What Lego Blocks Can Teach Us About Structural Engineering

Nine times out of ten, if you mention Lego blocks to anyone, they won’t be able to help themselves from picturing children linking various colored blocks together on the living room floor. We don’t even think about the fact that subconsciously, they are mentally configuring the best way to use the building blocks to build the tallest and best structure.

In a rather interesting article on
howstuffworks.com
, we read that these Lego blocks, which we find just about anywhere a child is, can actually teach us quite a bit about structural engineering. It may seem hard to believe that the something so simple could explain anything about a complex industry but in fact, the article goes on to point out five ways in which it does.

1.   Building to Scale before you begin the actual building process, I think we can all agree that it’s important to determine the scale of the project and just how big the structures need to be. In Lego building, you’ll find that many kids build their masterpieces big enough so that all of their toy figures can maneuver around and inside of it. In structural engineering, building to scale allows professionals to put the materials into perspective and plan everything before moving onto the real thing. 

2.    Loading Constraints So what’s going to happen when weight is added to any of your structures? The use of Lego blocks helps an engineer to picture both static loading, which show the weight and pressure on a structure while it’s immobile, and dynamic loading, which shows how outside forces influence a structure while it’s being used. Every structure is going to have its own physical limitations, but what if you add movement to it and are expecting for it to support people? If you use a remote toy car to test how a Lego structure is affected as it moves across, you’ll be able to test where its loading constraints lie.

3.   How to BraceIn using Legos to build a structure, you may find that it can turn out to be a little unstable at first. So what do you do? Chances are, you’re instincts are going to tell you to add more pieces to increase support. Similarly, the trusses, columns and beams that engineers use provide bracing for an overall structure.

4.   Design Around Nature This particular point applies mostly to buildings but overall it’s a good thing to keep in mind. As a company who manufactures trusses that are used for a variety of projects across the country, we have to keep natural factors in mind. We may be creating a structure for an outdoor concert in California – a state prone to earthquakes – and if the proper measures aren’t met, there may be obvious safety concerns.

5.   Tension and Compression The fifth and final point to be made about how Lego blocks can teach us a lot about structural engineering is that much like how Legos can be used to suspend certain portions of whatever you’re building, trusses can be used to do the same with full scale structures. Depending on the material you are using, its stiffness will be able to tell you a lot about how much pressure can be supported.

Chances are, you’re never going to look at your child’s Lego set again now, are you? You may just have the next great
structural engineer on your hands!

(Post by Tray Allen of
James Thomas Engineering