For all the slot-car sets, Micronauts, Star Wars stuff and walkie-talkies I received throughout my childhood, the merriest Christmas gift I remember was Lego Police Headquarters (for purists, that's set #370, released in 1976). However, my fond memories take place after I put it together as instructed: that's when I took all the wall bricks, flat roof panels, windows and door frames, and built buildings of my own design. One day, I'd trace out an L-shaped foundation to make a ranch house, the next, a square to build a tiny tower. It never got old.
That's the beauty of Lego, even today. So when I brought home Mies van der Rohe's famous Farnsworth House (part of Lego's Architecture series), I wanted to get that first build over with so I could create my own design.
For the record, building Mies' masterpiece, as directed, took quite a while. At the 45-minute mark, all that was done was the home's deck, stairs and pilasters. "This is so precise," said Shauntelle, referring to the tiny pieces that make up floor tiles, interior cabinetry and tiny furniture. In fact, box opening to final product was two hours and 14 minutes. Well, it took Shauntelle that amount of time while I watched Will Ferrell's Elf on television and kept our cat, Isaac, at bay. I know what you're thinking, but my wife has the patience for this; I'm more of a free-form, no rules kinda guy … when it comes to Lego. I was good, however, at shouting directions as I thumbed through the amazing instruction booklet, with its history section and archival photographs.
Once we had snapped a few photos, we took it apart and threw the pieces back in the box randomly, so when it comes out again closer to Christmas, I can create my Modernist opus. Anyhow, I'm confident architecture fans will love finding Lego-Mies (or Frank Lego Wright, for that matter) under the tree. At least until the company commits to the design and release of Montreal's own Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie, which placed first in an online competition held earlier this year.
Of course, since I'm a local booster, I'd be remiss if I didn't offer great Toronto-specific gift ideas for the Architourist in your life.
Type "architecshirts" in the Zazzle.ca search box. Up will pop seven shirt designs, all featuring Toronto buildings, with three of these showcasing the work of local legends Uno Prii, E.J. Lennox and Raymond Moriyama (if you count Frank Gehry as a local boy, make it four). With depictions of the space age apartments Mr. Prii designed at 44 and 35 Walmer, 20 Prince Arthur, and 666 Spadina, the "Prii-Fab" shirt is high on my wish list.
Fliess house in wooden blocks
Readers of this space know I'm a big fan of the original architecture of Don Mills, and Henry Fliess' house designs in particular. Jen Bulthuis of Fidoodle has designed sets of wonderful wooden blocks with "city," "country" and "suburbs" themes. As well as depicting street hockey and a sun-hatted mom driving a station wagon, the suburbs blocks have a very accurate representation of a ground-hugging Fliess house. Then again, Ms. Bulthuis is married to Heritage Toronto's chief historian, Gary Miedema, so this should come as no surprise (fidoodle.com for where to find them).
Celebrate the acorn
Lovers of Toronto's fast disappearing "acorn" street signs would be wise to visit Telegramme Prints (Queen East in Leslieville or on Ossington Avenue). There, ask for illustrator Dave Murray's Streetsign series of prints: Designed using hundreds of reference photos as guide, these celebrate not only the iconic acorn on top, but, says shop owner Ian Gillies, the "weathered, rusted and oft-repainted letters," that spell out Augusta, Roncesvalles or Ossington avenues (to name just a few). Also, check out Mr. Murray's already popular "Toronto Type Maps," which employ different word sizes spelling out things such as "coffee," "bar," "no parking," or "condos" to make up the familiar street-block shapes of Toronto neighbourhoods.
Speaking of prints, Toronto painter Rob Croxford has a limited-edition series of retro-inspired ones available at his Etsy site (enter "robcroxford" in the Etsy.com search box). Based on his original paintings, there's the Gooderham "Flatiron" building, New City Hall, Ontario Place, the Scarborough Bluffs, and a TTC subway design. Also on Etsy, look up "thingstoronto" for fabulous jewellery made with beads, each with an "iconic image" of Toronto: Eaton's, Simpson's, Fran's, the Blue Jays, Mars Foods, Sam the Record Man and many others. If you surf Etsy long enough, you'll come across old TTC tokens re-purposed as cufflinks, countless Hogtown maps suitable for framing (BlogTO recommends the ones from jennasuemaps, and I agree), and the very cute "Toronto with timbits" print by Barry Gott.
Always on the vanguard, the folks at Spacing magazine have just released a collection of linkable magnets with subway route map symbols, "Metro Magnets," so the infrastructure aficionado in your life can create the perfect transit system on the fridge door (at spacingstore.ca).
The merriest news, however, is that each of these gifts cost less than $100.
My warmest wishes to all Globe Real Estate readers for a happy holiday season.