Discovering History One Lego Block At A Time

Mixing play with heritage is a great way to entice kids to discover the past. This June holidays, a little exhibition plays out at the Central Library and we popped in on the first day to see what it’s all about. 

Building History: Monuments in Bricks and Blocks is a brand new exhibition of eight of Singapore’s historical monuments, all built using LEGO.  Your kids like LEGO too? Bingo. They’d love it.

The eight landmarks turned into models include the National Museum, the lovely red and white Central Fire Station, old Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, the Thian Hock Keng Temple, St Andrew’s Cathedral and Sultan Mosque. These big, adult-sized models were built with impressive detail, using over 110,000 toy bricks (ie. LEGO which did not sponsor this) in total.

Temple resized

The exhibition was organised by the National Heritage Board’s  Preservation of Sites and Monuments division, but the models were built by three designers from My Little Brick Shop Pte Ltd. We love the amount of research that went into designing and building the models, so they were as authentic and true to the original monuments as possible. According to the builders, they studied the original architectural plans of the buildings that they got hold of from the national archives (yes, really old documents), flew drones over the the buildings to capture the details from above, and visited many times to take photos to capture all the other details. That effort shows up in the 8 models which took seven months to complete– from the floor patterns of the Thian Hock Keng Temple to the coloured glass window of St Andrew’s Cathedral.

Temple resized 2

Thian Hock Keng Temple was where the Chinese immigrants went to give thanks when they first arrived in Singapore. It used to stand right by the sea, which is now a distance away.

We were also thrilled to see that the bottles that decorate the base of the domes of Sultan Mosque were not left out too. As you well know, these bottles were donated by the poor in the Muslim community when the mosque was being built. It showed how inclusive the community was, where the poor was also given recognition–not just the wealthy. (You can read more about this story in The Little Singapore Book.) This was the largest model at the exhibition, weighing 40 kg and could not fit through a door. Just one of the golden domes itself is made up of 1,511 pieces of toy bricks.

Mosque resized 2 (2)

The Sultan Mosque is where the official start of Ramadan is announced in Singapore every year.

Making these models had its challenges and the model makers had to improvise sometimes. For instance instead of green dragons on the roof of the Thian Hock Keng Temple model, they had to use red snakes instead as LEGO did not make toy dragons. The pillars of at its main entrance are gears with chains, instead of grand dragons coiling upwards. But you get the idea. The main hall of the temple was recreated by memory work because the security lady in the hall was adamant that no photography was allowed.

Fire station resized

The Central Fire Station was Singapore’s first fire station built in 1909. The watch tower was where firemen used to look out for fires way back when.

Getting this close to the landmarks lets you really see and appreciate the details of these buildings which may not be apparent even when you visit the actual site. This exhibition is a good way to start a conversation with youngsters kids about their history. What were they about? Who built them? And why? The answers to these will surely be a vivid tale of the communities that used them and all the amazing stories that lurk in their past.

St Andrew resized

This is the oldest Anglican church in Singapore. It was built on land donated by Singapore’s first Arab settler, Syed Sharif Omar bin Ali Al-Junied, who was a trader and landowner.

The exhibition runs from now until 30 June. Guess the number of bricks used to build the Sultan Mosque and the three closest guesses will win LEGO models. The next 10 closest guesses will win a children’s storybook on national monuments. Just upload a photo of the Sultan Mosque model with your answer on your personal Facebook or Instagram accounts with the hashtags #BuildingHistorySG and #librarysg.

The exhibition will then travel to other libraries: Marine Parade Library (1-30 July), Jurong regional Library (1-30 August), Tampines Regional Library (1-29 Sep), Ang Mo Kio Library (1-30 Oct), Sengkang Public Library (1-29 Nov) and  Choa Chu Kang Library (1-30 Dec).

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