The Rockefeller Center built with LEGO – a closer look.

Did you know that from the early 1930s to the late 1960s, the 5 tallest buildings in the world were all located in New York ? They were the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, 70 Pine Street (aka Cities Service Building), 40 Wall Street (aka Bank of Manhattan Trust Building) and 30 Rockefeller Plaza (aka RCA Building). Having built LEGO models of the first four, I was starting to feel that my portfolio of iconic NYC skyscrapers would not be complete without a model of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Being a stickler for getting the floor count and window configuration accurate in my LEGO models, I wasn’t sure that I could do justice to 30 Rockefeller Plaza at my usual scale of around 1/200. Each side of the building has columns of windows broken into banks of 3 windows each. The spacing between the banks is about 1.5x that between the windows in each bank. When this is translated to LEGO, if I make each window and the spacing between the windows within each bank one stud wide, I could make the spacing between the banks either 1 stud or 2 studs wide, because there is no such thing as a brick that is 1.5 studs wide.

The other option of course, is to use a much bigger scale where each window is 2 studs wide, the spacing within each bank is also 2 studs and the spacing between banks is 3 studs. Although I was planning to build this digitally, I wanted to have the option of building it for real at some point, and that ruled out the bigger scale for me. Ultimately, not wanting to let perfect be the enemy of good, I settled for a scale of 1/180 with a 1 stud spacing between the banks of windows. Even if the window spacing was not accurate, I could hope to represent the overall shape and proportions of the building as accurately as possible.

Once I had the model of 30 Rockefeller Plaza built, I decided to keep going and do a couple of the other buildings from the Rockefeller Center. What had started as a relatively modest effort to build just a model of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, somehow ended up snowballing into an ambitious project to build the entire Rockefeller Center (at least all the original 14 buildings) out of LEGO ! I have posted renders of my completed model of the entire complex before, but I wanted to do a post covering each of the buildings in more detail.

30 Rockefeller Plaza (RCA Building) & 1250 Avenue of the Americas (RCA Building West)

30 Rockefeller Plaza is a 66-floor, 850-foot-tall building that anchors the entire complex. Opened in 1933 as the RCA Building, 30 Rockefeller Plaza was built as a single structure occupying the entire block between Sixth Avenue and Rockefeller Plaza. It has three main segments: the 66-story tower rising from the eastern part of the base, a windowless segment in the middle of the base that houses NBC Studios and a shorter 16-story tower on the western part of the base at 1250 Avenue of the Americas.

1260 Avenue of the Americas (Radio City Music Hall), 1270 Avenue of the Americas (RKO Building) & 50 Rockefeller Plaza (Associated Press Building)

Radio City Music Hall at 1260 Avenue of the Americas, occupies the southwestern portion of the block between 50th and 51st streets. The hall opened in 1932. The 121-foot-high Music Hall seats 6,000 people, and since opening has seen over 300 million visitors.

The other building on the block between 50th and 51st streets is 1270 Avenue of the Americas, a 31-story structure with a setback on the sixth floor. Originally the RKO Building, it was built over the Music Hall and shares many of the same exterior architectural details. Construction of the building was complete by 1932. The building’s entrance design, blending in with that of the other buildings in the Radio City section, is marked by three sculptural bas-reliefs created by Robert Garrison for each of the building’s three bays, signifying muses of Contemporary Thought, Morning, and Evening.

50 Rockefeller Plaza, formerly the Associated Press Building, is located on the west side of Rockefeller Plaza between 50th and 51st streets. It was constructed in 1938. The only building in the Center built to the outer limits of its lot line, the 15-story building took its shape from Associated Press’s need for a single, undivided, loft-like newsroom as large as the lot could accommodate – namely, a 200-by-187-foot blocky structure with no setbacks.

45 Rockefeller Plaza (International Building), 626 Fifth Avenue (Palazzo d’Italia) & 636 Fifth Avenue (International Building North)

The 512-foot International Building has the address 630 Fifth Avenue to its east, or 45 Rockefeller Plaza to its west. The tower stands at 41 stories high. The building, located in the middle of the block between Rockefeller Plaza and Fifth Avenue, contains a central plaza on its east, facing the Fifth Avenue entrance, which contains the famous statue of Atlas (there is no easy way to represent this using LEGO at the scale I am using). The Palazzo d’Italia and International Building North serve as six-story retail wings of the International Building. The Palazzo d’Italia is located at 626 Fifth Avenue, on the south side of the plaza, while International Building North is located at 636 Fifth Avenue, north of the plaza.

610 Fifth Avenue (La Maison Francaise) & 620 Fifth Avenue (British Empire Building)

La Maison Francaise at 610 Fifth Avenue, opened in 1933. It is a six-story standalone building with a limestone facade with a sixth-story setback and a garden on the east side of the seventh-story roof. Immediately across the Channel Gardens to the north of La Maison Francaise is its twin, the British Empire Building (which currently houses the LEGO Store) at 620 Fifth Avenue, which also opened in 1933. It is also a standalone building, with exactly the same massing as La Maison Francaise, down to the setback and rooftop garden.

1 Rockefeller Plaza (Time & Life Building) & 600 Fifth Avenue (Sinclair Oil Building)

The 36-story tower at 1 Rockefeller Plaza, on the east side of the plaza between 48th and 49th streets, was originally called the Time & Life Building. It opened in 1937. 600 Fifth Avenue is located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 48th Street and was built after the other buildings in the main complex, opening in 1952. The 28-story tower was once known as the Sinclair Oil Building. Its L-shaped footprint surrounds another building at the corner of 49th Street and Fifth Avenue (608 Fifth Avenue which was not a part of the Rockefeller Center).

1230 Avenue of the Americas (US Rubber Company Building) & 10 Rockefeller Plaza (Eastern Airlines Building)

The western half of the southernmost block of the complex along Sixth Avenue, between 48th and 49th streets, contains the former U.S. Rubber Company Building at 1230 Avenue of the Americas. The last structure in the original complex to be built, it was topped out in 1939. The 23-story building contains two 7-story wings on its north and south sides. 1230 Avenue of the Americas was expanded to the east in 1954 after the Center Theatre adjacent to it was demolished. The 19-story annex, has a glass facade on the lowest two stories and a limestone facade above the second story. It is aligned with the axis of 10 Rockefeller Plaza on the eastern side of the block, and its northern and southern elevations contain five setbacks.

10 Rockefeller Plaza is located opposite 1 Rockefeller, on the west side of the plaza. The building was known as the Eastern Air Lines Building. 10 Rockefeller was built as a 16-story slab, basically a miniature version of 1 Rockefeller.

75 Rockefeller Plaza (Esso Building)

75 Rockefeller Plaza at 51st Street on the north end of the complex, was built in 1947. It was the first of the later additions to the complex. The building contains a low base that is level with the rooftops of the low-rise buildings on 51st and 52nd Street, as well as a tall slab rising from the base, aligned in a north-south direction. The 33-story, 400-foot building was originally called the Esso Building.

Lower Plaza

At the front of 30 Rock is the Lower Plaza, located in the very center of the complex and below ground level. The plaza’s main entrance is through the Channel Gardens, a 60-foot-wide, 200-foot-long planted pedestrian esplanade running westward from Fifth Avenue between the British Empire Building and La Maison Francaise. From there, a flight of the steps descends toward the sunken plaza, then splits into two different stairs heading both north and south. The western end of the plaza contains a statue of Prometheus (which was also impossible to represent using LEGO at this scale) which stands in a 60-by-16-foot fountain basin in front of a grey rectangular wall. The northern, southern, and eastern sides of the plaza are surrounded by a walkway that is several steps below street level, with staircases at either western end as well as at the plaza’s Channel Gardens entrance.

Rooftop gardens

The gardens atop Rockefeller Center’s roofs were designed by Ralph Hancock. They were installed on 10 Rockefeller Plaza, 30 Rockefeller Plaza and the four International-themed retail buildings. The largest and most grand of the gardens was the 0.75-acre “Garden of the Nations” which was installed on the eleventh-floor roof of 30 Rockefeller Plaza and opened in 1935. They were originally composed of thirteen nation-specific gardens whose layouts were inspired by the gardens in the respective countries they represented.

The gardens on the top of La Maison Francaise and the British Empire Building were fully restored in 1986, but unfortunately the gardens atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza did not survive in their original form. The addition of various utility buildings over the years had reduced the footprint of the gardens and years of neglect had taken a toll on whatever remained. In 2018 NBCUniversal restored and reopened the rooftop gardens at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. While the new gardens are not based on Ralph Hancock’s design, they succeed in evoking the beauty and serenity of the original version.

Putting it all together

Once I had all the individual buildings built, I was left with the task of putting together the entire complex including all the streets, sidewalks, etc. It made sense to add the Lower Plaza and the Channel Gardens to this layout.

In the end, with over 102K (digital) LEGO pieces, this ended up being the biggest model I have built, by far. While the prospect of building something like this for real, is pretty daunting (and the expense of all the LEGO pieces I would need, is enough to give me pause), my dream is to have this built and displayed in a public venue some day, for fans of the Rockefeller Center (and of course LEGO) to enjoy.

Leave a Reply