Students Staff

24 September 2014

History of LEGO® at Essex

Ralph visiting the LEGO designs for the University of Essex

Ralph visiting the LEGO® designs for the University of Essex

We’ve been breaking boundaries for five decades and LEGO® has been part of that story from the start.

Many don't realise the importance of LEGO® in the history of the University of Essex.

Back in the early 1960s our original architect Kenneth Capon wanted to show people his early ideas for our Colchester Campus so he got hold of his son’s LEGO® bricks and set out the layout using black and white bricks. It was quite a Christmas present for our founding Vice-Chancellor Albert Sloman back in December 1962!

We bumped into Ralph, a keen blogger and one of our new undergraduates starting this weekend, getting a sneaky peek at a reconstruction of that original LEGO® model at the new exhibition Something Fierce in the Hexagon, which explains all about our founding vision.

“Wow! This is amazing,” Ralph told us. “I’ve always loved LEGO® and I am really excited to see that Essex seems to love it as much as me. I know the Colchester Campus looks really different now and it ended up being made of concrete instead of LEGO®, but I'm really excited that such a big and exciting place started off in a toy box. It says the guy who designed the University wanted to create a unified community and he definitely managed that!”

Unfortunately the original model of the University masterplan was lost or perhaps taken apart and made into a really cool castle, but thanks to a photo one of our postgraduate students Cliona O’Dunlaing was able to reconstruct it this year – 52 years later – and now it's at the heart of Something Fierce.

Inspired by what he has seen so far Ralph is looking to set-up a LEGO® Society through the Students’ Union with some friends: “I want to celebrate our LEGO® heritage. Maybe we can build LEGO® models of all of our campuses. First of all we want to see if we can build some LEGO® robots with some of our friends who are studying robotics in the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering. I want a robot that can make me a cup of tea and give me a biscuit while I am writing an essay. Some of my friends are more ambitious and want to compete in the Robocup, but we will need robots to make us refreshments while we are watching too!”

Ralph with a LEGO depiction of University Square at our Southend Campus

Ralph with a LEGO® inspired picture of our Southend Campus

Ralph has been in contact with Essex students in Southend who claim University Square at the Southend Campus was designed using LEGO® too. “I don’t think that is quite true, but it looks brilliant so I wouldn’t be surprised if we found out that LEGO® was involved,” Ralph said.

“LEGO® is fun, bright and encourages you to be creative and try out new ideas – which sounds a lot like Essex. If the Vice-Chancellor was looking for some ideas for new buildings, we could take apart our favourite Star Wars and TECHNIC models and come up with some really interesting stuff.”

We hope you’re interested in our history so this is how Professor Jules Lubbock describes Capon’s original LEGO® model: “It had 18 residential towers and 20 courtyards around a pedestrian street descending the valley. Its urban layout was concentrated in a small area so as to preserve the beauty of Wivenhoe Park and to create a unified community. Spaces for living and teaching were close together, as were buildings for different subjects.”

The plans changed quite a bit as plans always do, but the ideas which inspired that first LEGO® model remained pretty much the same and continue to influence life at the University today.

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