My first foray into the world of Lego began with a dull grey canister beneath the imaginary Christmas tree. Cleverly marketed as the stasis pods, the Toa, or cyborg Maori warriors of the BIONICLE franchise, traveled in. The packaging gave way to a torrent of pins, axles, green armor and other small parts a three year old had no business being near. After some assembly by my cousins, Lewa, Toa Of Air stood tall with halberd raised, dwarfing any nearby Lego minifigures.
It was 2001, and it marked Lego’s decision to diversify into constraction, or construction-action figure, to boost flagging sales. 14 years on, and Lewa relives his glory days fighting off dust bunnies on a shelf. His franchise may have come to a close, but Lego still soldiers on.
These bricks have an odd charm, in that they are both unique and generic at the same time. Genuine Lego sets are by and large compatible with each other, allowing the exchange and recombination of pieces however you choose. Take for example the SG50 Lego sets. There are no new molds, or pieces specifically designed for this Lego set, never before used. It is entirely composed of “staple” bricks like the claw-and-hoop system or the cylinders that make up the Gardens. You can see these bricks in countless other sets.
Despite this, buyers on the SAFOL (Singapore Adult Fans Of Lego) Facebook page have offered up to $180 for these boxes of 244 tiny plastic bits.
While the basic building blocks (excuse the pun) of Lego still remain the same – relying on bricks interfacing through 5mm wide studs on the surface – the innumerable combinations of colors and block shapes mean every creation is a journey into the infinite. Owing to the flexibility of their medium, different Lego builders may take vastly different approaches to constructing the same object. You might be a minimalist, using pieces economically to achieve a stylized representation of the real thing. Or you might have an eye for detail – the small size of Lego bricks allowing you to capture minute details on your construction.
Perhaps Lego could be likened to a language. There is a boundless amount of possible permutations and arrangements, but trying to find the one with just the right bits in the right places to represent exactly what you want is the challenge. As a child, I always felt the bricks were telling me to try something different each time. No one wants to keep building a perfectly rectangular house all the time. Sometimes you experiment, slapping two random pieces together and squinting at it, trying to see a silhouette. Sometimes you start with the end in mind and steamroll through.
On this special occasion commemorating Singapore’s half-century of independence, why choose a gift of plastic blocks? A gift is still a gift anyhow, but a Lego set might just be a little more meaningful than a pencil case or water bottle. At the risk of running into Literature territory, you could say that it is an apt metaphor: Singapore is a gift from our forebears, but we still have to continue assembling and shaping it. Some people may have different visions of what the best completed product may look like, but all in all you’re still running off the same basic constituents. As someone who has spent the better half of my childhood tinkering with Lego, I can appreciate the effort and thought put into designing scaled-down versions of these three landmarks, suitable for construction by students of all ages.
Limited production run aside, it’s no surprise people are willing to pay a premium for SG50 Lego sets. Every finished work of Lego is a little plastic poem, each subtly different from one another. (Except Hero Factory. They dropped the ball there.) Getting a hold of one after another means experiencing the satisfaction of building: same but different, the basics always unchanging but little things evolving here and there. After a while, you begin to appreciate these differences and the multiple ways to address the same problem: crafting a massive building, living animal or fantastical concept out of so many plastic pieces.