Sean Kenney: Art with LEGO bricks
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Town with moving LEGO people     ‹ Back to commissions
Photo of Town with moving LEGO people
4x8 foot town with 6 large buildings. 10 moving people.        33,500 LEGO elements.        Completed January 8, 2005
I was commissioned by Healthvision to build a large LEGO neighborhood that would represent their business model.... Healthvision's builds "Connected Healthcare Communities", so they thought that LEGO made a good metaphor.

The model was installed at the HiMSS convention in Dallas, TX, February 13-17, 2005. Healthvision plans on using it at future trade shows, and has indicated they may also install it in their corporate office.

The model

- Over 30,000 pieces (actually closer to 33,500).

- 4 feet wide, 8 feet long

- The tallest building is 5 feet tall

- 10 mini-figure LEGO people walk around, pulled by underground magnets

- It took about 350 hours to design, build and glue.

- Each building can be lifted up for packing and transport, and the two larger buildings separate into sections, and the base (containing the machinery) splits into four large sections.


For the model, I created buildings that represent the various parties that a patient encounters on a regular basis -- A highrise for the insurance company, a hospital, a local doctor's office, a medical lab, a pharmacy, and a patient's home. I "connected" the community by having LEGO mini-figures walk from location to location, while lights strung between the buildings represented the data transfer that Healthvision's product enables.




Motion

The biggest challenge for me on this project was enabling the LEGO people to walk around. It took at least 30% of the total time of the project, and still could have used a bit more work.

I hooked magnets up to underground motors that pulled the people along, but the friction encountered often proved too much and the people would tend to fall over or get stuck. All in all it worked pretty well at the event, but it was VERY hard to get it working.


- Watch the people move [500KB, animated GIF]

- Watch a 12 minute video of motion tests [18.5MB Quicktime] (Some people found it amusing, shrug.)





Architecture

I wanted each building to be immediately recognized as the "community member" that it represented. This was easy for some of the buildings - like a single family home. Other buildings proved more challenging.

For example, what does a doctor's office look like? Some doctors work out of rebuilt homes. Others are in strip-malls. Others are in big hospital looking buildings. It was a real challenge coming up with designs for some of these more ambiguous buildings, while still making sure that the buildings didn't look too similar to each other or to adjacent buildings. I think the end result worked well.


There were 6 buildings in all:


High-rise

The insurance company is a large international-style glass-and-steel high-rise, loosely modeled after 130 Liberty Street, a New York City office building partially destroyed by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

I usually build model buildings hollow, but since the clear windows would allow you to see straight through the building, I added floors in between each story. This allows you to see straight through whichever floor you are eye-level with, but not up-diagonally or down-diagonally through the building. It has a very realistic effect as you walk towards the model and your viewing angle changes.

But favorite feature of this model is the random pattern of open-and-closed window shades spattered across the windows. Adding them make the model looked even more realistic.




Patient's home

This was the most straight-forward model in the project. I looked through house-floorplan web sites until I found a nice cute single-family home that I through would render well in LEGO. This model is almost a literal transcription of a home I found on coolplans.com.

My favorite details are the front door, the TV antennae, and the mailbox.




Doctor's office

As I mentioned above, coming up with this design was pretty challenging. After tossing out a lot of ideas, I finally decided to build the doctor's office to look like it belongs in a relatively new medium-cost suburban professional park.

(Funny side note: I came up with an imaginary mental image for this. Two days later my fiancee, who was away on a business trip and hadn't seen what I built, e-mailed me two JPGs of doctors offices that looked EXACTLY like my model. Weird!)




Hospital

For the hospital, I wanted to create a model of a real hospital, but I had a specific look in mind: a building that is rather tall, that has had a ton of additions tacked onto it over time, as the hospital grew.

I spent a lot of time researching different hospitals, but I couldn't find photographs of any that met my criteria. Either they were too modern looking (and looked, architecturally, too similar to the highrise) or they were so old that they were national historic buildings that hadn't changed much over the years. (Such as Columbia Medical Center.)

Furthermore, urban hospitals were too tall & narrow, and suburban hospitals were too sprawling. I didn't have enough space to create sprawl, and contractually, I'd agreed to create a hospital that was 3 feet tall.

So, I decided to make up a hospital, and a made-up history to go with it. My imaginary hospital was built in the 1950s, originally a large, plain monolithic white tower, built on a budget. In the 1970s, an ugly brick-and-concrete addition was tacked onto the side of the building, with no attempt at matching the architectural style. Later,in the late 1990s, a glass and steel atrium was added to join the two sections and to expand the first floor (ER?) capacity.




Medical lab

I flat-out had no idea what a medical lab looked like. I only ever went to get a blood test once, and it was in a downtown city-center location. After a lot of research and a lot of back-and-forth discussion with the client, we deduced that "labs" usually are tacked onto the side of a hospital, or built quickly, or even as afterthoughts.

So for this model, I decided to make it look like it was made with corrugated steel, and that it belonged in an industrial park.




Pharmacy

This one was easy, since corporate-chain pharmacies are all over the U.S. I orignally wanted to build a Rite-Aid because I thought that they were more interesting looking buildings from a modelling point of view... but I don't think Rite-Aid is located anywhere other than the North Eastern US. My primary goal was for these buildings to "read" instantly as a particular type of place, so I opted to go with a nationwide chain. CVS buildings are too generic looking, and Eckards are just plain ugly, so Walgreens it was. I replicated a Walgreens and created a logo that says "Pharmacy" in Walgreens-esqe lettering.





Building the model

Here are a few photographs of me working on the model. I was on a VERY tight schedule -- I worked 7 days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day, for a month. Coffee was my friend.



 


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