In the interest of continuing to provide perspectives other than my own, I am happy to invite my third guest to this blog – Alexandre Canavarro. He is an AFOL from Brazil who has been working for the last couple of years on a very ambitious LEGO cathedral project. It is still very much a work in progress, but what Alexandre has managed to accomplish so far is already very impressive. I have been following Alexandre on Instagram for the last two years, watching this amazing project take shape. With its massive scale, soaring columns that come together in stately arches and colorful “stained glass” windows that are built using multi-colored transparent bricks, Alexandre’s cathedral is definitely turning out to be a LEGO build for the ages. Not being content with the amazing exterior of the cathedral, Alexandre has also gone the extra mile to pack the interior with numerous details including an altar, pulpits and pews, chandeliers and even a pipe organ. I am grateful to Alexandre for agreeing to answer a few questions for this blog.
1) This LEGO project is clearly something you are very passionate about. Were you inspired by any real cathedral in particular, or is this an original design using elements borrowed from various cathedrals? Did you have to do a lot of research in order to come up with the design?
I would like to thank you for all the support during this project. It has really become a big passion in my life for the past two years and I feel truly honored by this invitation.
Like many of us AFOLs, I had played with LEGO during my childhood years. LEGO reappeared in my life a few years ago, thanks to my son. He asked me for a LEGO set and so I went to the store to buy it. I was amazed by all the great stuff on the market and I knew at that very moment that I was going to get drawn into this hobby once again.
Here in Brazil, Catholic churches are everywhere. Religion has always been present in people’s lives and it didn’t take long for me to make the connection between LEGO and churches.
This cathedral model is my own creation and the design came out of my mind. It incorporates elements from several real cathedrals and I took inspiration from other people’s designs and techniques as well. I originally thought of building something small on a 32 x 32 base plate. But then I wanted to use the minifig scale – I just love LEGO minifigures ! I also wanted the model to have an interior. I remember taking all the pieces I had and starting to build a model guided only by images that I had in my mind. At that point I wasn’t focused on details – it was all about the shape and size.
Then I did a separate and more refined build for the top of the tower, which remains the same today, and this pretty much dictated the size of the current model. I soon realized that this was going to be a very large model and that I would need tons of pieces to make it happen.
At this time, I started doing a lot of research on real churches and cathedrals. I also found some beautiful projects built out of LEGO. I remember seeing a church – a convent actually, that I found on the Beyond the Brick YouTube Channel. It is from a Portuguese builder, and it is all built in white bricks. It was just gorgeous! After seeing it, I knew that the choice of white bricks would be great. Here is the link to this wonderful project – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sqRWtJiadw
2) I would love to hear more about your process for designing this build. I recall seeing some pencil sketches you made on graph paper. Did you plan the entire thing out the old fashioned way ?
Yes, I did. The whole process was, and still is, done the old-fashioned way. I just love freehand drawings.
I remember reading a book about design. The author said that the beginning of any creative process should always start with pencil and paper. Even today, with all the technological marvels available to us, this is an important first step to take before turning to a computer. I totally agree – there is a lot of great design software out there, but paper sketches are a great way to quickly visualize your ideas and start working on them right away.
In fact, when I first started I only had some ideas to do some freehand building. Once my model started to take shape, I used a pencil and paper to make some sketches. Then I kept going back and forth between doing sketches and building with real bricks. Of course, I had to do many calculations for the number of pieces. To do that, I used paper and Excel spreadsheets.
Later on, when I started working on the sides of the building, I made a microscale model, which helped me a lot and gave me a better idea of the size and proportions. In general, you can say that this has been a process of trial and error, but a very fun process nevertheless.
3) When you started this build (which I know is still a work in progress) did you have any idea how big the overall build was going to be ? I am assuming you didn’t just start with a small section and keep adding to it as you went along.
I knew from the very beginning that it would have an interior. I also wanted to include some elements that are present in real churches and cathedrals such as a pipe organ, a bunch of seats and a decent altar. The first elements of the current model that I built were the tower and the pipe organ. The tower gave me an idea of how big this model was going to be. As for the pipe organ, I thought it was too small and I knew I would have to make it bigger. More space would be needed. Once I had the tower, the organ and the altar finished, I built the first section – the front section, which is three 32 x 32 base plates wide by one 32 x 32 base plate long. I guess that was the time when I realized that this thing was going to be huge !
4) This model is chock-full of interesting elements and details. How did you go about figuring out how to build these using LEGO (feel free to use examples) ? Are there still some aspects of the build that you haven’t completely figured out yet ? I know that you still have to do the roof above the main hall (which does look very challenging !).
I spend hours and hours just enjoying, admiring and studying real cathedrals and other LEGO MOCs of castles, churches and cathedrals. Every single element captures my attention. So I take some pieces – some generic and some more unusual, and start experimenting with different possibilities to recreate what I have on my mind. I usually start with the main element of what I am creating.
An example is the pipe organ. What calls my attention the most are the pipes. I instinctively thought about using the 1 x 1 round bricks. Then I saw a very unusual piece, at least for me. A technic piece that I later discovered is LEGO part number 62462. It is like a pipe with a slot. I remember having only one, in orange color, but that piece was just perfect for that use! I calculated the necessary amount and put it on my wish list so I could later buy it in the appropriate color – light bluish gray.
The pillars were another thing that I created playing around with some pieces. I was thinking of using the 2 x 2 round bricks, in white color. But I found them to be very expensive. So I thought about using the 1 x 1 regular white bricks, but they were just square. Then I saw some 2 x 2 light bluish gray round plates and started to stack them together. I just loved the result – these plates added more texture and color variation to the build.
The high arches were another problem. LEGO does have a great variety of arch pieces, but they are limited in size. I found the solution by searching the internet for custom LEGO arches and I found great creations using different types of inverted slope pieces. The roof above the main hall, also known as “crossing” in cathedrals, used to be something that scared me a little. Recently I figured out how to do it and now I know it is just a matter of getting the rest of the pieces I need and finishing it.
There is actually one section that I am still worried about. It is the back section of the cathedral. I have some ideas but I still have some doubts as well.
5) As I understand it, you had to move this build from one location to another. Did you plan for this build to be modular, so you could break it into multiple sections for easy transport ?
Yes, I did. From the very beginning I knew that it would have to be moved at some point. I planned to divide it into four main sections. You can think of slices along the longitudinal axis – the front section, two middle sections and finally the back section. The tower can also be taken apart into two sections.
This is a very sturdy model. It contains many structural elements and some of the walls are made up of three or sometimes even four layers.
6) Related to my previous question, do you plan to display this model (once it is completed) in LEGO shows or any other locations outside your home ? I am sure that a lot of people would love to see this model in person.
Yes, I really want to do this! It is really cool to see the reaction of some friends and relatives who had the opportunity to see this model in person. I find it very difficult to capture all the details and the atmosphere of this cathedral with photos or videos. This is a big model and nothing can really recreate the experience of standing next to it in person.
I know that there are some LUGs (LEGO User Groups) here in Brazil. Here in my city, there is usually a LEGO exhibition every year in December. I am afraid that this year we won’t have any exhibitions due to COVID-19, but I am not going to be done with this project this year anyway.
I have a dream of taking it (once it is finished) to some of the LEGO exhibitions in the US some day. You have this wonderful LEGO community there and it would be an honor to participate in one of these exhibitions and hang out with some fantastic LEGO builders.
7) If you had to take a guess, when do you think you will be completely done with this build ? I understand that any timeline you have in mind may now be subject to change due to COVID-19.
I would say that it will hopefully be finished by the end of next year. For us in Brazil, the only option to get separate LEGO pieces and in large quantities is through Bricklink. There are no Pick-a-brick walls in the (unofficial) LEGO stores here. LEGO’s official website in Brazil also does not offer separate pieces.
The economic consequences of this pandemic have also affected the exchange rate of our currency vs. the US dollar making LEGO pieces much more expensive. Fortunately, things are improving here and we are heading towards a quicker recovery than we had imagined. I see good things happening for us in the LEGO community in 2021.
Thank you Alexandre for the opportunity to feature your amazing cathedral build on this blog ! I look forward to see this model once it is finished – hopefully in person if you do make it to one of the LEGO events in the US !
You can follow Alexandre here
and watch a video posted by Bevin’s Bricks here