08 May 2024

LEGO® Architecture review: 21061 Notre-Dame de Paris

Posted by Eero

In 1957, a LEGO® set numbered 1309 was released, depicting a white church built in 1762. 56 years later, in 2013, a set named 21015 The Leaning Tower of Pisa joined it, depicting the belfry of the Pisa Cathedral – more well-known than the cathedral itself. Two years later, St. Mark's Basilica was featured in set 21026 Venice. The LEGO Group has shown in recent times that religious buildings are not "banned" in its products, as is commonly thought. They are only very rare.

It is not hard to understand why real-world religious themes are uncommon in LEGO products. Firstly, there is banality of making commerce from religion, and it can lead to protest by interest groups. Secondly, there is the argument of equality: is presenting only certain religions unfair, shouldn't they all be equally cherished... and monetised? Religion often intervenes with politics and human rights, and is a sensitive and personal subject in its own right, too.

LEGO® Architecture 21061 Notre-Dame de Paris is a set that depicts a Catholic church building; undoubtedly the set and its subject have strong religious aspects. On the other hand, the existence of the cathedral itself is not in question and, aside from its main function, it has high value in terms of architectural history, cityscape, arts & crafts... and monetary value in global tourism and souvenirs such as scale models, magnets, puzzles and everything imaginable. The cathedral fell into decay until Victor Hugo's 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame raised it to a new level of awareness. A comprehensive restoration and redesign followed. Monetisation and depictions in non-religious contexts are nothing new to Notre-Dame de Paris.

Products in this article were gifted by The LEGO Group; the author's opinions are their own.
This article contains affiliate links to LEGO.com; we may get a small commission if you purchase.

21061 Notre-Dame de Paris
€229.99/ US$229.99 /£199.99/ AU$349.99
4383 parts
1 June 2024
Pre-order already available in some countries

Set 21061 on LEGO.com

I am an architect (SAFA) and I'm currently writing my doctoral thesis on history of architecture; not on Gothic cathedrals but on the Art Nouveau bank architecture of my hometown in Finland. I have not visited Notre-Dame de Paris, but I have firsthand experiences of some other Gothic cathedrals: Stephansdom in Vienna and St. Vitus's in Prague. Taking into account my background, this article turned out to be more of an architectural essay than a conventional set review. So, in case you only want to find out if this is a good LEGO set, just read the parts sections, take a look at the photos and then read my conclusion at the end.


Notre-Dame's exciting parts

Notre-Dame comes with several new recolours and rare parts, many in ample quantities. However, there are no new moulds, although the cathedral would have strongly benefitted from some. I will return to this in my set analysis.


  • 40x Equipment Magic Wand in Tan (6465134 | 6124), with 1 extra
  • 2x  Wheel Cover 9 Spoke - 18mm D. in Tan (6458388 | 62701)
These wheel covers and magic wands are good examples of repurposed pieces in architecture. The thin shaft of the magic wand is unique within LEGO element design and therefore fitting to this Gothic construction.

  • 8x Hinge Plate 1 x 4 Swivel Top / Base - Hollow Clip [Complete Assembly] in Dark Tan (6458397 | 1927)
  • 113x Plate 1 x 1 x 2/3 with Open Stud in Tan (6458392 | 86996)

I'm surprised that these two pieces haven't appeared in these colours before. The swivel plate is a popular piece, so I expect it will be welcomed warmly. The "double plate" is still a relatively fresh piece, and has remained quite alien to me. However, I've started to acknowledge its usefulness. It certainly creates a nice, subtle pattern of realistic building blocks in this model.

  • 2x Wedge Plate 2 x 4 27° Right in Tan (6458390 | 65426)
  • 2x Wedge Plate 2 x 4 27° Left in Tan (6421618 | 65429) - also in 31208 Hokusai - The Great Wave

As noted above, only the right wing is new. I included the left version here for clarity. It is always cumbersome when mirrored pieces first appear individually, so I'm glad to see the counterpart debut here.


  • 28x  Bar Holder with Hole and Bar Handle in Tan (6458391 | 23443)

This is not the most conventional architecture piece, but logical in its use in the flying buttresses. Mech builders will find this useful, too.

New prints

  • 1x Tile 1 x 8 with Notre-Dame de Paris Pattern in Black (6476498)
  • 3x Dish 4 x 4 with Rose Window Print [hollow stud] in Trans-Clear (6476499)

The Black tile with the name print is a standard in LEGO Architecture sets. 

The 3 rose windows are identical, which is understandable in relation to the scale of the model. They're also beautiful pieces and it will be interesting to see how MOC builders will use it. However, I do not think that these are the best choice for the rose windows in this set. I'll return to this issue later on in the review.

Rare parts

  • 47x Fence 1 x 4 x 1 in Tan (6458386 | 3633) - Previously only in 2004's 4854 Doc Ock's Bank Robbery

The lattice fence is a very fitting Gothic piece and not surprising to see here. However, I was surprised to see the piece has only previously appeared in a Spider-Man set in 2004; one I remember from my childhood set catalogues.

  • 86x Brick 1 x 1 in Trans-Black (6470140 | 35382) - in 2 other 2024 sets

Trans-Black is still a new, exciting colour, so it's nice to see it used for more basic parts rather than special moulded windscreen pieces.

  • 24x Plate 1 x 1 in Trans-Black (6446336 | 28554) - with 1 extra, also in 76920 Ford Mustang Dark Horse Sports Car

The equivalent plate comes in a smaller quantity. Stacking these creates less transparent surface, so they could make a good slag brick wall, probably with some of the older Trans-Browns thrown in between.

  • 12x Tile 1 x 2 with Stud Notch Right in Black (6458188 | 6510139 | 5092) - new in 2024, in 6 other sets
  • 12x Tile 1 x 2 with Stud Notch Left in Black (6458187 | 6510125 | 5091) - new in 2024, in 6 other sets
  • 12x Tile 1 x 2 with Stud Notch Left in White (6477744 | 6510126 | 5091) - new in 2024, in 2 other sets
  • 12x Tile 1 x 2 with Stud Notch Right in White (6477750 | 6510140 | 5092) - new in 2024, in 2 other sets

This new addition to the wedge tile family has already become pleasantly common. It's worth pointing out though, as it was introduced only in March of this year. 

  • 6x Brick Special 1 x 2 with 1 Center Stud on 1 Side in Tan (6478176 | 86876) - also in 43242 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' Cottage
  • 16x Plate Special 1 x 3 with 2 Studs with Groove and Inside Stud Holder (Jumper) in Dark Tan (6449594 | 34103) - in 2 other sets

Another generally useful small piece in Tan. Its large quantity reflects the nature of this set: lots of little parts to assemble.

The build process

Notre-Dame de Paris was mostly built in the 12th and 13th centuries. In addition, a very important layer was applied by architects Eugéne-Emmanuelle Viollet-Le-Duc and Jean-Baptiste Lassus in the mid-19th century. Buildings this old tend to have several – or innumerable – historical layers, and this is reflected in the building process, which is divided in four phases. 

In general terms, the model is built in a similar sequence to the real one. My fellow New Elementary author Caz Mockett provided me with additional information about this from last year's Fan Media Days. According to the set's designer Rok Žgalin Kobe, this results in the model featuring none of the hidden, brightly coloured parts so common in LEGO sets. Mediaeval master builders didn't hide azure blocks inside their edifices, after all. Kobe also designed another Parisian landmark in LEGO form, the Eiffel Tower, and these models are in approximately the same scale. Kobe visited Notre-Dame before the 2019 fire to study it closer, which means this set has been in design for quite a while.

Phase I: 1163 to 1182

The first section is the most interesting to build and generally speaking, the best part of the set. 

It features the choir (the rounded backside of the church), which was used as a working church during the construction of the nave (the middle part of the church). At the time there was a temporary wall between it and a construction site, which is not included. This makes this phase appear like a cross-section drawing, similar to 21058 The Great Pyramid of Giza. This is especially welcome, as a proper view of the interior is not possible with the finished model.

A crucial part of this phase is the combination of segmented semicircles forming the rings at different heights with the buttresses – only partially complete in the image above – supporting the vaults. Naturally, the exquisite structural system is non-functional in the light plastic model, and the "flying arches" are not connected to the choir walls. This is not a problem, though, and the structure of angled window blocks and T-shaped arches looks fantastic, despite the obvious gaps. It must have been a challenging design, and the result is delightful.

The interior presents the various height spaces of the choir. Unsurprisingly, any directly religious objects are omitted – although the cathedral itself can be interpreted as one.

Phase II: 1182 to 1200

The second phase is faster to build and features less-exquisite techniques. The most interesting of them is the floor. The central part is a simple square grid of 45 degree tiles, but in the aisles the tiling is interspersed with pier bases, each in four-pier formations over a 3x3 module area. 


As the bases can't be connected on the top of 2x2 triangular and the new 1x2 pentagonal tiles, they are connected directly to the dark grey plate underneath. This leaves some gaps in the tiling. It is annoying and would look better if the layer underneath had a similar black-and-white pattern, but the overall effect is not bad – especially considering that the floor is only visible through a 4-module wide gap of the removed roof on the final model. 

Despite these shortcomings, I think it's nice to have a tiled floor of uncommon, useful pieces. It would have been reasonable in such a closed design to have no tiling at all.

Phase III: 1200 to 1225

The third phase caps most of the interior while still lacking a great part of the towers. 

Phase IV: 1225 to 1786

The fourth phase roughly matches the cathedral in its finished mediaeval state. Roughly, because the pinnacles on the buttresses aren't yet attached. This is because they're a part of the layers of 19th century restoration in the finished design. The old pinnacles were replaced at that point, but understandably these old spires are not included here.

The removable roof is assembled at this point, but it still lacks the flèche, called by the more generic term "spire" in the instructions. (As a humorous extra fact: it's known as a kattoratsastaja in Finnish, which translates as "the roof rider"). 

The standard LEGO slope construction of the roof is not entirely satisfactory, as the lead metal sheet roof should have strong vertical lines instead of these horizontal ones. Perhaps conventional slope structure was used to have at least one simple part in the build, or to make the removable roof sturdy enough, or to make it look more like a LEGO set; I do not know.

The final model

The main facade

On first glance, the entry facade appears symmetrical. It's not entirely so, as can be seen with the 3 different portals – an accurate detail, although the righthand one is far from the accurate shape. The upper parts of the towers are symmetrical, though, and they are not symmetrical in the real building. The towers are slightly different widths, with different details on the inner corners just above the rosette. 

Most of these differences would have been extremely small at this scale, so omitting them is not surprising. However, asymmetry is conceived of as an essential aspect of "organic" mediaeval architecture, at least in the romantic approach to it, and I would have liked to see it cherished here a bit more. This could have been achieved by something as small as replacing one of the 1x1 tooth plates on the inner edges of the left tower with a clip plate or similar.

Another part that I'm not happy about are the fences on the roof of the tower. The tops measure 5x5 modules but are fenced with four 1x4 fences, leaving gaps at each corner; generally feeling like a compromise. The lattice pattern is not terribly close to the rosette sculpture rail of the real thing, either. Accurate pattern is impossible to achieve at this scale, but at least a design using some small pieces, maybe 1x1 round plates, would have resulted in a more elegant, gapless design. I think this is one of the two most crucial visual shortcomings of the set, being so visible in the tower-tops.

Photo: Édouard Baldus, after 19th Century restoration. Wikimedia Commons / Library of Congress.

The second major problem is the rose window. Firstly, the slightly convex dome shape of the LEGO dish is inaccurate, as rose windows do not bulge at all. The problem is far milder in the side facades where the dish had been embedded within arches. The plus-shaped structure behind the window is also visible here. Furthermore, the print is very light, looking more like an iron-and-glass construction of the 19th century than a stone-carved rose window. I think a fine solution would have been four printed 2x2 macaroni tiles and a 2x2 round tile in Trans-Clear, with a more pronounced pattern. And probably more colour…

But I mustn't be too harsh. Most of the facade design is excellent. I like the stepped non-flying buttresses on the sides of the towers. They use the half-plate differences elegantly while being suitably angular for Gothic. The central pier of the upmost parts, featuring Tan 1x1 double slopes, looks very nice too. The magic wands are very accurate representations of the thin pillars, something not easily achieved with existing LEGO parts. At this point I must also address the colour: I think Tan was the best choice and I'm very happy to see that the cathedral is not grey - something weirdly common in many sandstone cathedral LEGO MOCs.

The flanks

The flanks are almost identical. The only difference is the Dark Red door of the choir on the left facade. Generally, this is accurate; despite my earlier ramblings about the asymmetry of mediaeval architecture, Notre-Dame de Paris is quite symmetrical - or at least its surviving mediaeval part is.


The Sacristy has been omitted from the set; it is not obvious whether it's part of the cathedral or not, being connected to the right flank physically but completely designed in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc. Including it would have enhanced the picturesque effect of the building and made a more pleasant arrangement of masses. On the other hand, adding the sacristy would have required a much larger – or asymmetrical – base, and it would have increased the already big price and part count.

The choir facade

From the low round wall to the forest of buttresses and the soaring flèche, the arrangement of masses and shape in the choir facade must be one of the best ever in LEGO sets.


In general, the glory of this set is in the multitude of forms. This view, angled from the behind, is the best this set offers. The silhouette is wonderful and the light Tan colour makes the details clear. There is both rhythm and uniqueness in the shapes.

On the Challenge of Polychromy and Mediaeval Picturesque

The romantic approach to mediaeval architecture emphasises its organic, polychromatic and vernacular aspects in contrast to earlier Classical and later Renaissance-based forms. This creates a stark contrast to the Modernistic tradition of architecture media – drawings and scale models – with emphasis on clear, pure, almost ethereal presentation, fitting to both the rationalism of Mies van de Rohe and the clear-cut nature of Classicism. They are serious, solemn things designed by men in black suits and bow ties. 

This aesthetics language has been a part of the LEGO Architecture theme from the beginning; see 21009 Farnsworth House and 21022 Lincoln Memorial. the black-tiled borders on the bases with the printed building names are good examples of this.

However, combining it with the mediaeval creates some dissonance. This manifests itself in the windows, which have gradients from Trans-Clear to Trans-Black and the total Black. The real Notre-Dame de Paris has stained glass windows of endless colour. I'm sure many will prefer these desaturated windows (and they sure offer us many pieces in the new Trans-Black) but I can't help feeling the the mediaeval art has been robbed of its polychromatic richness to make room for the puristic, sterile language of Classicism and Modernism. 

I don't think that some Trans-Green, Trans-Purple and Trans-Blue bricks and plates in the windows would have stood out badly, as they tend to look very dark on dark background; but they would probably have made the interior look mystical and inviting when peering in from the front doors. I might try it myself.

Does the language of LEGO Architecture theme need to be limited to elegant coolness? Notre-Dame de Paris is certainly a pioneering step into European mediaeval themes; the only previous examples are 21015 The Leaning Tower of Pisa and St. Mark's in 21026 Venice; as mentioned, both religious buildings. They were released 11 and 9 years ago respectively, so I hope Notre-Dame de Paris will now open the floodgates and we'll see more in the future.

At this point I'll remind you that the original Greek Classism, for example the Parthenon, used vibrant colours, and the rich statuaries of at least some Gothic cathedral facades were richly painted as well. I'm referring more to post-mediaeval interpretations.

On the Challenge of the Vaulted Space

Notre-Dame de Paris is probably the most iconic Gothic cathedral in the world. It's also a very large building, which means the scale in this model is quite extreme. When I was offered this set I made myself familiar with some of its statistics, such as its very large part count (the largest I've ever built!) and its steep price (but not as steep as you'd expect considering the parts count). 

I had not seen any pictures of it before I received the box. I confess that I had expected the cathedral to be at least 40% larger. I was looking forward to delicate vault-work with slender compound piers rising towards heaven and its pointed sixpartite vault; the beautiful and unique combination of exterior and interior, transmitting forces via stonemasonry to enable the lofty, well-lit atmosphere; all of which is the essence of Gothic to me.

At this scale, the main vault is only 4 modules wide and it's not sensible to presume that the actual vault surfaces are included. With the closed construction, it would be impossible to see them without a dentist's mirror. Nonetheless, it was still a bit tearful to see a flat ceiling, with some arches in between, in a Gothic church interior. I stress that this was partly due to my unrealistic expectations. Also, my conception of the essence of Gothic may well be different to many other hobbyists, who will be fine with the spires, buttresses and pointy bits – the exterior language of the epoch. 

Therefore, I hope the LEGO Architecture theme will delve deeper into religious Gothic and we'll see some smaller buildings at a larger scale with more emphasis on the interior space and its vaults. A good contender would be Sainte-Chapelle, another 13th century Parisian edifice that was restored by Viollet-le-Duc and Lassus. And, although it's less widely known and therefore unlikely for a LEGO set, I must propose Maria am Gestade, a Viennese Gothic church finished in 1414. It's only 10 metres wide with a vault height of 43.5 metres – stats that would enable a moderately sized set while still keeping the emphasis on the vault-work with openable interior.

Does micro-scale Gothic require new moulds?

LEGO Architecture sets don't usually introduce new parts. They tend to capture the essential features using existing forms with simplification and stylising. This is usually good and beautiful – in terms of problem-solving, it's similar to building MOCs. It's also something I don't usually complain about. However, the issue of arches is something I have to mention here; it's related to the vaulted space as the essence of Gothic. As well known, Gothic architecture uses pointed arches, and this is one of the techniques that differentiates it from Romanesque, the previous cathedral style in Europe. As its name suggests, Romanesque borrowed from Roman architecture; its most well-known element is the half-circular round arch.

The only non-inverted pointed arched LEGO piece available is the Brick Arch 1 x 3 x 3 Gothic (13965) which is found in this set in the central vault ribs and some of the portals. It is way too large for the 1-module wide windows. They use Brick Special Arch 1 x 2 Jumper (38583) and Brick Special Arch 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 Corner (38585); these unique pieces make it possible to have an arch rhythm with only one module in between. They also enable the beautiful round choir technique.

On the downside, they make the arches round. In most cases, I wouldn't bat an eye about such inaccuracy at such a small scale. But the difference between round and pointed arch shapes is essential in the development of European architecture in the Middle Ages. 

I can't help thinking that this Gothic cathedral has Romanesque windows! And there indeed are such churches as building them took a very long time, so new innovations were deployed in later phases. But Notre-Dame de Paris was entirely Gothic. 

I think that it would have been justified to introduce some new Gothic arch pieces, and corresponding pointed 1x1 double curved slopes. The array of both arches and curved slopes has expanded lately, but there are still many forms missing.

Another slightly irritating technical inaccuracy is the use of candlesticks in the flyers of the flying buttresses. The real flying buttresses have elegantly thin arches with straight tops and concave bottoms; the candlesticks give an impression of a factory-made steel structure. Their size is decent though, and there are only a few parts of similar thickness, stronger than a bar but thinner than a brick. Again, the compromise would be less severe if it wasn't on a structure so significant in Gothic architecture.


As a large set solely depicting a church, 21061 Notre-Dame de Paris feels like a truly special set. 

In this article I've tried to approach the case of cathedral Gothic as a LEGO set from several different standpoints. Many of my perceptions are critical. However, my final opinion on this set is far from negative. There are some issues: in particular, I don't like the fence tops on the tower; and the rose windows, although nice pieces, do not evoke the feel of the real ones, especially on the entry facade. 

On the other hand, the model looks generally excellent, especially the choir.

The building process is enjoyable and the innovation to mimic the construction phases of the original works very well. The colours are well-chosen and the scale makes sense in relation to the price point. 

As a parts pack, it is full of useful pieces and some unique new recolours, many in ample quantities. Price per part ratio, 4383 parts for €229.99/ US$229.99 /£199.99/ AU$349.99, is nonetheless excellent. Most of the parts are very small, though, and the finished model is not that big for its price. It's easier to recommend this as a model and building experience than a parts pack, unless you're intending to build some churches of your own.

I also speculated upon aspects that would have improved this set as a herald of Gothic architecture. These are not primarily criticisms towards the set, but more akin to musings towards models depicting particular architectural styles in general. Very large LEGO Architecture sets are still a relatively new trend, and it has different preconditions from the older, small sets. I think these aspects are worth thinking about.

Pre-order already available in some countries
Set 21061 on LEGO.com

21061 Notre-Dame de Paris
€229.99/ US$229.99 /£199.99/ AU$349.99
4383 parts
1 June 2024

READ MORE: LEGO® NINJAGO® 71813 Wolf Mask Shadow Dojo reviewed, with an alternate build by Caz Mockett

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  1. Thank you, Eero, for an entertaining and enlightening read that draws deeply upon your knowledgeable background! I’m certainly no student of architecture, but I am a practicing Catholic, and I know a bit about how the languages of Gothic architecture were used to illuminate the tenets of the faith and draw worshippers deeper into the worship. Your expressed disappointment about the lack of certain architectural elements—especially the vaults and colored windows—resonates with me: Such omissions rob a model of Notre Dame of much of its historical and liturgical beauty. I certainly hope these were limitations of the design and not attempts to sever the building from part of its history simply because of the religious connotations.

    1. I know Rok Kobe is one of the designers who is passionate about using existing elements in the System rather than introducing new ones. I imagine this explains the "limitation" rather than any marketing rationale.

  2. Fantastic article really enjoyed your insights. Very BrickNerd like deep dive!

  3. As a non-architect who loves architecture, I thoroughly enjoyed this review and all the insights you provided. Having someone point out and explain the details and intricacies of this model was most satisfying. Thank you!!

  4. Nice review!

    I'm not sure I necessarily agree about colored windows being preferable... at this small scale getting the detail and variety of color of each window would be near-impossible. I feel like using one consistent tinted color for all of the glass might be a better decision than arbitrarily choosing large colored blocks to represent patterns that would be much more ornate and deliberate in reality.

  5. Just wondering, did you sneak a map of Finland in your review? :)

    1. Of course! It was a good excure to avoid some knolling! Lot to knoll in this set.