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How challenging is converting iconic buildings like Burj Khalifa into building blocks?

The LEGO designer Rok Zgalin Kobe shares his thoughts on the future of LEGO, his visit to the UAE and all-things ‘architecture’.

How challenging is converting iconic buildings like Burj Khalifa into building blocks?
[Source photo: LEGO | Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

As the late Mr. George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Every once in a while, we all pause life and, just for a few seconds, reminisce about our childhood. That nostalgic feeling reminds us of a simpler, much happier time. 

A childhood favorite, and increasingly gaining popularity among adults, is LEGO. Spending countless hours hung up over a giant pile of bricks and figuring out what piece would be the best fit to build an architectural masterpiece was challenging yet extremely entertaining.

Speaking of architectural masterpieces, we had the opportunity to interview Rok Zgalin Kobe, the LEGO designer who works on the selection criteria, concept work, and final design of the adult and design-oriented LEGO Architecture Line and has also created LEGO sets for the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, and The Jumeirah Emirates Towers and shares his experience visiting the UAE.


Having designed over 40 products – including the iconic London, New York, Shanghai, and the Statue of Liberty, when asked about what architecture line has been the most challenging, Kobe says, “My favorite is the nuanced challenge represented by LEGO skylines. The LEGO Dubai Skyline is a perfect example. The small scale of the models means that every LEGO brick is visible. It must have multiple roles, structural as well as representative.” 

He adds, “Innovative part usage is important – the Dubai Frame is constructed using only three LEGO pieces, while the Burj al Arab achieves its detailed structure using a piece for minifigures, a candle element.”

With different shades of blue contrasting with the warmth of the sand and gold colors, Kobe believes it represents a modern Oasis in the desert. 

The main task, however, is to achieve a good composition of the different buildings while they remain relatively in scale with one another.

Similar to these gorgeous buildings in Dubai, there are many more worldwide. So how do you pick the best one to design? It must fulfill several principles. 

Besides being known worldwide, the design must translate well into the LEGO brick form. Kobe says, “My responsibility is to ensure that the LEGO representation of the building is accurate and presents an interesting building experience. The architecture of buildings is often repetitive, so I try to design them in interesting ways to lessen that a bit.” 

Citing an example of the LEGO Burj Khalifa, he says that the set was not built by just stacking bricks on top of one another but was placed from the sides. Recently, Kobe also visited Dubai and applauded how it had achieved the city-building aspect in certain areas.


A lot of thought goes into creating a new product for the Architecture Line. Even though blueprints of buildings are easily available for design purposes, Kobe believes that nothing beats a personal relationship with a place. On his first visit to the Emirates, Kobe says, “I was lucky to have visited most of the places I have designed. Visiting the buildings after designing them was a special treat. No matter how many pictures and movies one sees, you cannot replicate the awe experienced when looking up at the atrium of Burj al Arab, seeing the tip of Burj Khalifa disappearing into the clouds of the night sky, or riding the glass elevator in the hotel atrium of the Emirates tower.” 

In an overly digitized world today, LEGO can be touted as an escape for adults. According to a study, adults are driving the toy industry’s growth. Kidults, are mostly fond of collectables that remind them of their childhood, such as LEGO sets. Kobe believes the LEGO system in play is more relevant today than ever. He says, “It offers children the great joy of physical, tactile creation and is an intuitive outlet for their creativity and imagination.” 

But it’s about more than mindless play and unproductivity. LEGO has remained relevant and popular because it “serves as mindful meditation for adults, by disconnecting them from a hectic day and allowing for hours of guided, relaxing building, and leaving them with a great display piece at the end.”

What inspires Kobe is soaking in the genius of architectural buildings – their architects and designs. He tries to capture at least a bit of the magic of all the beautiful places in LEGO form.

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Karrishma Modhy is the Managing Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She enjoys all things tech and business and is fascinated with space travel. In her spare time, she's hooked to 90s retro music and enjoys video games. Previously, she was the Managing Editor at Mashable Middle East & India. More

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