Designing a LEGO skyscraper – part II

Do you know how modern skyscrapers are different from the tall buildings that preceded them (like the Philadelphia City Hall which was the tallest building in the world from 1894 to 1908) ? Unlike masonry-built tall buildings, skyscrapers don’t have load-bearing walls. Instead, they have a steel framework to which “curtain walls” made of brick, stone or glass are attached. These exterior walls form the facade of the building but don’t actually support any weight.

Ironically, my LEGO models of skyscrapers are built very much like conventional masonry structures with walls created by stacking bricks. The models are hollow for the most part, with no internal framework to support the walls. The reason of course, is that it is a lot easier with LEGO to simply stack bricks, than it is to try to mimic the structure of a real skyscraper.

The 1/650 scale models of skyscrapers built by Spencer Rezkalla and Rocco Buttliere hew closer to real skyscrapers in terms of how they are built. They have internal structures usually built out of technic elements, wrapped with external facades that are composed of plates and other elements like 1 x 2 grille tiles. This is done more out of necessity than anything else, because the small scale they are using doesn’t allow for regular walls created by stacking bricks.

Continuing with my process for designing LEGO models of skyscrapers, we return to the example I was using in Part I – the “main tower” of the Empire State State Building. We had determined the scale (1/230) we were going to be using for the model and what that translated to, in terms of LEGO dimensions for the main tower (30 x 22 studs). Next, we look at how the walls of the main tower are actually built.

Looking at pictures of the Empire State Building, we see that the windows alternating with the gray accent panels form unbroken vertical lines on the exterior of the building. In LEGO terms, if we were to use tan for the wall color, we would only see tall stacks of tan bricks that are 1-stud wide between the banks of windows on the outside of the model. These would span the entire height of the tower and there would be no way to add any tan horizontal cross-members (needed to hold the model together) at least in the outer layer of bricks. But if we were to make our walls two studs thick, we can have bricks or plates placed horizontally in the inner layer that is hidden from view. It is still not clear what we can do about the corners where we will need tall stacks of 1 x 1 bricks with no easy way to attach them to the main structure.

When I originally designed this model, I decided to focus on finding a solution for the corners, and here is the technique I came up with. It would be considered illegal (strictly speaking) but works well enough. It involves attaching 1 x 1 bricks with studs on 2 adjacent sides to 1 x 1 technic bricks with holes. This creates a 2 x 2 corner brick that combines two different colors (in this case I am using Dark Bluish Gray for the window accents). Using this “corner” brick I can attach 1 x 1 x 5 or 1 x 1 x 3 bricks in the corners.

If you recall from Part I, the 1/230 scale we are using calls for 5 plates per floor. With 1 x 1 bricks used for the accents, we would have 2 bricks or 6 plates per floor (assuming we use trans black bricks for the windows themselves). This is the only instance (out of all the skyscraper models I have designed) where I was forced to compromise on getting the floor count accurate in my model. In order to use 6 plates instead of 5 for each floor, and still maintain the correct proportions, I needed to scale down the number of floors in the main tower. Instead of 42 floors I ended up having 42 x 5/6 = 35 floors in the main tower (the floor count in all the other sections had to be scaled down in a similar manner).

Now, let us look at the two layers of bricks that make up each floor (with a total height of 2 bricks or 6 plates). The layer with the windows mostly has 1 x 2 bricks (tan and trans black) placed perpendicular to the walls. This way, the windows can be transparent all the way through, making it possible to light the model from the inside (something I have not explored yet). The layer with the window accents has 1 x 1 bricks (tan and dark bluish gray) on the outside and longer tan bricks (1 x 3, 1 x 4, 1 x 6) on the inside, placed parallel to the walls. The dark bluish gray bricks in the corners are 1 x 1 technic bricks with holes allowing the tan corner bricks to be attached. Alternating the orientation of bricks between layers creates an interlocking structure.

However, that is not sufficient to hold the model together, because there are seams in the inner layer with the longer bricks (which line up with seams between the 1 x 2 bricks in the window layer and the 1 x 1 bricks in the accent layer). To work around this, we need to offset the longer bricks by 1 stud between the odd and even floors to create two separate variants of the floor design. I have changed the color of every other brick in the inner layer to light bluish gray to illustrate how the bricks are offset by 1 stud between the odd and even floors. It doesn’t really matter what color we use for the bricks in the inner layer anyway, since it is hidden from view.

Shown below is the entire main tower assembled by stacking all 35 floors (alternating between the odd and even variants). Yes, in real life, this is as tedious as it sounds, but when you work digitally in, it is as simple as creating sub-models for the odd and even floors and assembling the entire tower using copy and paste.

We can follow a similar process to create all the 7 sections that make up the model of the Empire State Building. The top section with the spire as well as the base require some SNOT detailing, but the rest of the sections are built very much like the main tower that I have used for my example.

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