Tom Loftus (@inthert.lego) continues our series of LEGO® Element Developer Q&As today with Stephan Breum Steen, Senior Mechanical Engineer in the Novelty Element Development department at the LEGO Group. As explained in the first article, element developers are one of the many, many different roles in the LEGO Group who work together to create each new element. They receive the brief from the product designer or element designer, and when complete the mould developer continues the work. Today, Stephan answers our questions on a particularly curvy element, then Tom provides additional analysis and MOCs. Transcripts were edited for clarity, readability and narrative flow.
Commonly known as ‘Porsche bows’, having first appeared in 10295 Porsche 911, today’s subjects are Left Shell 2x10x2, Outside Bow, W/ Cut in White (6336752 | 77180) and Right Shell 2x10x2, Outside Bow, W/ Cut in White (6336754 | 77182). They have since appeared in 21327 Typewriter in Sand Green (Left 6359067, Right 6359068) and have just become available in Dark Red (Left 6359689, Right 6359690) thanks to 10290 Pickup Truck.
Stephan Breum Steen has been involved in the development of over 100 elements and is one of the marvellous minds who takes a new element design and makes it a reality. It's a process that involves careful consideration of countless factors, but most relevant to us today is how an element will be moulded and how well it fits in with existing LEGO parts.
New Elementary: What was your background before joining the LEGO Group?
Stephan Breum Steen: I have a formal education as a mechanical engineer, and before the LEGO Group, I worked designing elements for wind turbines (blades and other glass fiber elements), thermostats (plastic elements) and various other projects as an engineering consultant.
When did you start and which teams have you worked in?
Stephan: I started with the LEGO Group in 1997, in the LEGO Primo team. Since then, I have worked with most product lines.
Of the released elements you’ve worked on, which are you happiest with or most proud of?
Stephan: I am quite proud of a Bionicle mask element I designed in the past [Large Figure Mask Huna (Toa Metru), design ID 47308], where I managed quite a large bit of the visual design work along with the technical design.
Moving on to the bow pieces now, what was the original brief? Did it change during development? Roughly how many prototypes were in the Concept stage?
Stephan: I received a 3D file with the shape the element designer needed. My brief was to take the general shape of the element and work out how we could design it technically so it worked for its intended use. The 3D file shape didn’t need to change very much, so using a lot of prototypes was not really necessary,
Did you need to consider the design of other old elements e.g. for backwards compatibility, or maintaining a design legacy?
Stephan: Yes – we needed the bottom shape of the element to match element 44126. Developing this element was really interesting and satisfying, because the bow standard applies in many details and directions on the element, and among Element Coach, Element Designer and myself (Part Designer), we were all keen on getting to the very best result. So a very pleasant cooperation across departments helped finalize the details.
Is it ABS or did you need a different plastic?
Stephan: The element is made in ABS plastic. In spite of the curvy shape, this element is essentially a very traditional building brick with traditional connectors.
Did you include any features that deliberately prevent the builder using the element in a way that is not intended?
Stephan: The space between the 2x2 and the 2x4 connector area is a bit wider than on a usual brick, in order to prevent clutch in this area.
If you could make one more change to this element now, what would it be?
Stephan: From a moulding perspective, it is not ideal to have the gate point as far away from building functions (2x4 tube side) as they are on this element, so changing the inlet position would improve the moldability. But that would be a big change to the element, and I know we got the element right for its purpose in this case.
Analysing the LEGO ‘Porsche bows’ 77180 and 77182
Spurred on by Stephan’s insightful responses, I took a closer look at the bow to see how well it fits in with the current array of curved elements and slopes.
It’s far from being the only interesting brick-based curved element introduced in recent times:
- 1/4 Sphere 3x3x1 in White (6334524 | 76797) currently only found in 10283 NASA Space Shuttle Discovery
- 1/4 Arch Brick 3x3, W/ Cutout, No. 1 (6294351 | 65617) appearing in 6 sets to date.
- 1/4 Cone 5x5, W/ Cutout in White (6334516 | 76795) also from the 10295 Porsche 911 and available in pearl gold (6349623) in 76394 Fawkes, Dumbledore's Phoenix.
- Brick W/ Bow 2x2x1 in White (6299937 | 67810) which appears in 5 sets.
As discussed earlier, its tip, inside curve and rear edge all line up with existing LEGO parts but a match for its overall curve eluded me.
Its closest but more angular relative, Shell 3x8x2 W/Bow/Angle Right (41749) and Left (41750) here in red, comes close but is two modules too short. Other curved elements don’t hit the mark either. Shell 6x10x2 W/Bow/Angle (59195) pictured bottom right in yellow, is the only element I could find that precisely matched the Porsche bow’s curve and stud/anti-stud placement.
What about the overall smoothness though? The Porsche bow with its featureless surfaces and rounded corners doesn't quite fit in with these angular elements.
My search for elements with a similar aesthetic led me to windscreens, specifically one of the largest released by LEGO: Shell 16x8x5 W. Bow/Circle (16477) originally from 75060 UCS Slave 1 in Transparent (6072861) but shown here in the easier to photograph and significantly cheaper Transparent Bright Bluish Violet (6253665) from 70828 Pop-Up Party Bus.
Rummaging around in my box of windscreens, I began to wonder if any would integrate nicely with the curved slope.
The outer curve of Cockpit 10X4X3 (10312) here in Flame Yellowish Orange (6177918) is a reasonable match for the inner edge of the Porsche bows. The screen from 27275 UCS A-Wing Starfghter, Wall 4X6X10, W/ Arch, 1/2 Circle in Transparent (6288568 | 66606) caught my eye too. Its curve doesn't quite match that of the Porsche bow’s but it's close enough for an airtight cockpit seal, or perhaps a smooth transition from wall to glass for a luxurious Paradisa-style window?
Running out of legal part combinations to experiment with, I couldn't help but take Stephan’s comment about eliminating any clutch in the centre underside as a challenge to see what might fit in there - we are nothing if not thorough at New Elementary after all!
As is often the case with wacky connections, none are especially strong but I feel they hold a certain aesthetic value. The row of visors might be my favourite of the bunch, I could see them as engine exhausts or once again as extravagant windows on a futuristic building, though probably microscale this time. I was amazed to find the escalator link can just about squeeze in there too (69900, another element we discussed recently and will publish an Element Developer Interview about soon).
Tom Loftus’ MOCs using the Porsche Bows
Fun though it is to find bizarre parts combinations, I used a more robust pairing as the basis of the mocs I made.
Brick W/ Bow 2X2X1 (67810) has the exact same curvature as the studded end of the Porsche bow, and together with a 1x2 tile (3069) the trio of parts create a continuous flowing shape I ended up using twice over.
Neo-Space Police III One-Man Speeder
First up, a one-man speeder inspired by the Space Police III line from 2009. The element’s sweeping curves are just perfect for achieving the sleek shape any intergalactic enforcement vehicle should possess. I was rather pleased with the headlight clusters framed up with a couple of small tyres (50951).
The Life of Pussi
This unfortunate kitty is the subject of my second build. Evidently it thought the graceful curves of this small sailboat would make it the perfect place for a cat nap. I originally intended to merely present the vessel way out to sea but I couldn't resist making the situation that bit more dire with a few circling sharks.
Elements that are ‘too specialised’ have always been a bone of contention amongst LEGO fans and some were quick to place these bows into that category. My initial reaction upon seeing them fell somewhere between the excitement of spying new elements and a nagging feeling that something about them seemed off. The lack of a defined chamfer, considerable size and general ultra smooth appearance all made them feel a wee bit un-LEGO-like.
However, a combination of time, appearances in other sets and cobbling together this article has definitely quietened any reservations I had. Is it a little bit specialised? Undoubtedly so. Is it too specialised? Well to that I’d say there’s a bigger picture to consider when discussing what qualifies as a specialised element!
Our thanks to Stephan Breum Steen, Niels Bundesen, Jordan Paxton and Sara Skahill at the LEGO Group for making this interview happen. Let us know if you enjoyed hearing from this employee, so we can feed back to the teams.
It's Double VIP points at LEGO.com right through to 17 October 2021! Please consider using our affiliate links, New Elementary may earn a commission:
🇬🇧 http://bit.ly/NewLegoUK (EU: ‘Change Region’)
Help New Elementary keep publishing articles like this. Become a Patron!
Massive thanks go to our 'Vibrant Coral' patrons: Chuck Hagenbuch, Joe Fontana, Elspeth De Montes, Megan Lum, Markus Rollbühler, 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, 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.