An earth-shattering change occurred in LEGO® City in 2021: the introduction of brick-built roads, replacing the thin baseplates that have been used for decades. So New Elementary asked The LEGO Group about the development of this new 'element platform', including questions from our lovely Patreon supporters. The answers are a team effort from the LEGO® City team and Element Design. Before anyone asks; we did not ask them about the absence of curved road elements as the team had already stated; "At this point the LEGO® City team does not have a comment on corners."
Where did the idea for reinventing road baseplates come about - is it something that’s been on the LEGO® City team’s collective minds for a long time now, or a bit more recent?
The idea has been hovering around the project for a number of years. The first time this system of elements was pitched as a concept was more than 10 years ago.
|1060 Road Plates, ©1981 The LEGO Group|
What were the disadvantages of the previous road baseplates, moulded using the vacuum-forming process, that led to this change?
They could only ever appear in the largest of SKUs [sets] due to box sizes in relation to element size. The LEGO® City buildings are built on regular plates which are not easily compatible with the vacuum-formed plates. On top of this, it has always been a challenge that you could not build across a vacuum plate and a normal plate. The new road plates offer greater opportunity and more flexibility for layout and scaling of a Cityscape.
Why hasn’t this been done sooner, then?
There are always many requests for new elements or element changes,
but we need to prioritize what to do. We can unfortunately not do
everything. We had the vacuum plates, and those did the job for many
years, so it was never a concept-critical element. And due to the long
history of these plates, we needed to make this the best
possible change and introduce a more versatile system.
Can you describe the development process of the road plate system for us? For example the stages it went through / how that differed to the usual development process?
As the new road plates are a part of an element platform, extensive considerations needed to go into the development. For developing an element platform such as the new road plates, more departments are involved than for regular element development. There were a lot of collaborations with different departments ranging from Graphic Design, Model Development to Element Design to name just a few. For this new system we needed to solve connection points, decoration solutions, scalability and modularity.
Did you explore any other different sizes for the new plates, and if so what led to settling on the final sizing?
Indeed, we did explore other options. Considerations that led to the final format were proportions and playability in the context of LEGO® City models, but also versatility and scalability within the LEGO® System.
What was the greatest challenge in developing the new system?
Probably figuring out the right connection points and connectors. We explored countless different solutions, before we finally found the optimal one.
The road plates are similar to the 2-plate-high elements introduced in Juniors/4+ sets. Were those sets actually intended as a testing ground for whether these could be introduced into LEGO® City? If not, did you learn anything from them that informed the road plates?
We usually draw upon existing elements for learnings and to extrapolate future uses so indeed we looked at the Juniors/4+ elements to build on insights for baseplate systems for a young target group. This was just one of the many considerations that went into the development.
Was making the surface texture as smooth as regular tiles a conscious decision? Or is this just a fact of moulding elements thicker than one plate high?
The polished surface is the standard treatment for almost all our
regular bricks and plates. Therefore, the new road plates also have this
smooth surface, so they match our standard tile system which it is
Why did you decide to go mainly unprinted for the big parts and create the printed 2x4 tile, instead of printing directly on the parts (like the crosswalk one)?
This is for versatility purposes.
The 2x6 tile (design ID 69729) first appeared in LEGO® Super Mario™ last year... but was it actually introduced for LEGO® City?
The 2x6 tile was developed in LEGO® Super Mario™ and
then used in LEGO® City products. When we introduce new elements we try
to quickly adapt them across projects to make them more widely
available. During the development of the road plate system there were
also considerations whether this should be the connecting tile.
Were the elements designed with additional colours and uses in mind?
As part of our element development process it is standard to consider potential future uses.
[Editors note: recently released images of 2021 2HY sets show road plate elements have now been recoloured, to portray sand and water!]
We even love the design of the underside! But was this complex to decide upon? For example, the right number of tubes? What are the diagonal ridges for?
The team spent some time exploring the optimum number of tubes. We landed at the result you see from considerations regarding clutch when pressing the roadplate onto another element and better location of correct position in case we ever build into the tubeside. The diagonal ridges are a production-related detail.
Our thanks to the LEGO employees who took time to answer our questions, and to Jordan Paxton for organising this interview. One last note: there has also been a lot of speculation in the community that the new road plates will mean the end of vacuum-formed baseplates. The LEGO Group spoke about this concern earlier in 2021:
The importance of studded baseplates to the AFOL community is well understood in AFOL Engagement. Over the last few days this has been discussed within the team, department and with other stakeholders including Creator. The baseplates are on many of our desks displaying our creations or our minifigure collections. Also, they have continued to play a role in many outbound licensing products like wall mounted minifigure displays. It is hard to make promises about what the future holds for any product, set, theme or element as tomorrow can always present a new challenge or opportunity. What we can share from our conversations is that exiting the studded baseplates is not something we foresee in the near future. For now there are still multiple baseplate products still in production including Classic sets, bricks and pieces and available in LUGBULK. Hopefully this helps ease some concern.
If you're buying sets with road plates, or the individual elements from Bricks & Pieces (6325635, 6329624, 6328358, 6334233, 6329595 and 6331687) then please consider following our affiliate links: UK LEGO Shop | USA LEGO Shop | Australia LEGO Shop, for other countries 'Change Region'. New Elementary may get a commission.
Images by Caz Mockett, except where indicated, from her article analysing the road plates.
Help New Elementary keep publishing articles like this. Become a Patron!
Massive thanks go to our 'Vibrant Coral' patrons: Joe Fontana, Elspeth De Montes, Megan Lum, Markus Rollbühler, Jorgito Mozo, Mevits Bricks, Font Review Journal, Baixo LMmodels, Andy Price, Anthony Wright, Chris Cook, London AFOLs, Gerald Lasser, Big B Bricks, Dave Schefcik, David and Breda Fennell, Huw Millington, Neil Crosby, Antonio Serra, Beyond the Brick, Sue Ann Barber & Trevor Clark, and Kevin Gascoigne. Vale Iain Adams, a great supporter of New Elementary.
LEGO® Shop at Home
USA: Save up to 30%. See what's on sale!
UK: Free delivery when you spend £50 or more at LEGO!
Australia: Discover the latest promotions and offers on LEGO.com
All text and images are © New Elementary unless otherwise attributed.