B. Combs, Ph.D.

No Starch Press sent me a prerelease copy (release date: September 24th, 2015) of their latest LEGO related title, The LEGO Architect. I AM GLAD THEY DID! Everyone knows that I am a huge fan of Allan Bedford’s The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide. I enjoy his book because it does just more than show how to build a specific model or genre of models – it teaches concepts that make you a better model builder and gives you a mathematical understanding of LEGO components and their connections.

The LEGO Architect and Tom Alphin

Tom Alphin, the author of The LEGO Architect, has captured this magic once again and upped the ante. Tom not only teaches you building concepts and how to create his models, he also adds a crash course in architectural design using an attractive and visual presentation. Interestingly, Tom is not an architect, but rather an Experience Program Manager at Microsoft. In his free time, he recreates architectural structures in LEGO.


The flow of information is simple and effective. He groups his models by architectural style. Within each chapter, Tom provides a brief review of the historical significance and unique characteristics of a style. The book includes the following architectural styles:

Each section provides real-world architectural examples in both black/white and color images. Sidebars include LEGO elements that are useful in the recreation of these design styles. Before Tom demonstrates how to build his own models, he shares images of LEGO creations from around the LEGO fan community that represent a given architectural style. Tom’s selections are among the most amazing LEGO architectural builds within the LEGO fan community. You will be amazed at the detail and/or creativity of the models.

At the end of each section, Tom provides building instructions for his models (12 in all). As an example, at the end of the modernist section are instructions to build:

The last chapter in the book provides the reader with a “Builder’s Guide.” Within this chapter you will find sections about:

These sections assist not only for architectural LEGO builds, but for any LEGO build. Be sure to check out the image on page 180. I only wish I had my elements so professionally organized. Might be a good winter project.

LEGO Architecture Studio

If you are in need of LEGO components to create the examples, Tom suggests that you purchase the LEGO Architecture Studio. The majority of the models found in the book can be built with the elements from that set. I do not own LEGO Architecture Studio (which I am sure will come as a surprise to my friends, family and readers!) and I wanted to see if I could create a model using LEGO Digital Designer (LDD). One model in particular grabbed my eye; the Art Deco movie theatre.

Using LDD in conjunction with this book

I began to create the model entirely with white and clear elements to match the LEGO Architecture Studio set elements. While creating the model, I was led through a few interesting LEGO building techniques such studs not on top (SNOT), overlap strengthening, and sub-component assembly. It was a fun build in LDD that I’m sure would be equally as fun with real elements.

At the completion of the build, I decided to add a bit of color to the elements to bring the theatre to Art Deco life. I choose two popular Art Deco colors, light blue and yellow. These were highlighted in the book. Below is my before and after color image.

Must buy!

Living in Columbus, Indiana (listed as one of the 10 most architecturally interesting towns in America) and having taught architectural drafting and design many years ago, this book was a natural for me and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the content. The book is a great architectural and LEGO architectural model making primer. At $25 retail, Tom’s book would be the perfect supplement to the LEGO Architecture Studio set. Combine the two and you can teach a basic course in architectural design as part of a high school or basic college level architectural design course. Tom only scratches the surface and it is my hope that there is a “Book II” in the works to fill in some missing styles.

The No Starch Press graphics designers did an amazing job on this book. Of all the books I have reviewed for No Starch Press, this one is the most beautiful and visually interesting. The quality of images, sans serif type selection and page layout make The LEGO Architect not only a great educational reference, but also a beautiful coffee table book. At first glance your guests may not even realize it is a LEGO related book; however, once they open the book, they will be mesmerized by the images and LEGO models inside.

Even though I didn’t buy this book, it is a “must buy” for any LEGO or architecture fan. Get a copy and pair with the LEGO Architecture Studio to create an amazing christmas gift for that budding architect or architectural fan.