Back in the 1960s the LEGO® Group created a new kind of brick, for adults. Self-confessed LEGO history geek Francesco Spreafico has kindly agreed to translate another of his great articles for us, which he first published in Italian on his excellent blog Old Bricks.
At the beginning of the 1960s Godtfred Kirk Christiansen had to design a real building and, as an extension to regular drawings, he created a physical model of the building using LEGO® bricks. Since he had found this process to be very useful, he decided to have a new system developed, a system that was not compatible with the LEGO System, but that was optimised for this kind of architectural design. These new bricks – the Modulex bricks – were put on the market in 1963 and they were intended only for architects, the category they had been created for.
As you can see above, these bricks are smaller than regular LEGO bricks and the ratio of the three measures of a 1x1 brick is exactly 1:1:1, the three sides are equal (5 mm), while regular LEGO bricks of course have a 5:5:6 ratio. The plastic used in these bricks is ABS, like regular bricks (but they'd also experimented with PPO – Poly-Phenylene Oxide – and there are some prototypes in CA – Cellulose Acetate – too.)
Standard 1x1, 1x2, 1x3, 1x4, 1x10, 2x2, 2x4, 2x8 and 2x10 bricks were made, and later, even variants that don't exist in the regular LEGO "world" like 1x5 and 2x5 bricks.
Many other specialized parts were made too: tiles tall as bricks (as opposed to regular tiles, which are as tall as plates), various kinds of studless slopes, lots of different kinds of windows... parts that were useful to build buildings.
For the first years, these bricks' studs had "LEGO" written on them, but this was later changed into "M" (for "Modulex"), probably to give it a little touch of professionalism ("LEGO" might have sounded childish then, in a professional environment). The first moulds remained active and produced parts with "LEGO" on the studs even after the new ones with the "M" had started working, so it's possible to find parts with "LEGO" that are newer than parts with "M". All of these Modulex parts are considered LEGO parts, because the moulds were created for/by LEGO and also because Modulex A/S was a LEGO company until January 2009 (when brick production had already ceased for a while).
The colours of the first bricks were muted compared to the usual bright LEGO colours because, even though real buildings with bright colours do exist, muted colours seem to work better and look more realistic in model building (see paper linked in the end). So we saw "tan" (or "buff", as it's called in the Modulex world) for the first time, "terracotta" (and we've already talked about this), "olive green" and other colours that never became "real" LEGO colours, like "ochre yellow".
The Modulex system for architects at first was called "M20" (because the intended scale was 1:20), but most architects never got around to use it, and a new improved line was launched in 1966, "Modulex Planning System" that turned out to be a success and became Modulex's top product for many years. For this line made lots of different tiles with letters and numbers (to be able to "write" with the parts), they created the aforementioned colored foils and they also started producing bricks with brighter colours, since now buildings were not the only or the main focus of the product that had become more versatile. By the way, the name "Modulex" comes from the fact that in the 1:20 scale one single brick represented 10 cm, hence "Module X" ("X" in roman numbers, obviously).
The exact moment when studs went from "LEGO" to "M" and the bright colors started being produced doesn't seem to be known precisely and it changes quite a bit according to different sources. Most say it happened in the 1970s, but some say it was a little bit later (like 1983). Nevertheless, this chart and this photo from Flickr are definitely very interesting.
Fast-forward to the (almost) present. In 2015 Modulex bricks production was about to resume; Modulex A/S had sold the rights of the bricks and the remaining moulds to Anders Kirk Johansen (a nephew of Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen's, but not part of the LEGO Group) who created a new company: Modulex Bricks A/S. Some test bricks had been produced, but in January 2015 TLG bought the company and at the moment they don't seem to be interested in resuming production. One can always hope they will change their mind, in the future!
Today, the Modulex Group doesn't make bricks and is not a LEGO company anymore, but it remains a world leader in signage and wayfinding. Its headquarters are still in Billund, very close to the Kornmarken LEGO factory.
Resources and information about ModulexI'll leave you with a couple of links on Modulex. First, the most important website about them: MiniBricks Madness by Karyn Traphagen. On the same website you can also find this interesting paper, Saving Modulex, a great read.
And don't forget to check Flickr, people are still building MOCs with Modulex Bricks, and they're just brilliant!
Although Modulex is not compatible with the LEGO System, AFOLs have of course discovered some possible ways to connect pieces between the two systems. Ryan Howerter collated some of these techniques on Flickr.
Where to buy Modulex bricks
- textured bricks (aka profile bricks or grooved bricks)
- angled bricks
- decorated tiles
- the 1x16 plate - the only Modulex plate ever made
- foil and plastic sheets
- human tools
Various other specialized pieces, many related to the planning boards, are found in the category Modulex, Brick.