Once you have determined your space & furniture and come out with a rough LEGO city layout, you need to find buildings to fill up the city.
What is probably likely is that you have already fallen in love with certain builds and sets that you want to include in your city. However, there are several options when it comes to getting buildings for a LEGO city. You can:
This is what most people start off with and even seasoned builders and AFOLs (adult fan of LEGO) feature their favourite official LEGO sets in their city. Most official sets, especially the “expert” level ones such as the modular buildings, are designed by professional designers who have spent considerable time to create the sets that are sold by LEGO.
While they do have some restrictions such as the size of the sets and cost of manufacturing (therefore are restricted by a parts count), the designers have done their best to come up with a fresh build with each set released.
As such, these are high quality sets that deserve a place in any good LEGO city. They are a great base to start with and there is no need to reinvent the wheel if a professionally designed set is already available.
“Brick Bank” (10251), “Detective’s Office” and “Parisian Restaurant” (10243) are three popular official modular buildings with well-designed detail in the interior and exterior.
You can build an entire city with just official LEGO sets. And, with a creative concept, backstory and layout, you can still make your city unique.
The next step up from using official LEGO sets in your city is to modify the official sets to make them different.
There are different degrees of modification. They can range from just making some cosmetic changes to rebuilding the entire building with different coloured bricks.
Modifications can also include structurally changing the buildings to make them larger, smaller or transforming them into a modular-style building where the building is enclosed on all sides but can be separated into levels.
The interiors of many official sets, especially older sets, are not detailed. You can modify these sets by creating custom interiors or transform them into a specific shop, business or residence.
Modified & expanded “Beachside Vacation” (31063).
As you get more experienced in building and become more adventurous, you will also likely want more challenging builds. Building a MOC is the next step from modifying official LEGO sets. A MOC is basically an original design that is not an official LEGO release.
For MOC designs, there are different options, in order of difficulty, available to you:
I recommend trying out each approach to building a MOC as you get more experienced. Building MOCs require experience in building and a knowledge of parts as well as having the parts to build the MOC. It requires creativity and patience but the result is very satisfying as you would have a unique build for your brick city.
This is the simplest way to build a MOC as you will be basically following the instructions as you would an official LEGO set. The difficulty, of course, is getting all the parts required for the build. I discuss how to get parts in this article on “How to Get LEGO Parts”.
Do a search online to see what MOC designs are available and seek out reviews or photos of the actual builds. It is almost impossible to tell how good or accurate the instructions are unless you buy the plans. However, most plans are reasonably priced and it is worth your while to buy one set of plans to see if it is good and worth buying the parts for.
I built the “Mansard Row House” apartment pictured above from a set of plans I purchased from Brick City Depot. It is designed by Brian Lyles and uses parts from the official LEGO Monsters Fighters “Haunted House” (10228). While the original Haunted House is quite cool, it is odd-shaped and very large. It also does not fit in the concept of my city nor do I have the space for it. This version allows me to use the parts and, at the same time, fits my town.
Modified LEGO Monsters Fighters “Haunted House” (10228), designed & sold by Brian Lyles, Brick City Depot.
Another way to create an awesome MOC is to combine different official LEGO sets together to create a unique build. In this case, you will retain parts from different sets as much as possible but combine them together to create a logical and seamless custom build.
I personally find this approach fun and enjoyable as I do not have to completely reinvent the wheel. Most sets have been well thought-out by designers and I try to keep as much of the original designs as possible. Even, if I must change the structure slightly to fit in the space I require, I still retain the original aesthetic design or at the very least, the concept of the design.
One set that we created at Small Brick City is an Asian-inspired Spa Villa & Yoga Retreat.
This MOC was created using three completely different Ninjago sets. We used the “Blacksmith’s Workshop” and “Smugglers’ Market” from the “Temple of Airjitsu” (70751) as well as parts from the “Temple of the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon” (70617) and the archway market from the “City Chase” (70607). In case you were wondering, the main “Temple of Airjitsu” was used elsewhere in our city.
A MOC built from LEGO Ninjago sets “Temple of Airjitsu” (70751), “Temple of the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon” (70617) and “City Chase” (70607).
If you feel creative and confident, you can attempt to recreate a MOC that you saw photos or videos of. Of course, you will not be able to recreate the MOC 100%, but you can use it as inspiration to build something similar.
This is a great way to move to the next level of LEGO building. While there may not be instructions available to build a MOC, MOC creators often post public photos and videos of their builds. I am not suggesting that you copy their designs wholesale; but, you can use them as a starting point or inspiration to model your build after their design.
If you do build a similar MOC, be sure to give the designer credit when posting your work on public platforms and social media channels. There are several online sources you can draw inspiration from including, Pinterest, LEGO ideas, YouTube and communities such as MocPages.com, Reddit or Eurobricks.com.
Here are some tips when attempting to build your version of an existing MOC:
A MOC heavily inspired by Ryan Taggart’s LEGO Ideas submission, custom built with some parts and builds from the “Cargo Terminal” (60169)
Finally, after many hours of building different sets (official and MOCs by independent designers), you can try your hand at designing and building your very own original MOC from ground up. If you are confident enough to build your own MOC, you will likely have all the experience, skills and parts to build it.
My only words of advice would be to remember the fundamental design philosophy of focusing on the “concept” and “details of the build. Come up with a concept for your MOC and make it as detailed as possible. If you are working with a small space, remember the design principle of using your space vertically. So, consider building a skyscraper or a multi-complex building in a single 32 x 32 stud base plate. The LEGO “Ninjago City” is a great example of fitting a lot in a small space.
One completely original MOC built by Annie is a luxurious two-storey house for the residential area of our LEGO town.
“Lux Manor”, a MOC created by Annie Go, is a two-storey high-end residence with a grand entrance way, small side gate and single tree.
If you found this article useful, you might want to check out my book “Bricks for Small Places” as I detail how to design and build a LEGO city in a small space. I share practical design principles gleamed for 2 decades of workings as a production designer for stage & entertainment.
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