Like some kind of satire-free Gulliver, I’m striding across a concrete landscape inside a large white tent. It looks like a desert marked out with spray paints. Stretched over a large geometric canyon is a Lego model of Tower Bridge. It looks as though a terrible toy town disaster has decimated London leaving a solitary landmark, like a cute version of Hiroshima.
Actually, this is, or soon will be, the new Lego MiniLand model – or cluster, as it is evocitaly known in the trade – of London at LegoLand Windsor. Elsewhere, other parts of London are being assembled. Up the hill in Windsor, the British Knights of architecture are being feted in Lego: The Lloyds building and City Hall are being carefully modelled by Ryan and Katie respectively. Over in Billund, Denmark and the Czech Republic other recent London icons are being assembled: three Canary Wharf towers, the Gherkin, the Millennium Bridge. These new models will be added to the old London MiniLand buildings: Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the BT Tower, Docklands Light Railway, Piccadilly Circus- real life transformations of the last ten years have been reflected in changes to places like Trafalgar Square. There is a new Lego underground station, ‘Brick Park’?. And a moment of geographic serendipity means Waterloo Station has been moved so that it neighbours MiniLand France – corrects the old cluster where Eurostar terminated at Charing Cross. A Lego Ken Livingstone might be made. Perhaps insulting a Lego reporter from the Evening Standard. Whose complaint might in turn see Lego Ken up before a Lego Tribunal. An animated Skanska sponsored crane must obviously be a tribute to the wonders of PFI.
The whole thing has a kind of insane wonder about it – a tour de force of Lego transubstantiation and obssessivness, City Hall alone had to be built out of the 35 different types of silver LEGO bricks.
Of course this is an anathema to a certain school of architecture and sculpture. What if Louis Kahn asked a Lego Brick what it wants to be? And what would he make of it if the brick replied ‘I’d like to be a tie in with a major motion picture release, ideally involving space’. What exactly would Carl Andre make of 13 million LEGO bricks?
In the ten years since the original London cluster, the real city has become more plastic. The skyline has become more remarkable and London seems somewhere it is possible to re-make. So it is that Docklands has now become an Eastern anchor to the model. Perhaps another ten years as London continues to drift east, we’ll see a Lego Thames Gateway.
In fact, London’s drift West along the M4 corridor might also mean that LegoLand itself becomes part of Lego MiniLand. At which point a crack in the sky might open up and swallow us all.
MiniLand has all of the surrealness of any miniature village. But it’s extra odd because potentially – if you were stricken by an infantile obsession multiplied by a lottery win – it would be possible for you to construct it at home. Imagine rooms would be filled toys become too giant, recalling the scene in Close Encounters where Richard Dreyfuss builds a ceiling-scraping model of the Devils Mount in his front room.
Model villages are not just models of real places, though they are obsessively concerned with looking like a scaled down reality. They are also models of ideas, shrunk to fit comprehension. The act of making things in miniature is not just about representation.
Pre Renaissance, scale was not used to indicate distance. Instead, it represented other kinds of relationships: power and wealth. What it indicates here is different: MiniLand is a place where geography and scale has collapsed. Its accuracy of modelling is shot through with inaccuracy. The unrecognisable gaps are as important as the familiar things that have been modelled. The skill is in the invisible join lines, the edits and splices. The irony might well be that these invisible parts of the model are the rawest reflection of the contemporary city.
Alternatively, one could argue that real world is becoming more like MiniLand – the depicted morphing into the depiction. Miniature villages create simultaneous sensations of omnipresence and disconnectedness, replicas of sensations familiar to anyone whose walked down Oxford Street. It might explain why both Will Self and Douglas Coupland have Honey-I-Blew-Up-The-Author dust jacket photos of themselves in model villages. Perhaps it is because the model villages physically display an idea of a relationship between the individual and the city around them that they have become the location of choice for crankey-pop novelists.