The Origins of the standard LEGO brick
The LEGO group started producing the plastic brick that we know it today back in 1958.
One of their first products was a Town Plan set using their first version of the plastic bricks.
You can see that the initial idea of the toys was an adaptation of wooden building blocks. But this time using plastic and with studs to hold the completed model together.
Thus the idea of LEGO bricks was mainly to create buildings by kids whether it is medieval castles or modern towns.
Usage of LEGO bricks as a design tool
Now if children could build their dream buildings from LEGO bricks, what about adults? Could architects create models of their designs using LEGO?
That’s what happened within the LEGO group as they tried to experiment building a model of one of their proposed buildings using standard LEGO bricks.
The problem with the standard LEGO brick that Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, one of the sons of the founder of LEGO Mr Ole Kirk Christiansen, discovered as he tried building a model of a house was getting the proportions right.
Problem of LEGO Bricks and Solution with the Modulex Brick
A single stud LEGO brick was not a perfect cube. It actually measures 9.6mm high but only 8mm wide. As such, the overall proportions of a scale model of a building with be too tall and narrow.
LEGO introduced a new type of brick called the Modulex Brick. A single stud brick is now a perfect cube measuring 5mm high x 5mm wide. You could now build a proper scale building with the Modulex Brick.
The bricks of both systems are therefore not compatible with each other due to the different dimensions.
The Modulex Brick was spun off as a separate company and marketed under the M20 system. It was to create a separate branding in an attempt to market to design professionals who might otherwise be ridiculed for using a child’s toy in designing buildings that cost millions of dollars.
The M20 system of bricks came in a more muted colour palette to reflect it’s more professional usage. The were also slopes of varying angles to create roofs. The tile bricks came in the standard brick size but with a smooth top (without the stud).
LEGO is well known for making good quality products and the standard LEGO brick is recognised for it’s clutch power. The amount of strength to hold two pieces of bricks together.
The same applies to the Modulex brick with a very strong clutch power. A single or two stud brick is still easily separated. However, a four stud or 2 x 2 brick will require a lot of strength to pull apart.
Due to this reason, there was an official tool to take apart the bricks.
The earlier versions of the Modulex brick had the worlds LEGO molded on top of the studs. Later versions only had a single upper case letter ‘M’ on the studs.
The Modulex M20 system never really took off with architects but made it’s way into building or architectural signage.
The Modulex group merged with ASI Sign Systems and is now one of the largest signage specialists with offices all over the world.
Although the Modulex bricks are no longer produced, you can still find them at garage sales or ebay occasionally.
There is another product called Nanoblocks that are made by a Japanese company that you can buy. The bricks are of similar size but does not have the same clutch power as the Modulex brick.
LEGO has not forgotten the idea of using bricks for creating buildings and have introduced a line of building sets under the Architecture Series of famous landmarks and buildings.
They have also gone a step further with the introduction of the Architecture Studio 21050. This is similar to the original concept of Modulex. A box of bricks to create massing models of buildings. The use of the plastic brick as a design tool.
Out of curiosity, I managed to buy a bunch of Modulex bricks. They are all standard bricks with none of the special slopes, transparent or tile pieces. If you have some for sale, do contact me as I would be happy to add some to my collection.
Here is a ghost I made using the Modulex bricks inspired by the vintage computer game Pac Man.