Balancing Act: Steve Mayes

May 3, 2017

As a child in the 1980s, Lego was my favourite toy, by far! I especially loved the classic space kits and got quite into Technic kits too.

I stopped playing with Lego when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I would occasionally find myself browsing Lego kits if I passed them in a shop but I never thought one day I’d return to building.

In 2012 I had a hankering to build a spaceship out of my childhood Lego that I’d kept in the loft. My wife suggested I build a model of our house instead.

I’ve always been drawn to cities and iconic architecture. When I moved to Newcastle in 2000 from the Midlands I was really taken with the architecture of the city, and started photographing it. It was a hobby at the beginning and in 2006 I became a full-time freelance architecture photographer, working for architects and developers.

After recreating my house, I began building Newcastle’s iconic buildings in Lego. I got great feedback, particularly with my BALTIC model that I completed in 2015.

Initially, it seemed a ridiculous dream that people would pay me to build things with Lego. But one day, I decided to give it ago.

I built a website under the brand Brick This, and emailed my contacts about what I was doing. Many of these contacts are in the construction or architectural industries – in some ways a captive audience.

Lego architecture is all about detail. It’s trying to recreate an existing or proposed building as accurately as possible.

Before I design a building, I gather photos and architectural drawings, if I can. I work out a footprint of the site, from plans or from Google maps in some cases. Occasionally I’ll use design software to test an idea. Then I start building.

There’s a lot of trial and error, but that’s part of the fun.

With every build, I ask myself what defines the building or structure. For example with the Angel of the North it was the grid-like structure of the wings and the curvature of the body. For St James’ Park, it was the the curving sections and the glass roof.

I’m a perfectionist but you simply can’t capture everything exactly. At some point you need to compromise. It might be on colour, or the angle of a roof or a curvature that is difficult to capture in Lego.

The BALTIC lent itself to Lego and I’m proud of my Angel of the North. But I think my absolute favourite is St James’ Park. 

Sage Gateshead feels like a big gap in my range of North East landmarks. I’m not sure if I want to tackle it though – it’s about as difficult a building to recreate in Lego as you can get. I’d love to try Spanish City in Whitley Bay and Alnwick Treehouse and I’ve always fancied the façade of Fenwick.

When people see a picture of one of my models and, at first glance, think it’s the real thing, that’s when I know I’ve done my job.

Brick This

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