I came out of my Dark Ages at the end of last year, after coming back to the States and digging out my childhood sets for my son. In hunting for the instructions online, I noticed how solidly LEGO appreciates over time, and, like most of you, have since spent more time and money than I should in reading these forums and buying LEGO. I keep telling myself (and my wife) that it is a good investment, but we all know the real reasons.
As this is my first post after so much lurking, I would first of all like to thank you all for participating in this forum and sharing your knowledge and opinions. My reason for posting this was to share some of my first impressions in coming back to LEGO as an adult and to hear your reactions to them.
My experience: Walking around B&N right before Christmas, I saw the architecture sets for sale. Only three or four sets were for sale, and I looked at them to see if I felt any would make a good Christmas present for anyone. None of them really seemed that appealing to me, being mostly skyscrapers. None of the buildings available seemed really beautiful or interesting, with the exception of the Seattle Space Needle and the Brandenburg Gate, but neither of those buildings held any significance for me or my gift recipients, so I didn't get them.
Being a classical-type person, I wondered if they had anything more “old-school” in the Architecture line, like a Parthenon or Palladian villa. After Christmas, I looked up what was available and was a little surprised to find that the small selection at B&N was pretty representative of the line as a whole. Out of 19 sets to date, all but Big Ben, the White House, Brandenburg Gate, and Sungnyemun are from the 1900s, give or take a few years. 7 are American skyscrapers, and 7 are Frank Lloyd Wright or Bauhaus-style modern architecture, mostly houses.*
Now, I realize there are two factors here, namely, my own personal tastes developed from my travels contrasted with the architectural training and experience of LEGO Architecture designers, which I would guess tends to skew in favor of modern architects. Fair enough, there are plenty of other LEGO lines out there for me. Different strokes for different folks, and all that. However, two other relatively minor events happened, which, combined with my response to the Architecture line, raised some questions in my mind.
One event was the kerfuffle over the Jabba’s Palace set (9516). With all the complaining about how it looked like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, all I could think about was how much I would really love to see an actual Hagia Sophia set. Around the same time, I bought a Kingdoms Chess set (853373) and put it together with my son. What really threw me off while playing chess was the slight differentiation between the green bishops and knights: knights have feathered helms and axes, while bishops have some kind of lobster pot helmets, breastplates, and great axes with banners attached. Both bishops and knights appear rather knightlike when I actually played chess, which is confusing. Adding to the confusion, the red knights are actually jester-archers. Wouldn’t it be easier to just have an actual bishop?
Although TLG’s attitude to modern weaponry and warfare is well-known and has been discussed quite often, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that there is an unspoken (and as-yet undiscussed) policy about representing religious buildings and figures in LEGO sets as well. By doing so, I suppose TLG prevents criticism from either seeming to favor a certain religion (“Why is the bishop in my chess set not a Wiccan priestess/Shinto priest/televangelist?! That’s discrimination!”) or disparage any particular religion (Mohammed minifigure = epic fail). At the same time, I would love to see sets, large or small, for any of the following:
St. Basil’s (Russian Orthodox)
St. Peter’s (Roman Catholic)
Canterbury Cathedral (Roman Catholic to Church of England)
Hagia Sophia/Aya Sofya (Eastern Orthodox to Roman Catholic to Eastern Orthodox to Muslim to a museum)**
Notre Dame (Roman Catholic)
Temple of Heaven (Taoist)
Jogyesa (Zen Buddhist)***
Potala Palace (Tibetan Buddhist)
Golden Mount (Theravada Buddhist)
Perhaps though, it is not so much a non-religious policy as a pro-modernist policy: there are no Parthenon or Palladio or Neuschwanstein sets either. As the exception probes the rule, the four non-20th century Architecture sets might bear this out: Big Ben, Brandenburg Gate, and Sungnyemun are (perhaps) added primarily as major landmarks in modern cities, and the White House is more a symbol of modern power than a celebration of Neoclassical design.
In the end, do you think that TLG’s sets reflect some kind of Kierkegaardian philosophy of separation of church from everything else? Alternately (or simultaneously), do the Architecture set choices just primarily reflect that northern European modernist aesthetic that brought us such wonders as the Helvetica font and IKEA furniture?****
I look forward to hearing other’s hypotheses and opinions on this topic.
*I realized that I forgot to add the advanced models. The Taj Mahal seems to be an exception to the religious rule, but remember that it is not a mosque, but rather a mausoleum.
**Jabba’s Palace doesn’t count!
***I must admit, Sungnyemun is very similar in style to Jogyesa, which would make this less unique.
****I’m more of a Garamond font/Georgian furniture fan myself.