Closes May 31st:

Competition: make a LEGO font

10 January 2014

United by SNOT

© 1987 UN Photo/Lois Conner. Some rights reserved
Next in my little run of Architecture reviews is a set that was released in October 2013, 21018 United Nations Headquarters. Personally I think it was a great choice of subject for this line; although it's not as well known as some of the other buildings in the Landmark series, it's a truly international building. It sits on land granted to the United Nations by the US and was designed by a team of architects from across the globe (most notably the modernist heroes Niemeyer and Le Corbusier). Whether or not you know of or have visited it, this is a great model to build. And now I'll definitely go to see the original if in New York City!



Parts

The first thing this set screamed at me was, "Trans-Light Blue [BL]/Tr. L. Blue [TLG]!" OK, it didn't scream that exactly, that would be silly. But you get the idea. There are 1X2 plates galore in this set; 155 in fact and if you weren't already excited enough by that prospect, most of those arrive sealed in their own little bag. Preeeecious. This was the first set to contain this element but now they come in three other sets, most notably the limited edition Architecture set 21021 Marina Bay Sands, but to get 155 in a single set is remarkable and will serve your water-making needs well. Similarly, 1X1 plates in Trans-Light Blue were a first in this set (you get 13 and a spare) and they also come in Marina Bay Sands. But United Nations Headquarters does have a Trans-Light Blue part that Marina Bay Sands does not: two 1X1 tiles plus a spare. Not a wildly useful amount there, but nevertheless this is a glorious set for lovers of this colour!

Yet another element that premiered in this set which is now appearing in 2014 sets is the 4X4 turntable base in Light Bluish Gray [BL]/Medium Stone Grey [TLG] (part 61485). It isn't used as a turntable here - instead it forms the fountain! Superb. As for other elements in high quantities, White tiles abound - notably 11 2X4s, 19 1X3s and 22 1X2s. There are 22 'washing machines' (1X1 bricks with a stud on one side) in Light Bluish Gray and 27 2X4 plates in Medium Blue.

There are also 19 levers in White - as in, the actual lever sections are White. This is a bit rare. LEGO® stopped using White levers in 1999, although there was one exception; the Maersk Sealand Container Ship which kept getting re-released throughout the 2000s. Yellow [BL]/Bright Yellow [TLG] levers also disappeared in 1999 and since 2009 it seems that they have stopped making Light Bluish Gray ones too, leaving us only with Black. So it's very nice to see White is back, and I note that Yellow is also making a return in 2014. So bring back LBG! Please.

I was a little surprised - and happy - that the 1X2 jumper plates in my set are the version without grooves, which began to be replaced with the uglier grooved versions a couple of years ago. More surprising still was that all of the jumpers in my set were this old kind, regardless of colour. I'm so used to getting a mix when mould changes are underway, even amongst the same colour sometimes. There's no guarantee that your copy of this set will be the same, but I found it interesting. But it probably isn't very interesting, so let's move swiftly onto the build now.

Techniques

In my previous post I reviewed 21019 The Eiffel Tower, where the main interest of the build was in the geometry created with angled clip-and-bar connections. With United Nations Headquarters, it's all about the SNOT.

The build begins, of course, with the construction of the building plate, which is quite large - 18x26 studs. The intital layer of parts leave it looking like a De Stijl artwork before we properly move into the next phase of the build, which consists of the lower buildings. I was surprised that the bulk of the build - the first 70 pages of instructions out of the 90 - results in a large spread-out model that is only 11 plates high at most. But don't think that I'm saying that I was disappointed - in fact, the low buildings are intricate SNOT constructions coated with tiles and panels that result in an intense and consuming build. The tiles are not only used to create nice studless rooves but also form most of the exterior walls, to create various required effects.


This picture is of the General Assembly Building with the roof removed to show you how the angled wall is created: the Light Bluish Gray 1X1 bricks have a stud on their sides, and they are alternated with the White Erling (headlight) bricks. By then increasing the quantity of plates/tile stuck to their sides, the wall edge increases in steps of half a plate. This is a very simple technique to many of us, but may well be revelatory to many building this set. The steps present this technique very clearly, and are one example of the extremely well thought-through instructions for this set. Being a curved building in reality, the General Assembly Building is the hardest in this complex to represent in LEGO pieces, but they've done as well as can be expected.


Here you see the finished effect of that wall (in the domed building on the right), and the same staggering technique is used in the building at left. That's the Conference Building and it's a fantastic, realistic and detailed work of microscale - my favourite section in this model. As I built, it actually seemed more complex than necessary, but the reason behind every strange little bit of jigsaw-like construction made sense in the end. The detailing is superb - such as the series of little windows you see in the picture below (just above centre), created with grille tiles with 1X3 tiles on top. It's a lovely touch, given that a lesser-known architectural detail like that would normally get jettisoned in a microscale design.



This building is the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and although simpler, it's not without interest. Again SNOT with tiles forms the end walls, to create the framed window effect, and 1X2 tiles rest atop single studs to form the upper storey. That's an effect you'd be unlikely to see in a regular LEGO model, since it is a weak connection and there's nothing underneath a 1X2 tile to specify the centre position. (Actually - looking again at my pic, I've failed to centre them perfectly, haven't I!)

The final part of the build is of course the tower of the Secretariat Building. It's not as boring as it first looks. Yes, there's a lot of 1X2 plates to be applied but that's quite a mindless, Zen-like task. The eight-stud-long windows are wrapped in brackets that allow white tiles to coat the edges. This creates additional width to the structure - just a smidgen over nine studs wide and so, when the White top needs to be added to finish the building, things get interesting. The Designer of this set, Rok Kobe, naturally opts for jumper plates to move from eight to nine studs, but the required brackets at each end would have studs that get in the way and prevent the offset. His solution is elegant in its simplicity; turn inverted brackets upside-down. There are tiles below, to hide the studs on the inverted brackets, and the vertical 2X4 tile provides the connection to hold it all in place. Clever thinking.


Actually, there is one more step in the build. Now I know it's a bugbear for many, but I don't mind repetitive steps in LEGO instructions as I'm quite patient, which I put down in no small part to the many 1970s LEGO instructions I had to comprehend as a child. But I'll admit; this last step is frustrating. It's all those lovely White levers, which in this set represent the flagpoles of World countries. (Sorry, no flags. Too small.) I thought I'd found a clever way to align them perfectly; point them all down first to align, as you see here, and then lift in one go with a ruler. Unfortunately, they still seem to vary in position on the other axis. So I told myself not to worry about it. To be honest, I might remove them altogether and redesign the ground with some extra tiles. They're a cute touch but vastly out of proportion to the buildings and the model is of high enough quality without them.

Overall, the model is not difficult to build; there are no terribly tricky steps and almost no weak connections. It must have been challenging to design but the simplicity of the LEGO System and the methodical instructions mean that perhaps a ten-year-old should be fine without help, should they have the patience. But it isn't a boring build; it is an inspiring primer in using SNOT to create fine microscale details. For the most part, the buildings are represented brilliantly in such minute scale. The set is not so small that it seems unsatisfying, nor is it so large that you get bored. And once you're done with it, it's a great parts pack for Trans-Light Blue and tiles. Everyone's taste in sets is different but I will dare to say that this does feel like an Architecture set that will please the majority.














10 comments:

  1. A great set, for build and parts! My only complaint is the flags, I would really prefer 3L bars stuck onto jumper plates or something, with 1x1 plates with clip as flags. If I ever buy this set, I will definitely make this change (using 3mm hose though).

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    1. I've heard this sort of suggestion multiple times. Personally I think that would be even worse — both too tall and too thick to really suggest flagpoles at this size. Even without the flags, I think the levers do the best job that can be done at this scale.

      At least TLG didn't instruct us to make flags for them with a sheet of teeny-tiny stickers! I'm a fan of stickers in many applications (give me a sticker to apply on a nice, smooth surface any day) but even I'd call foul at that.

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  2. White levers are also available in the set 31021 Furry Creatures, which also seems to be a good part pack for black bows and slopes, as well as SNOT bricks and brackets...

    http://brickset.com/detail/?Set=31021-1

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    1. And generally super cute! Will definitely be buying that one.

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  3. Interesting to read about the 1x2 trans light blue tiles making their first appearance in this set. They were part of the Pick a Brick wall at the Watford Lego store on Saturday !

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    1. It's the 1X2 plates that are new, not tiles. But good to have the tiles on PAB... it all makes for quite an armoury of Trans-Light Blue!

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  4. I wonder why they went with white for the dome when reality seems to be grey, and that piece should be common in grey.

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    1. I wondered the same thing. Surprisingly, that part is not common in LBG - only in 5 sets - but I if I had to guess I would say they went with white for aesthetic reasons. Maybe LBG felt too distracting?

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  5. Excellent review ! The trans light blue was reason enough to get this, I will have to make sure I build it first before spiriting away the tlb :^)

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    1. Cheers Pete! Yeah worth the build before transporting mere TLB to a higher place ;O)

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