How to make lego titanic ? When I’ve told friends and colleagues I’ve been building the LEGO Titanic, this is the response and joke I’ve gotten in return, every single time. I can’t think of a person I’ve told who hasn’t made this joke, to the point that I’ve started to wonder if, at least from some of my acquaintances, the question is a serious one.
To be clear, the answer is no. The only non-ship thing that comes with the LEGO Titanic is a name plaque. But to me, the question illustrates how much emotional distance we have put between ourselves and the most infamous, tragic maritime disaster in history, in which 1500 people died.
Now, LEGO’s made a toy out of it, albeit a building toy for adults. And unlike my friends, the company has elected to de-emphasize the tragedy which made the ship famous. There is no mention of its sinking on its official LEGO page; the closest we get is “fateful maiden journey in 1912.” Look at this text from a different page on LEGO’s site, discussing how one might want to display the completed set
This feels willfully evasive, as if the writer is doing everything he or she can to avoid the elephant in the room. What are the chances we’d be talking about the Titanic today, let alone building a LEGO set out of it, had it not sank and killed as many people as it did? There’s a dissonance to write glowingly about the ship’s specs, while omitting the numerous ways that the ship’s construction and dimensions contributed to its demise.
The instruction booklets (there are three of them) discuss the different amenities on board and the ship’s interiors. But finally, in the third book, in a brief paragraph discussing the shortage of lifeboats on board, the writer indicates that 1500 people died in the ship’s maiden voyage. Nothing else in the set’s literature indicates this.
The set itself is unimpeachable.
Perhaps, LEGO wanted to avoid accusations of ghoulishness, of making profit off a tragedy. But the decision to release the set in the first place was the right moment to grapple with that. Once the decision is made, acknowledging the tragedy up front would have felt less exploitative and more respectful than de-emphasizing it.
But all this meta-criticism is concerned with the promotion and marketing of the set; the set itself is unimpeachable. This is a rewarding, relaxing build, ideally spread over the course of three to four weeks. That the designers took painstaking effort to recreate the ship’s exterior and interior is testament to how the RMS Titanic has captured so many people’s imaginations, for better and for worse.
The LEGO Titanic comes in a massive box that houses three smaller boxes; they roughly correspond to the fore, midsection, and aft of the ship. Inside each box is an instruction booklet and numerous, individually wrapped plastic bags filled with bricks. They are numbered sequentially from Steps 1 through 46. There are no stickers; every one of the set’s textual elements is printed directly onto the pieces. The set contains two bendable, plastic rods to construct the deck railing. The set also contains numerous bundles of cord wrapped in masking tape, which substitute as the ship’s riggings. Lastly, there is a plastic sheet with perforated cutouts for three flags, which hang at the set’s extremities.
The LEGO Titanic comes in a massive box that houses three smaller boxes; they roughly correspond to the fore, midsection, and aft of the ship.
Building the set is more idiosyncratic and involved than you might initially think. Longtime LEGO builders will be happy to hear that none of the bags are overstuffed with tedious, redundant filler. There is a linear, logical progression from one step to the next. One bag builds the ship’s foundation and infrastructure; the next bag reinforces the ship’s foundation with additional sideplating; the last bag adds surface details and decorative elements. Then the cycle repeats itself.
LEGO typically anchors its massive sets with LEGO Technic rods and pins, which are a quick, sturdy way to establish the set’s general size and proportions. The Titanic set does not do this, and instead opts for a more brick- layered approach/ First you build the bottom of the boat. Then, you work around the edges of the build, adding gradual layer after layer, until the contours of the ship take form. Imagine a pottery artist creating a vase via the coiling technique. It’s the same, general principle.
The instructions are easy to follow, owing to the clear division between steps; you are never overloaded with more information than you need at any given time. The set’s stately exterior hides an explosion of color right beneath it, which helps you easily locate the piece you need while you’re rummaging through the pile.
I had several hiccups during my building experience. Three of them concerned missing pieces, which I later found packaged into a different bag (i.e. a piece I needed in Bag #30 was packed into Bag #31, or a piece that I needed in Bag #35 was a spare piece in Bag #29). The moral of the story is to hold on to everything. If you have a spare piece, reread the instructions to make sure you didn’t miss a step. And then save it, because you might need it later down the road. Or if you don’t have a piece you need, make note of it; you might find it several steps later.
There were only two pieces that were truly missing. Midway through the build, I needed two flat 6×1 pieces. Instead, I got a single 12×1 piece, almost as if the two 6×1 pieces were stuck together. It is exceedingly rare for LEGO to make a mistake like that. It’s rare enough that I checked numerous times to make sure I wasn’t missing something.
Fortunately, the missing pieces were neither rare nor uncommon. They were a standard color and shape. And if you’re enough of a LEGO fan to buy this set, you probably have enough loose bricks at home to easily find duplicates. They were not visible in the final build anyway, so color mattered not.
Unlike LEGO’s other massive builds, such as the Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer, this is not a “hollow” set.
Barring that, LEGO customer service is excellent. The couple of times I’ve asked them about a missing piece, they’ve shipped it immediately at no extra charge and no questions asked.
Several of the build’s components are modular. The iconic smoke stacks, for example, are a separate, miniature build that is then anchored to the ship’s deck with pins. LEGO also continues its inventive strategy of reusing older pieces in new contexts. A decorative element in one set becomes a functional step ladder on the Titanic. A connective building element is painted brown and turned on its side, creating a facsimile of a wooden bench on the ship’s deck.
Unlike LEGO’s other massive builds, such as the Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer, this is not a “hollow” set; you are meant to separate the ship into three sections and admire the cross sections. You can see the dining room and swimming pool. You can see the differences between the first class lodgings and those of the steerage passengers. You can see a reading and smoking lounge. On the deck, you can see cargo cranes, and a limited number of lifeboats on the deck’s edge.
The final build is a 1:200 scale model of the original ship. It has a height of 17.5 in. (44cm), a width of 6 in. (16cm), and a length of 53 in (135cm). There are several interactive elements; you can turn the propellers and the ship’s piston engines will turn. You can turn a crank to tighten the ship’s rigging or give it some slack. The entire build sits on a sturdy facsimile of a wooden stand, which is anchored to the bottom of the ship, and makes this a beautiful display in your home or office.
The ship has also given me a great avenue to discuss history with my seven-year-old son, who is my trusted assistant on all of my builds. The Titanic is our modern Tower of Babel — a perfect storm of hubris, outdated safety standards, and frigid waters that resulted in the deaths of over 1500 people when the Titanic sank into the north Atlantic. This LEGO set has captured the grandeur of the original ship. Now, it’ll be up to me to capture the humanity of it, and of those who perished on April 15, 1912.
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