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Review: 21000 Sears Tower and 21001 John Hancock Center

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Seriously? No one has reviewed these two yet? Okay then.

First up is 21000 Sears Tower, the very first set in the Architecture line.


I got this set for Christmas of 2009, so the box had been sitting around for quite a while before I ever photographed it. It shows. Ignoring the frayed edges, though, it's pretty high-quality packaging for a set of its size - thicker cardboard, with sophisticated, adult-oriented design, setting the standard for the entire theme to follow. As you can see, this is an earlier edition, before the set's name was changed. ("Willis Tower? Oh, I was into it back when it was the Sears Tower.")

Here's the parts assortment, minus the sole extra piece, a black 1x1 tile.


With the exception of the printed nameplate, there's not a single remotely rare part in the bunch. Needless to say, this isn't a theme you collect if you're after valuable pieces; aside from the nameplates, the Sand Green cheese in Brandenburg Gate, and the Robie House's Dark Red concave 3x3 roof tile (at least, before it showed up in a Ninjago set), all of these sets can be built with parts available elsewhere.

It's a quick build, and that picture on the side of the box shows exactly how it all comes together, so it's not really necessary to show an in-process shot. Here's a page of the instructions, though:


From this you can see that the set dates to before TLG switched back to white outlines for black parts, but since there aren't any dark grey pieces in the set, color differentiation isn't a problem. You can also see (I hope - it's kinda blurry) that the printed nameplate isn't actually listed in the inventory - Instead of three blank black tiles and one printed, it just shows four blank ones.


The final set is, I'll admit, that scourge of complexity-craving AFOLs, the hated Stack-o-Bricks. The use of jumper plates to center the structure is the most advanced building technique on display here. But honestly, that's intrinsic to the design of the building itself. The Sears Tower is square in plan, subdivided into a bundle of nine smaller squares that are extruded straight up to varying heights. It's a form that lends itself well to a pretty simple interpretation in LEGO bricks. So that 10+ age recommendation probably has less to do with difficulty and more to do with the fact that your average nine-year-old prefers ninjas in monster trucks to the Second Wave of Chicago School architecture. Not that there's anything wrong with ninjas in monster trucks.

So hop in your dragon-shaped flying schooner (that... that's a thing, right?), and let's move on to 21001 John Hancock Center:


The box layout is much the same as the Sears Tower, even down to the piece count. Speaking of which:


Note the nineteen jumper plates, which are key to accomplishing the distinctive form of the building. But do they succeed at this daunting task? Let's read on!


At the correct angle, the effect is pretty successful. I was skeptical at first, but as with pretty much all sets, I liked this a lot better once I had physically built it as opposed to just looking at pictures. It uses many of the same parts, at roughly the same scale, as 21002 Empire State Building, but achieves the opposite effect. Where the half-stud jumping on 21002 was a literal interpretation of the building's right-angle setbacks, here the technique is used to evoke a gradual slope. At such a small scale, it's very tricky. The model alternates by narrowing first along one axis, then the other, and back again, so that the transition is rather abrupt if viewed straight-on but much smoother if seen from an angle as above. One other little detail, something I learned about from the building information in the instructions (don't know why I didn't know it before), is that white 1x3 plate - it represents a band of lights on the real Hancock Center that, on special occasions, change color. So I plan to swap that out for, say, orange on Halloween, green on St. Patrick's Day, and red, white, and blue 1x1s for Independence Day.

And now, the family portrait:


Since it would be pointless to try to rate these based on parts, price, or (ha) minifigures, I'll just give each a grade without revealing anything about how I arrived at it, just like any good architecture professor.

Sears Tower: A-

John Hancock Center: B

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I don't own either of these architecture sets as they don't appeal to me as much as the larger detailed ones, but I agree the Sears Tower is better.

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