Above and at left: a render of my designs for life-size LEGO replicas of a Focal Trio11 BE speaker and a Zaor Isostand MkII. At right: those same designs, assembled and photographed nearly 3,000 miles (4800 km) away. It was an absolutely crazy process to go from the “blueprint” at left to the reality at the right, one that entailed nearly 24/7 down-to-the-wire construction, a few extra builders, custom brick engraving, implementation of metal support piping, and tons of permanence gluing.
But I had very little to do with that hands-on portion of the process. My work, instead, entailed designing the blueprint: a nearly 18,000-piece, 4’ 10” (148cm) tall, 63.3-pound (28.67kg) showpiece… in a matter of days.
Read on to find out more about this colossal project— its timeline, design process, and more— and to hear about my experience working on it!
Background & Pre-History
I designed this pair of models under the umbrella of Cornerstone Brick Designs, my friend and colleague Bruce Heller’s bespoke LEGO-building company. On commission from an audio merchant, he and I collaborated to put together this enormous showpiece for their booth at The NAMM (North American Music Merchants) Show 2019 in Anaheim, CA.
Bruce and I have been working together for more than a year, now. The first project Bruce brought me onboard for was an absolutely enormous 100,000+ brick, 17’ (5.18m) long replica of LA architect Dan Brunn’s Bridge House. During that process, we found that we were a great team, and I’ve assisted Bruce with a couple of commissions since.
While we displayed our Bridge House model at the 2018 Dwell on Design expo, Bruce and I first met our clients for the above-pictured speaker & stand models. We stayed in touch with these audio merchants after the expo, and eventually they came to us with an awesome idea: a life-size model of a new speaker, the Focal Trio11 BE, sitting atop a Zaor Isostand MkII stand… all built in LEGO. The client also wanted 100 micro-models of the Trio11 to use as giveaways for their prospective customers/employees.
Bruce immediately called on me to handle the micro-model. My initial draft was a 95-brick model that was 4 studs wide, but this proved too expensive to produce at high quantity. Upon discovering as much, I designed a 3-stud wide, 61-piece version of the Trio11 instead. After a few tweaks by Bruce, we put this mini-design into production.
As for the larger speaker, that also ended up falling onto my plate. Just a few weeks before the intended show date for the life-size models, Bruce—who was busy with another important client’s commission—handed off the larger builds of the project to me, too. I set to work designing them immediately.
The Design Process
The big constraint on this commission was timing. The turnaround was extremely tight; I began work at the beginning of January on models that would have to be show-ready for The NAMM Show by the 23rd of that month. That meant that I had to finish designing both models—completely, and in their final forms—early enough to give Bruce adequate time to order the requisite bricks and actually complete the models’ construction. That gave me a window of less than two weeks to get this all done.
I spent hours and hours a day plugging away on the builds. Quite fortunately, the period when I needed to cram on this project coincided with a period of relative openness in my other commitments (an omen from the LEGO gods, perhaps). Nevertheless, spending so much time at my build table fatigued me, and I had to take occasional breaks to stop myself from burning out physically and mentally.
I built using Bricklink’s digital design software, Stud.io. Aside from a few tricky spots I had to figure out “by hand” first (I’m usually a physical builder, and that’s how I’m accustomed to solving problems), I designed speaker and stand wholly on my computer. I worked digitally out of necessity.
For a few reasons, a software build was my only viable option. First, since I had to transmit my designs over the Internet anyway (Bruce and the show were in California, and I in New Hampshire), it expediting sending my blueprints to the build site. Secondly, a digital designer is much quicker than working by hand, not least because it’s a matter of clicks to make modifications even at the deepest parts of the build, whereas on a physical build you might have to deconstruct huge areas to make minor adjustments. Thirdly, I didn’t even come close to having enough bricks to manifest my design in the real world myself!
Let me also take a chance to say: I had never seen either Focal Trio11 or Zaor Isostand MkII in person when I designed their life-size LEGO counterparts. Luckily, Cornerstone Brick Designs’ client gave us plenty of images to work from, and spec sheets detailing measurements of various parts of the equipment we were to build. These served as invaluable resources to me as I figured out proportions, calculating from centimeters to studs and back again to keep all the sizes as accurate as I could within the LEGO medium.
I designed the Zaor stand first, working my way from the bottom to the top. Since such a thin structure as the Isostand’s central column would be too flimsy to hold up a heavy brick-built speaker, Bruce and I knew that we’d have to include space for non-LEGO support structures. As such, I left cavities within the stand's column, inside each of its two “bases” (those puzzle-shaped pieces of wood on top and bottom) and through the quartet of isolators on its top. The structure of metal piping, plywood and stopgaps would remain Bruce’s domain, since it was he that would actually be working with the physical models. I could only do my best to give him as much space as possible to work with.
Then came the Trio11 speaker itself. This model, which contained about twice as many parts as the stand and probably four times as many engineering challenges, took far longer to complete than the stand had. I designed the sides first, as these would set the size for the rest of the speaker. Next I fabricated the bottom section, which would serve as both an anchor and a central hub onto which the four faces of the speaker would be attached. I carefully designed this portion to have bar-shaped inner cavities, highly reinforced by Technic elements, which would perfectly sheath the support pipes which ascended through the stand. Back face, front face, inner core, and top of the speaker followed suit.
Notably, Bruce had already thought through the large speaker dish, making a prototype from 3x12 Wedge Plates and Mixel joints. I was glad to make use of his prototype in my final design, and I conceived of a smaller version around the same principles for that little dish up top. Accommodating the curvatures of these two dishes, and masking the innards beneath them, was probably the greatest design challenge I faced while working on these models.
After a little less than two weeks’ intense work, I finally finished my designs for both the Zaor Isostand MkII and the Focal Trio11. With relief, I sent the files off to Bruce and looked on with satisfaction as a few weeks later, my blueprints were realized in actual bricks and put on display for thousands of people at The NAMM Show 2019.
Details of the Build
Zaor Stand Top
The top of the Zaor stand is one of my favorite parts of the design. Here in the render, the thinnest part of the isolators are 2x2 round bricks; in the physical model, however, these bricks are no longer there. Instead, the metal piping shows through, running from the body of the stand and up into the speaker.
The delicate 1x1 brick lines between the four isolators are the most fragile aspects of the whole model, so they were glued into place.
The Big Dish
Here’s a closer look at that large dish Bruce prototyped. To decorate it, I resorted to 1x1 curved corner tiles to solve the issue of rectilinear surfaces colliding at the dish’s edge. Although the beveled ring inside has its inevitable gaps, I was nevertheless quite happy with how the 2x4 brick with curved top satisfied a shape need I had.
That slot in the bottom of the speaker is a signature feature of the Trio11, but one measurement our client failed to give me was its depth. I had to make assumptions here and do what looked right and would be stable. Evidently, the real thing goes almost as deep as the speaker itself!
The Back Side
Here, to capture some delicate painted-on lines from images our client sent us, I used a technique I first pioneered with one of the builds in my Techno Satires series, “Fixing the Drain.” While I originally colored these lines in white, Bruce thought they looked too garish, and recommended instead that I make them light grey. I think he made the right call, here, since his chosen color made the lines look even more delicate.
I loved designing this back face of the Trio11. It was maybe the most fun part for me to figure out!
The Top Circle
Emulating the circular seam that encircles both the top dish and a smaller monitor (that light grey bit with grille tiles on top) was a big challenge at this life-size scale. I ended up approximating the circle as best I could by using a few different varieties of wedge plates laid against each other.
I also had to devise a more angular solution for those two oval-shaped holes on either side of the top circle, since LEGO has yet to produce an arch that has a 3-brick span.
Thanks for reading! If you have any other questions or thoughts about these models, feel free to leave them in the comments below.