Building City Tech’s New Academic Building at 285 Jay Street With LEGO


Over the past few days, I build a small scale model of the new City Tech academic building at 285 Jay Street. Still under construction, this model highlights its eventual glass-covered transparency (see this PDF for additional renderings of the building’s completed construction) with the model’s approximately 160 clear 1×2 bricks:


My Serious Change Through Play collaborator Patrick Corbett original gave me the idea to build a model of the new building after we made our first grant-funded LEGO brick purchase. Here is what that first, simple model looked like:

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With only a few LEGO and Duplo bricks, I was able to capture the glass structure, upper floors overhang, and intersecting curve of the auditorium. Eventually, we incorporated this model into the Serious Change Through Play branding logo. While I like this smaller model, I wanted to build one that was larger and captured more detail without breaking the bank.

To begin my larger design and assess what extra LEGO pieces that I would need beyond those that I already own, I copied LEGO brick/plate design grids (see Duckingham Design’s grids, which are terrific) into Microsoft Windows’ Paint and drew in a rough sketch of each side’s elevation:

After these initial designs, I knew that I had most of what I would need to build the base and solid-color aspects. However, I didn’t have any of the clear bricks. Luckily, I saw a bin full of clear 1×2 bricks at the Flatiron LEGO store a week ago, so I returned there to purchase those and spare bricks that I thought might be useful during the build:

After disassembling all of the bricks in the pick-a-brick container (NB: if you purchase a pick-a-brick container from the LEGO store, you should assemble all of the bricks in order to maximize how many bricks can fit and minimize wasted empty space), I used plates and bricks to construct a 20×20 stud base with a height of 1 brick and two plates (one plate level on top and one plate level on bottom):

Next, I began the fun part of the build, which I like to think about as similar to the writing process–brainstorm, draft, and revise. While I had my elevations to work from, I thought of specific ways to put the bricks together that represented the building better and served to make a stronger model. For example, using overlapping joints and interlocking corners in the upper stories look good and make the model sturdier.

The intersecting auditorium provided some of the best challenges during this build, because it has an interesting curve that is like the forward leading edge of an airplane wing. This required a lot of digging through my boxes of bricks to find pieces that conveyed this as best as possible at this scale and appear close to the colors in the building design documents:

You might have noticed a white, silver, and blue structure in the rear of the building. I felt that I would be remiss if I neglected to include the spirit of the building that used to be at 285 Jay Street–City Tech’s previous auditorium with its Klitgord mosaic (see page 8 of City Tech Connections vol. 6 no. 2 here for more information, or speak to Dr. Mary Nilles, who taught me about the history of the mosaics). The original Klitgord mosaics, crafted by Nathiel Choate and Joseph von Tury in 1962 for the auditorium building, look like this (photo by William Avery Hudson):

Photo by William Avery Hudson.

Using the microscale of my model, I wanted to capture the color scheme and figures despite the extremely low resolution of the medium at this scale. Nevertheless, I figured that I could convey that there are six human figures and a color scheme of white, silver, and blue. Therefore, I built this model of the mosaic–perhaps the preserved mosaic will have a home in the new building?