Monday, 25 June 2012

Lego Love


 On Friday I attended a Lego event for part of the We Love Architecture festival from the British institute of Architecture. Senior design manager at Lego Simon Kent gave a talk on how lego sets end up on the shelf - giving some insight to the concept, design, architecture and testing that products go through before the consumer gets their eager hands on the bricks.

As much as I love how much architectural design goes into the set concept build, I found the process of testing and idea creating even more interesting. A set has a long cycle from birth to shelf; much care and attention goes through each stage. It feels loved, it feels agile, it feels a rather beautiful process.

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Lego is a long time love of mine, having spent most of my childhood immersed in the wonderful creative bubble of building and constructing your own world from miniature plastic bricks. Encouraging the creative, encouraging the logic, encouraging inquisitive minds as they grow, Lego has to be one of the most innovative learning toys ever invented. A concept so simple and yet so effective in so many ways.

Lego teaches us to be creative. Sure, build the set you bought from instructions, but the real fun is in creating your own. Workers for Lego will do exactly this on prototypes. Here's the bricks - limit yourself, and see what you can come up with. A jeep can become an aeroplane. An aeroplane can become a boat.

As a creative person, you can sometimes be overwhelmed with what you can create - give yourself limitations and you are exercising creative juices that perhaps have been left to grow a little fat. It's this thinking outside the box that can ignite great things.

One of the great aspects of Lego I have always loved, was the minute detail sets would contain, giving an extra dimension of quirkiness. Perhaps it was the firing canons on the pirate lego ship, the lego sharks in the sea; perhaps it was the garage doors on the fire station I remember enjoying moving up and down; maybe it was the medieval swords and jousting sticks, shields and helmets; or even the little arial on the policeman motorbike...But you could always guarantee these little details made the sets/figures so beautiful captivating.

Simon Kent explained that sets or rather, prototype sets go through rigorous testing phases before designs are finalised - feedback is taken on these kinds of intricate and specific details. Children are asked what they particular like and enjoy. And it is this emotional connection the testing brings, that finalises what is kept in the sets. It is through this, the lego sets have particular emotional attachment - the garage doors I loved on the fire station, resembled the garage doors of our own house I grew up in. It also perhaps explains the at times almost random feel of the sets' details and features. And yet  nothing at all is random or not thought through.

Sets will also go through extensive play-testing. Possibly the greatest job in the world for any lego loving child. Here's a set - break it. Lego invite parties of children to enter their office to attempt to play the constructions to destruction. Bricks must withstand excessive play, and even, excessive heat. Once built, test sets are placed in ovens to see if they can withstand the scenario of being left on a window sill for vast periods in the sun. No one wants a melted police station or star wars ship on their living room floor of an evening.

Mention Lego to most people, and they will confess a love. And Lego seem to feed into this in striving to produce a fantastic product for us to love - and a great role model for product creating process. Long may it continue.

Here is an interesting video from Simon Kent discussing the beautiful Space Shuttle Lego set on you tube.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Brecon Becons - The Wellington Bomber crash site


Last weekend I went to the Brecon Beacons, and payed a visit to one of the most unique sites I have ever been to.

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Over the past 12 years or so, since I started photographing and becoming interested in exploring and visiting new places to, essentially, see what they looked like photographed, I have been to quite a few unusual places, buildings and spooky surroundings. My interest in the decay of life once lived, my love of the mechanical intertwining with the natural has grown and grown, and of course I have become fascinating in Urban Exploration, and the synonymous melancholy of photography and the past. I've walked along derelict corridors of closed asylums; discovered cages and huts from a former wildlife park amidst thick woods; explored derelict residential areas full of decay and ghostly artifacts of normal every day life.

But this site on the barren mountains of Brecon was even more different again. In 1944, on a dark November night, a Wellington Bomber carrying six Royal Canadian Air Force crew, took off over the Brecon Beacons on a training flight. What should have been a routine training exercise turned into something more sinister. The plane began to have engine problems, and dangerously lost height. Unable to recover, the plane crashed into the south west slope of Garreg Goch, killing all six crew.

Incredibly, much still remains of this tragic crash. Wreckage adorns the side of the mountain, pieces of metal lie innocuously scattered amongst the rocks and grass and occasional sheep. You would imagine items would get taken; snaffled by souvenir hunters, or people hoping to sell metal on. But thankfully not, perhaps the fact the site is not easily accessible wards off any vandals, thieves and disrespectful intentions some may have.

In fact, the site is not easily spotted, even up close. Incredibly, the colour of the metal camouflages itself next to the hue of the rocks on the hill; I stood but 50 yards or so away from the wreckage, and at first did not see it - like a chameleon, it has become part of the landscape. Yet again, nature always holds the power, always seems to triumph, no matter what man builds or creates or sweats to achieve. The war plane - so mechanical, such a symbol of man's technology and self-destructing nature - now a relic belonging to the hills.

But the site is also a grave. And after taking my photos, we were left to pay our respects to the brave crew of the plane, who lost their lives on that dark night, many miles from their homes. On the beautiful, yet ominous mountain peaks of the Brecon Beacons. What is left of them is skeletal plane remains. Look, but do not touch; photograph, capture what is there so that before the elements slowly erode their memory, we can have a record of their last physical existence.

See the complete set of photos of the Wellington bomber crash site here.