LEGO set review: Chicago (Set #21033)

Fri, 2017/10/06
Ethan Castro

Back in 2008, the LEGO group introduced a new product line known as the Architecture line, which (according to the LEGO group) aims “to celebrate the past, present, and future of architecture through the LEGO Brick.” This sub-brand went on to release a number of sets under one of two series: the Landmark Series, which has contained sets such as the Sears Tower (set #21000), the Burj Khalifa (set #21008), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (21035), and the Architect Series, which has included sets such as Fallingwater (set #21005), the Villa Savoye (set #21014), and the Rockefeller Center (set #21007). In both the Landmark Series and Architecture Series, a single building is portrayed within the set, with an impressive amount of the structure’s detail captured through simple LEGO bricks. For example, set #21003, the Seattle Space Needle, is a Landmark Series set that is able to capture the curvature of the Space Needle’s support structure through simple, flexible LEGO tube pieces. Indeed, the entirety of the Architecture line has shown a commitment to taking intricate structural nuances that exist in real life and capturing them through clever use of LEGO pieces, all to pay homage to their original architects.

In 2016, the Architecture line introduced a third series, known as the Skyline Series. With each set portraying several buildings or structures as opposed to one, this series pays more general homage to a given city. Take, for example, the first skyline set, Venice, released in 2016 (set #21026). This set contains a slideshow of Venetian landmarks in LEGO form, including the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Basilica, St. Mark’s Campanile, St. Theodore and the Winged Lion of St. Mark, and the Bridge of Sighs, all lined up in a single skyline set with representations of the city’s famed canals included as part of the baseplate. The efforts taken to encapsulate the city’s details can be seen as a microcosm for the entire Skyline Series, taking strides to create a more authentic portrayal of a world city in adorable LEGO scale.

But perhaps more relevant to both the Illinois Tech body and this review is the 2017 Skyline Series set, Chicago (set #21033). Available in LEGO stores now, this set contains several iconic structures that every Illinois Tech student probably sees on a daily basis, including the Willis Tower (using the new name given to what was previously known as the Sears Tower), the John Hancock Center, Cloud Gate (affectionately known as “The Bean”), DuSable Bridge, the Wrigley Building, and the CNA Center (or “Big Red”) in a holistic representation of the familiar and iconic Chicago skyline.

Containing 440 LEGO pieces, building this entire set took this TechNews writer an hour to complete. The simple, layered structure of most of the buildings meant that the instructions were clear and simple to follow (this booklet also contains descriptions and information about every structure in the set, so it is worth the read). However, a surprising amount of technical complexity went into the build for the John Hancock Center, as some clever building techniques are employed to capture the building’s famous curvature and thicker base. In addition, despite containing over 400 pieces, the set is very small in size, measuring just seven inches (20 centimeters) high, eight inches (22 centimeters) wide, and onm inches (five centimeters) deep. The reason this set is so small despite having so many pieces is that a large number of one by one LEGO bricks go into each individual building, so care must taken during construction to avoid losing any of the small pieces (this TechNews writer, an avid LEGO builder, recommends using the set’s box as a bin to keep all the pieces during assembly). However, taken holistically, this set is very approachable for LEGO builders and Chicago fans of all ages and skill levels, as long as proper precautions are taken.

Once completed, a number of endearing details can be noted in every part of the set. The CNA Center (erroneously called by its unofficial name of “Big Red” in the set’s instructions) uses a combination of red grill pieces and flat red pieces to capture the real-life building’s exterior. The Willis Tower cleverly uses sunken round pieces to portray the building’s entrance pavilion. Moving up its floors, the alternation of transparent and black layers perfectly captures the tower’s exterior appearance, with its structural layout also capturing its famous layered design. The inclusion of DuSable Bridge and the Chicago River give the set’s buildings a geographically appropriate layer of separation. Although the bridge is very simple in its design, it does still raise and lower, a much-appreciated layer of functionality. Across the river, the Wrigley Building’s sloping façade is beautifully captured in LEGO form, with the building even being offset on the main baseplate, similar to the real building's orientation towards Michigan Avenue. Finally, the John Hancock Center, as was previously mentioned, is the most complex build of the set, with an internal core consisting of clip-handle pieces that allow the LEGO portrayal to include the building’s tapering edifice. Of course, attention must also be given to the three pieces that are used to represent Cloud Gate (a simple metallic grey ball joint) and Millennium Park (two dark green circle pieces). Absolutely adorable, these pieces really help add in that extra layer of authenticity.

Overall, this set is an adorable addition to any Chicago student’s desk or shelf and looks particularly appropriate when juxtaposed with one’s own view of the skyline. Its details are equally endearing and impressive, and while it does not fully capture the essence of our home city, the set still allows one to have a miniature representation of a select number of its aspects to keep.