'The house will stand in the midst of the fields like an object, without disturbing anything around it.'
- Le CorbusierBonjour mes amis! Aujourd-hui je vous presente une critique exclusive de la dernière réplique de la série LEGO Architecture: 21014 Villa Savoye! <Ahem> Pardon my French. It's an honour for me to have, courtesy of The LEGO Group, another opportunity to present a Eurobricks Exclusive Review of the latest offering in the Architecture line. The Villa Savoye is not a building I had heard of, prior to this (but then I'd never heard of Robie House, either), and seems like an odd choice to showcase a famous building in France, when other edifices are more widely known either as world-renowned landmarks or architectural significance.
Located in Poissy, about 30 km from the centre of Paris, the Villa Savoye is a modernist design by architect Le Corbusier, and considered a National Monument of France. It therefore does make sense as a LEGO Architecture set, particularly belonging as it does to the Architect Series; and, as we shall see, its design translates very well into LEGO bricks.
Review: 21014 Villa Savoye
Name: Villa Savoye
Theme: Architecture (Architect Series)
Availability: September 2012
Price: US $70 (est) | EUR 69.99
Situated on the outskirts of Paris, France, Villa Savoye was designed by Le Corbusier in the 1920s as the perfect embodiment of Le Corbusier's "Five Points" construction principles. This fusion of modern architecture and nature was intended to create harmony with Villa Savoye's woodland surroundings. Just like the real thing, this set features columns, functional roof space, open floor planning, long horizontal windows and a free facade. This LEGO Architecture series interpretation of Villa Savoye was designed by German architect Michael Hepp in collaboration with the LEGO design team.
- Interpretation of real-world architectural icon Villa Savoye
- Booklet included with details on design and history
- English language only; other languages available for download
- Measures: 3.6"H (9.2cm) x 7.5"W (19.2cm) x 6.7"D (17.6cm)
Click for a larger full-frontal
The LEGO Group has preserved a winning formula with the smart, attractive packaging of the latest in the Architecture line. Aside from the LEGO and Architecture logos, and a little text, there's little to distract from the set itself, which pops out of the card at you in this example, and contrives to look larger than it really is. It is also, I suspect, a digital render rather than a real photograph of the set.
Absent from my review copy of the box is the piece count and 'Building Toy' reminder of the first official box art we have seen, which presumably is the US version.
The rear shows the model from a higher perspective; in the bottom right there's a small inset of the real building:
Click for a larger image
Information about the architect surrounds the model in six European languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese (I think), and ... another one. Le Corbusier's 'Five Points of Architecture' are demonstrated; they are: 'pilotis', free façade, open floor planning, long horizontal windows, and functional roof space. Well there you go: maxims for us all to live by. 'Pilotis' I think means 'pillars', specifically piles or stilts; I thought it hadn't translated itself into English for some reason, but it seems to be a real architectural term.
This review copy got a little crushed in transit, but coming direct from Billund it hadn't been afforded the usual protection of your average Shop@Home purchase.
The box's left side shows two further views of the set: aerial and side elevation; both again renders, judging from the lack of perspective ...
... while the right side repeats the frontal image and reminds us that the model is designed by Michael Hepp, whose site suggests the possibility of future sets. From the official LEGO press release:
The top of the box features a render/outline composite diagram from the model's other side, and some more crush damage to the box; the bottom gives the parts provenance and a barcode, if you're interested.
It's a surprisingly large box. Here it is compared to the largest and smallest from the Architecture range:
Not only is it not far off the dimensions of that of the 2,200-piece Robie House, the box is also surprisingly heavy, weighing in at 1.2kg. With the set image magnified on the front, you really feel like you're getting a lot for your money here (assuming the early price information is accurate). Also apparent here are the different target ages; I don't think Robie House has any more difficult building techniques than Villa Savoye, requiring only a soupçon more patience.
You'd be forgiven for expecting a whiff of a large quantity of
Enjoy your building experience! It's the law! Actually, I really appreciate that little message as you break the seals and lift the flap. Even though it's no longer a surprise, it feels like TLG really care about their Architecture customers.
Eight polybags and two loose plates
They can be roughly divided into four large and four small. None of the bags contain 'offspring', as it were, and none are duplicates, hinting at little repetition in this build.
Much of the weight of the box is caused by the hefty 400 gramme instruction book. Its smart cover replicates the model shot from the front of the box, and indicates that its contents are available on the Architeciture Website. They aren't, yet. However, we now know that the mysterious sixth language is Hungarian. Unfortunately, rattling around in the box has caused some minor damage to the edge of the front cover, which shows up all the more on the lovely black card. I blame the loose plates in the box.
No WinGagneGewinne kids despoil the back of this tome:
There's just the same picture as the back of the box, minus the multilingual architecture facts.
Opening the quality card of the front cover, we are greeted with a contents page, followed by some twenty pages of introduction, containing a guide to the house and its architectural significance, its history and vital statistics, and a biography of the architect, all with exhaustive commentary in both English and French:
For some more examples, see my flickr. An amazing amount of detail is present, and you can really learn a lot about the house and its architecture. This is far more than a mere instruction booklet - it's almost a souvenir guide.
The instructions themselves are clear and detailed, although some may find the pace a little slow, especially compared to the larger sets like Robie House: often only a few parts are added per step. Perhaps this is reflected in the lower recommended age.
Despite the black base on the plain black background, colour differentiation is not a problem, and the few sub-builds are handled effortlessly.
Every so often a little corner inset gives a further piece of trivia about the building:
I've encountered these little snippets in several recent Architecture sets, and they are a delightful inclusion. The attention to detail in the Architecture books is outstanding.
Even when the building steps are over, there's more: A Word from the Artist, and a brief history of LEGO Architecture in the 1960s are to be expected, as is the usual set inventory:
Click for a larger picture
Take a look at the page number here: 154. Finally, we are even provided with references for further reading!
This set heralds a feature new to LEGO Architecture:
A brick separator. These things get everywhere. Otherwise, the parts selection is good for quantity rather than rarity, although the two white 8x16 plates surprisingly only occur in two other sets (not counting a DACTA set). Most appealing are the useful quantities of earth green bricks and plates; the trans clear 1x2 bricks might also be useful, if you were building (say) a waterfall. The signature 1x8 printed tile is of course included.
Yes! 1x2 earth green plates are here! The only other contemporary set they appear in is 21016 Sungnyemun.
Earth green 1x1 bricks are also welcome, and surprisingly not used as trees in this Architecture set. The 61 trans-clear 1x2 plates might be useful, but they were on the Pick-a-Brick wall recently, and we've got thousands of the things. There's also a single rare 1x2 trans-clear tile (if you need these in quantity, get Fallingwater). 1x1 tiles suggest some thumb-straining tedium to come. Note the surprising red and blue plates.
As I noted in my 10225 R2-D2 review, there's a degree of colour inconsistency in the white pieces, most notable in the 1x2 bows, some of which seem to have a pearlescent sheen:
This really isn't noticeable on the finished model, so I can forgive this.
Base & Ground Floor
As with every Architecture set I've built, we start with the base. Straight away, we get to see how the incongruous red and blue plates are used.
Quite why the left side has red plates and the right side blue is unclear. Perhaps they represent the French flag, judging by the white in between; but in that case they are the wrong way round. The base itself consists of large black plates, arranged in two rows: 4-6-6-6 wide rear and 6-6-6-4 front, with the bluish grey 2x12 plates proividing some lateral rigidity. Note that the front-right 4x12 black plate is connected only at its front and rear, not from the side.
Now red plates go onto blue and blue onto red, and the French flag is the right way round!
As you can see at the right hand side, 1x1 clippy plates are placed onto the red/blue sandwich, with a tile underneath the clips: this will hold the pillars (or pilotis) around the building. Some dark green is added around the base; note that that 4x12 plate still doesn't have any lateral support.
The left side gets the clippy treatment; large dark bluish grey plates firm up the base, providing further rigidity:
Light bluish grey plates form terracing around the edges; it's interesting that several 2x2 plates are used instead of (say) more 2x12 plates, which have already been used in the base. Presumably these are used to give the appearance of flagstones.
Next, the front terrace is completed with some more clippy detail, and the ground floor is finished using lovely dark green bricks with large trans-clear windows at the front.
Black SNOT bricks are employed at front and rear to attach the small sub-builds pictured top-right.
And the ground floor is complete:
Visible studs rather than tiles atop this section imply that the upper floor isn't going to be removable. Not that there's a lot to see in there. The 1x1 white brick and tile in the centre will help to align the top floor correctly.
Upper Floor & Roof
Now we move upstairs. I thought so far we had got off lightly without having to place lots of fiddly 1x1 tiles; but there's a pile of them sitting there looking ominous; and sure enough ....
... there they are. Still there aren't nearly so many as on Robie House, and as you can easily pick this section up, placing them isn't quite the same chore. Unless, that is, you are anal about lining them up correctly. The 1x4 white slope in the centre will sit directly in front of the 1x1 brick/tile we saw at the end of the Ground Floor build; note that it is attached to a 1x12 plate, which is itself connected only via its front four studs. This tends to flop around a bit during construction.
Detail on the first floor terrace is added: some dark green cheese slopes as foliage, and a table made from a tile on a 1x1 plate. Simple, but effective.
Window panels are added, one of which serves to strengthen that 1x12 plate somewhat; the wall circuit is completed. It's worth pointing out at this stage that the dimensions of the upper floor are an odd number of studs: 17 wide by 19 deep.
The main windows consist almost entirely of stacked trans-clear plates; it is less laborious that in might look.
Note here the 2x2 tile next to the 2x2 inverted slope (the inclusion of which I can't really explain), and the 1x1 round brick just to the rear.
A circuit of 1x16 white bricks (plus two 1x2s) completes the walls:
And some plates are added which will support the roof. Anything that isn't tiled here will be covered up ...
... like so:
The rounded part consists of two 1x4x4/3 bows on a 2x4 plate, and attached to two SNOT 1x1 bricks; it sits flush on the 2x2 tile I mentioned above. Interestingly, from this point on, SNOT is achieved the 'old-fashioned' way, using Technnic bricks with half-pins, as seen in the inset.
Two further SNOT sub-builds are required to complete the interesting curves of the roof:
And the build is complete!
At this point, I'd recommend pushing the pilotis up so that they sit flush with the upper floor.
All-in-all, it's rather a simple build. The technique for attaching the pilotis is interesting, as is the SNOT roof sections, but otherwise it's nothing strenuous. There isn't that much repetition, and the fiddly placement of tiles is mercifully kept to a minimum.
One thing does detract: in a couple of places the build isn't quite as strong as I might expect. One is the 'floppy' 1x12 plate I mentioned, which should connect at its far end to the ground floor, provided you remember specifically to push down on that one spot; the other is the 4x12 plate at the front-right of the base, which despite having three layers of plates above it, is still only connected at front and rear, and can come loose if you pick the model up by the front right corner.
The Complete Set
The edifice is complete! However you feel about Modernist architecture, you must admit it's a distinctive building. Even rendered in LEGO brick, the rectangular upper floor looks imposing sitting on its pilotis above a rather diminutive ground floor, almost like it's floating above the ground; the curvy wall on the roof contrasts nicely with the angular upper floor.
At this angle, the pilotis look a little wonky; this would be solved by pushing them up slightly so they sit in the recesses of the plates above - hence my earlier advice.
The contrast between the curvy wall and the squarish upper floor is all the more apparent in this view:
Note also the lack of windows on the right-hand side, which allow movement of air onto the terraced area.
From the front, we can see how much the upper floor overhangs the lower, and there's a delightful symmetry in the colonade of pillars flanking each side:
The ground floor gets just a little lost, even with its expanse of window either side of the doors; however, I think this might have been purposeful on the part of the architect.
At the rear, the grilled SNOTty section is, I think, meant to represent a row of windows, but it looks more like an oversized air-conditioning unit.
And you can see another problem, which seems to plague the larger Architecture sets: the base doesn't sit quite level. The plate-sandwich construction seems always to bow upwards at the edges; this seems to be a problem inherent in the LEGO plates themselves, and persisted no matter how careful I was during construction.
This problem is also visible from the side, albeit to a lesser extent:
From here you can again admire the pleasing regularity of the pilotis; and again note how the bright upper floor seems to float on the the darker ground floor. From this angle, the curvy roof wall thingy almost looks like a sail. Note that the 4L pole piece on the roof seems to lean forward slightly ...
... this is due to its attachment in the white 1x1 round brick. It doesn't sit tightly in there, and tends to flop around. The set designer might have been better using three of these pieces instead of the round brick.
It's a small point, and shouldn't detract from this lovely aerial view. I love how the terrace areas and the curvy roof design stand out against the regular, square roof.
Somewhat disappointingly, this set doesn't have any hidden features; it's pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get. I remember being delighted by the 'puzzle piece' construction of Fallingwater, and Robie House has lots of removable sections you can put things in, if you were so inclined. This model is one piece, when finished. Nevertheless, we can admire its little details.
First off, let's have another look at the curvy bit:
The bows used on the SNOT subsections work really well to bring those curves to life, and it's achieved without any unsightly gaps.
Here's how it should look:
Picture from irene-ngocta.blogspot.com
The right-hand end should perhaps be more circular, which could be achieved with macaroni pieces, but this would make it difficult to achieve a level top. I like the SNOT solution here.
While we have this view fresh in our minds, let's take a look at the doors:
They almost get lost under that big overhang; but that's true of the real building, whose doors are flanked by large stepped windows not quite successfully recreated in LEGO. It's also worth mentioning that the front upper floor windows - recreated as well as possible in LEGO at this scale - suffer for the odd-number-of-studs construction of the upper floor: they aren't quite symmetrical, unlike the real thing
Moving round to the rear, we can again examine ...
... the 'air-conditioning unit' rear SNOT work.
And here's what it should look like:
Picture from nicholasbolianitis.blogspot.com
I appreciate the inclusion of a more 'advanced' technique here, but I wonder if this section might have been better achieved using regular studs-up stacked plates, like the upper floor windows.
Now lets move on up to the roof:
The patio area is simply constructed, but looks great, surrounded on three sides by rooms with big windows. The long slopes as you can see form a staircase or ramp between the patio and the roof. It's a shame that the Technic SNOT bricks show here, and again I wonder why they didn't use two of these.
Just how accurate the roof detail is can be seen in this overhead shot:
Ok, it's a little blurry, but I did have to persuade the pilot to fly over the house. Or I might just have borrowed the picture from Google Earth. But you can see how well the curved roof and long, shallow-inclined ramp is recreated in LEGO.
Even the greenery, and the little table is there!
Finally, let's see how Villa Savoye compares to other favourites from the Architecture range:
She has a larger footprint than Fallingwater, which holds a similar price point but has more pieces, and Villa Savoye manages if anything to look more imposing. Next to the regal splendour of the dark red Robie House, she manages to hold her own; these two go rather well together, having a similar base but nicely contrasting colours. They make good shelf-mates.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able in the end to make the journey to Poissy to see this building in the flesh. And I confess to never having heard of it before, which I thought initially made it a strange choice for an set which intends to showcase prominent French architecture; there are plenty of more famous choices, classical (Louvre, for example) or modernist (Pompidou Centre). However, something about this building lends itself really well to the medium of LEGO, and I think on the whole the designer has done a fantastic job.
Design 9 The architectural intent of Villa Savoye is rendered superbly: the imposing upper floor, floating on its pilotis above the ground floor, small enough to be hardly noticeable with its dark green walls, and topped by the contrasting curves of the roof wall, are all brought to life expertly. It loses a point only for the asymmetrical windows and 'air-conditioning' rear end.
Build 7 The build process is a little conservative, with little to interest a seasoned builder, perhaps; the SNOT technique of the curvy roof wall is interesting, but I'm not so keen on the 'old-fashioned' Technic brick-half pin SNOT attachments, which look a little ugly on the finished model. Two weak points in the construction also spoil it a little for me here.
Parts 7 With a good selection of dark green parts, this might be useful as a parts pack; however, the majority are common pieces and the inflated price of the Architecture line reduces its appeal for parts alone.
Collectability/Displayability 8 What should I call this score? This is the equivalent of 'playability' on a regular LEGO set, but you aren't really going to play with this, are you? This is about the whole experience: the smart packaging; the wonderfully detailed and informative manual, with its expansive knowledge of the architect and his building; the 'shelf-value' of the model, which as I said looks great next to Robie House.
Value 8 It's difficult to be entirely objective here, as I don't yet know the price of the set in Pounds Sterling, but based on an estimate of $70 I think this is looking to be good value when you consider the whole package - the collector's item, not just the collection of pieces.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this Architecture Exclusive Review!
Many thanks to The LEGO Group, for providing this set for and early review, and to CopMike, for all the negotiating and stuff.
Villa Savoye at Centre des Monuments Nationaux
Le Corbusier on Wikipedia
LEGO Architecture site
More pictures on my flickr
Edited by Rufus, 30 December 2012 - 10:33 PM.