Buttliere a master of Lego architecture
Rocco Buttlierre, a 2012 Buffalo Grove High School graduate, is a master builder with Legos. | Eric Davis~for Sun-Times Media
AROUND THE WORLD, IN LEGOS
See Buttliere’s work at his blog, www.mocpages.com/mocs.php?id=26843&sort=id&order=desc.
Updated: September 17, 2012 12:15PM
They are most definitely not toys, and they are more than models.
To Rocco Buttliere, his to-scale Lego recreations of some of the world’s most famous buildings are homages.
On his web site, the Buffalo Grove High School graduate includes detailed descriptions of the facts and histories about each of the 20 skyscrapers and other iconic structures he has put together.
“I like to have a ton of details with it,” Buttliere said Monday — nearly all of which he also has committed to memory. “I figure if I’m going to build something, I shouldn’t just know it physically. I should also know the history behind it.”
Some of the details Buttliere can recite off the top of his head:
• The CN Tower, built in the 1970s in Toronto, is still the tallest unpopulated building in the world.
• The Burj Khalifa in Dubai now holds the title of tallest structure in the world, though, with an reach of 2,717 feet.
• Next to the dual towers of the World Trade Center in New York City stood the six-building complex known as the World Financial Center; the sixth and last of those buildings, built in the 1980s, collapsed at about 5 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, because of stressed caused by the crashing of the Twin Towers.
• And his model of the tallest building in Chicago is still known as the Sears Tower, because he finished it about a month before the name change. “Officially, it is the Willis Tower, but it was the Sears when I built mine.”
Through the last three years, Buttliere has spent plenty of time — and thousands of dollars — on his array of architectural marvels, and is rewarded from time to time with displays in local libraries or, most recently, an appearance at the Buffalo Grove Farmer’s Market. Fern Russell, who organizes entertainment for the market, first invited Buttliere in July, and said that his second appearance, on Sunday, was by customer demand.
“He specializes in doing this incredible skyscrapers — I thought that was incredible,” Russell said Monday. “We had such a fabulous response.”
Like many boys, Buttliere grew up playing with Legos, but took the pastime to painstaking detail in high school by building 1/650-scale replicas of famous buildings. 1/650 is the magic number in the culture of Lego architecture: At that scale, two “plates” (the flat pieces — grownups may recall that three “plates” go into one “brick”) is the approximate equal of one story.
“It makes it the perfect height,” Buttliere said.
He said his passion for modeling came out of the environment he was raised in. The suburban native said that every trip his family made into Chicago’s Loop was an opportunity for him to study its world-famous skyline.
“Whenever I went there, I got really inspired,” Buttliere said.
So he started snapping bricks together…which meant he started spending on the pricey pieces of plastic. He said he only bought his materials from aftermarket web sites, but even with markdowns, it would cost about $100 to collect 1,000 pieces. Buttliere said he mowed a lot of lawns, then got a job at the Buffalo Grove Theater, to support his habit.
And the attention to detail went far beyond opening a box and following the instruction booklet. Buttliere downloaded software from Lego’s web site to manage his recreations, made sure Lego made each piece his next project would require in the color of the real building, and then had to find someone willing to sell the rare pieces he sometimes needed. Most of his orders came from the US, but he said he sometimes connected with enthusiasts in New Zealand, Germany and Hong Kong.
He not only studied photographs of the real thing, he checked them out on GoogleEarth as well.
“I include not just details of the building, but details of the sidewalks around it, and the foliage around it,” he said.
And, in at least one case, the streets. In June, the BrickWorld Lego festival came to Wheeling, and Buttliere brought his model of the World Financial Center, with half of West Street added to it; another builder brought his model of the under-construction One World Trade Center, including the other half of West Street; they snapped their two creations together, and displayed a 40,000-piece creation.
But an average project (Water Tower Place or the Rockefeller Center in New York) is around 5,000 pieces, he said — and a 5,000-piece setup takes about 36 hours to build, he said. Buttliere’s other big hobby is DVD collect and enjoyment of the cinema, and he said the time and money he put into Legos did not detract from any other aspects of his life.
“I haven’t really had to sacrifice,” he said.
In fact, building a Lego model is a bit of a steal. Buttliere’s 13,000-piece Burj Khalifa cost him about $1,300; at the 1/650 scale he builds with, the real skyscraper’s $1.5 billion price tag (a figure so long the average desk calculator cannot hold all the zeros) should be $2,307,692.31.
Buttliere is beginning his freshman year at the Illinois Institute of Technology — yes, he is an architecture major. Though he acknowledged that Lego construction is nothing compared to the subjects he is about to dive into, he felt that his hobby had given him a good start.
“It’s a ton of engineering, because you have to solve problems in such a tight space,” he said.
And, whatever his next project will be, he said he appreciated the attention that he work earned when he came to the Farmer’s Market and other public venues.
“It makes me feel good, if they’re able to recognize a building right away,” he said. “It feels good to be acknowledged.”