If you were able to attend our opening night show last Thursday, October 14, then you were among the first patrons to view the 42" long, 16" tall lighted display featured centrally in the Yocha Dehe Grand Lobby. What many people thought from a distant glance was a proposed re-design of the Mondavi Center, turned out on closer inspection to be an homage to our beloved building—and to the very tenets of imagination and creativity that define its existence.
This incredible art piece is a brick by brick LEGO replica of the Mondavi Center. Using over 37,000 creatively-sourced representational pieces, creator Stephen Crouse offers up new ways of seeing and appreciating the center. The smaller scale and perspective showcase how the formal elements of the structure work together, while the use of the various blocks inspires an awareness of the patterns and materials (such as the stones) that give the building its distinctive visual character.
No details were left out. The interior stairs are visible from the windows, signs and posters are in mini display cases ... there's even a fully developed Jackson Hall stage and a catwalk in the interior of the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre! (What other details can you identify?)
Not surprisingly, the model was a huge hit of the night, generating conversation and lots of shared stories about LEGO-building memories. Much in the way that live performance can inspire and connect us, Stephen’s model generates a sense of universal wonder, unlocking all the magic of the limitless potential of our imaginations.
As a lover of LEGOs and all things architectural (and as a designer, too), I had so many questions about this wonderful artpiece. Many thanks to Stephen for his generous answers and for inspiring our collective imagination:
How long have you been doing MOC (My Own Creation) LEGO models?
SC: I have done kits on-and-off over the past 10 years, but as a kid I lived off of LEGO, Girder and Panel Building sets and Lincoln Logs. When COVID hit, LEGO became very popular and some kits were very hard to find. We lived across the street from the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek and I decided to try and build it out of LEGO. It turned out really well and I was hooked. I built a couple of California’s iconic lighthouses and then decided to tackle the Mondavi Center. It is so distinctive in design and materials. The architect’s use of the different stones and their orientation is truly architectural art. It is a beautiful beacon for the arts for all the travelers on I-80.
How do you get started with the design? What process and tools do you use?
SC: I use satellite images and whatever photos I can find online or if I can visit in person, that’s best. From the satellite, I can determine the dimensions. Once I find a key LEGO piece, I scale up the model from that piece. For the Mondavi Center I used the stone on the main tower. From there I determine which pieces will work best to represent the architecture and design. I use a 3D modeling program called Sketchup and recreate the model scaled down to LEGO size. Once I start building there is tons of trial-and-error to get the best look for the key features. I ordered 60,000-70,000 pieces to get the best 37,000 pieces for the final model.
Watch a video Stephen created to show how he designed the wireframe.
Are you an architect?
SC: I am not an architect, sadly. I am a designer, happily. Landscape design mostly. I do consider myself a LEGO architect though.
Have you made others?
SC: The first big MOC model was the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek—it is 5000 pieces. Next was the Cabrillo Point light station and it is around 6000 pieces. The Battery Point light station is closer to 8000 pieces and then Mondavi Center which after adding the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre grew to around 37,000 pieces. We recently moved to Palm Springs, and I think my next big project is a nod to the Mid Century Modern architecture of this area. I am going to take the top 10 MCM architects and build a home in their style and put them all in one MCM neighborhood—like a custom home development, but LEGO scale.
I built the Lesher and the Mondavi because I decided if I couldn’t go see live performances, then I could build performance centers. I call it "COVID-inspired art."
What advice would you give a budding LEGO architect?
SC: It’s supposed to be fun and there’s no bad LEGO model. Just start putting bricks together and see where it takes you.
Then you can try building something from your imagination or something that already exists.
Stephen has generously donated his version of the Mondavi Center to us, and it will be on display during performances to continue to inspire the builder and artist in all of us.