This review was originally written for Kids in Museums and was published on 11.2.2016
Nestled in a busy corner of the National Museum of Scotland’s famous Grand Gallery is Build It. Part of their 150th anniversary celebrations and in conjunction with the Festival of Architecture 2016, the exhibition is a celebration of the work of local artist Warren Elsmore and his works created from Lego. Additionally, as part f the show Elsmore and his team will be working every Wednesday and Friday on a huge Lego recreation of the museum’s iconic building.
The works on display vary in scale and feature renowned architecture from the ancient world, such as the Roman Colosseum and the Treasury at Petra, to the modern, including the Empire State building and the Auckland Sky Tower. Smaller works then champion some of the most recognisable sights in the world of design, from the London black taxi to the Venetian gondola, while written exhibition material includes brief but effective biographies of both Lego and the artist himself. Knowledge that a young Elsmore’s bedroom floor was permanently the site of a vast Lego city may vindicate many a messy young visitor.
Exhibited content here is minimal however, as the real focus of the show is children and engaging them creatively. Around 90% of the floor space is dedicated to “maker stations” offering families the chance to take inspiration from Elsmore’s art and come up with their own creations. There is even a display case where completed works can be left for others to admire. This is a particularly nice touch as I can think of few better ways to reward creativity than the ability to say it was displayed in a national museum.
The hands-on interactivity of the exhibition was a visible and audible hit with the busy chatter of youngsters, and parents will be pleased to find a bounty of activities and events planned for the half-term holidays. These range from “Challenge Days” that will test their construction skills through a series of fun architectural tasks, “Mini Mechanics” which will explore the science of pulleys, cogs and wheels using Lego and Meccano, and the “Big Build” which will help engage youngsters with the National Museum of Scotland’s collection by assisting it’s master builders in the Lego reproduction of some of the key objects.
The beauty of Lego as a subject is that it relates to everyone; it is as nostalgic to adults as it is current to their children. There are few people who cannot say at least one sentence of their childhood story is not punctuated by colourful Lego bricks. For every child building fond memories there were adults having just as much fun, and even if it’s not your thing, there are few places better to rest your feet for a while than the airy splendour of the museum’s panoptic Grand Gallery.
Perhaps Build It’s greatest asset though is in its scope for repeat visits. It is a truly organic exhibition and no two experiences will provide the same results, such is the magic of Lego. Unlike other temporary exhibitions at the National Museum of Scotland, Build It is free, and families should be encouraged to make the most of this. Above all, the ability to track the progress of Elsmore’s live construction of a Lego National Museum of Scotland building will be fascinating. Having only been open a few days at this point, only a select number of foundation bricks have been laid down, but the sheer scale of the model promises it will be just as interesting at its various construction stages as it will be awe-inspiring in its completion.