The Collectivity Project: Combining the Work of Architecture Novices and Masterminds

Anybody who knows Legos knows them as the necessary plastic building block for their childhood dreams. But alas, if you have grown up at all past building princess layaways and castles, then you will know that Legos are as cool as they are evil. I mean, they will always be cool in a nostalgic, man I wish I could build my life dreams out of Legos instead of out of a Roth401k – but have you ever stepped on a Lego? If the answer is yes, you will know that stepping on a Lego feels like a pinprick through your foot straight into your soul, where all of your zest for life and Legos is consequentially sucked out and you are forced to make up new curse words right on the spot. Needless to say, most people have a love-hate relationship with the classic toy.

In a recent art exhibit, Legos take a break from crafting the walls of castles and serving as the hull of a pirate ship for a much more modern endeavor: an artistic architecture exhibit. The exhibit, formally known as “The Collectivity Project” is the brainchild of artist Olafur Eliasson. It is on display on the High Line in New York City at West 30th Street. It has been there since May 29th and will hold court until September 30th.

Olafur Eliasson is a Danish-Icelandic artist who is specifically driven by his interests in perception, movement, embodied experience, and feelings of self. As described by the official High Line website:

“Eliasson strives to make the concerns of art relevant to a society at large. Art, for him, is a crucial means for turning thinking into doing in the world. Eliasson’s diverse works – in sculpture, painting, photography, film, and installations – have been exhibited widely throughout the world. Not limited to the confines of the museum and gallery, his practice engages the broader public sphere through architectural projects and interventions in civic space, such as his construction of four waterfalls at different sites along the East River in New York City.”


The website also officially describes Eliasson’s current project.

“For Panorama, Eliasson presents The Collectivity Project, and installation of white LEGO bricks that features an imaginary cityscape conceived and designed by the public.”

More specifically, Eliasson asked architects from ten of the best firms to start the cityscape for the project, which was made possible by a large donation of white Legos by the LEGO Group. All of the firms that participated were building something near The High Line to begin with – such as the all-new Whitney Museum and The Great Pyramid of Manhattan. Participating firms included BIG, David M. Schwarz Architects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, James Corner Field Operations, OMA New York, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Selldorf Architects, SHoP Architects, and Steven Holl Architects.



The resulting fictional cityscape required more than two tons of Legos. Perhaps the most unique part about this artist exhibition is that there is no red tape to stop passersby from touching the exhibit, or guard standing around in case someone gets a hair too close ­– in this case, interaction is actually encouraged.


Public viewers are encouraged to come in and modify the installation, adding blocks, taking blocks away and ultimately morphing the “city” into something completely different by the time the project ends in September. Initially, some of the buildings were comprised of an aysymmetical tower that gets bulkier as it rises, a spindly skyscraper, a pointy tower, a blocky mid-rise structure, a building shaped like a pagoda and a baobab tree.

With a large mixed-use development called Hudson Yards in the works nearby, Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit organization that oversee’s the park’s maintenance and art program, says,

“Installed in the growing shadow of the real estate development of Hudson Yards, the mutable, human-scale artwork provides a compelling counterpoint to the concrete-and-steel towers that form the project’s backdrop.”

The projects turns art observers into active artists themselves, allowing just about anyone to try their hand at improving, shaping or adding to the initial work of architecture greats.

I hope Eliasson plans to document the before, the after and every stage in between. Already in pictures you can see visitors creating a bridge between two buildings, bringing some creations to near rubble, and more – one can only imagine what the final product will be.

I think interactive art exhibits are a special kind of cool. For example, the lady that was documented building a bridge between the two buildings, even if only for two seconds before someone else added their spin, had her stamp on an exhibit that was in New York’s High Line park. Um, hello! That’s awesome – and it better have made it to her Instagram.

While I wish a trip to New York City was in my near future, I will likely miss seeing the Collectivity Project in person. However, that won’t stop me from daydreaming about building a Lego moat around one of those buildings…

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