Welcome to my coverage of Arca, a collaborative between myself, Ian Spacek, and Paul Vermeesch for Mike Doyle's "Beautiful Lego 2: Dark" contest. Below is included the story of Arca itself and the process behind it. Enjoy!
The planet has become bare. What once was a land of towering forests, expansive grasslands, and thick jungles is now nothing more than a rocky sphere orbiting a star. It was the darkness, seeping out of the planet’s core, which harkened back a time of emptiness, a time before color, movement, life. Yet the Inhabitants of the planet were prepared.
As the surface of the planet was cast into destruction, they erected a new structure, a pyramid on which to found new cities, and in which to sustain life. Built high on the apex of the tallest mountain, it had little contact with the ground, and was designed to withstand the corrupting darkness.
Protruding from the sides of this monument were many cubes of glass, each containing a garden of lush grasses, verdurous plants, and drooping vines. The Inhabitants lived on the top of their edifice, constructing cities of skyscrapers, streams, garden towers, generators, and monorails. All that was necessary to sustain life on the now barren planet was housed within this citadel, and the Inhabitants remained there for many years.
Yet darkness finds a way. The Inhabitants had designed their citadel to keep out all chaos, all contaminants, even to defy time’s destructive power. They did not realize that the threat they faced was not the absence of life, but an entity in itself, hungrily swallowing all it encountered. Seeping up through the rock, it struck the base of the edifice, crept up its central core, and ate away at the life it contained, shattering glass gardens, toppling towers of civilization, and squeezing the walls into that elemental shape: the cube.
Arca was inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the ziggurat of exotic plants built by King Nebuchadnezzar for one of his homesick foreign wives. Here, instead of a typical ziggurat, the structure points downward, held only by a small support on a bare rock. The structure itself is unnamed, and the title “Arca” refers to the build as a whole. “Arca” is the Latin word for box, and it specifically refers to the black cubes of the dark power, not the gardens. “Arca” is related to the Latin word for “hidden” and usually refers to a chest or sealed box hiding something within it. This is in direct contrast with the trans clear garden cubes, the contents of which are showcased. To put the irony plainly, that which contained and displayed the work and prize of the civilization has come to dominate the focus of the build.
So how do three different builders from two different states successfully collaborate on a single, extremely detailed and structurally improbable build? Let me tell you, it took five months of tedious measuring, adjusting, constructing, shipping, reenforcing, remeasuring, readjusting, and reconstructing.
When Paul first approached Ian and me with news of Mike Doyle’s “Beautiful Lego 2: Dark” contest, we all agreed that a collaborative was necessary. Yet with a cue word as simple as “Dark”, no ideas for a creation popped up immediately. Finally, on a brief Skype chat, Paul said, “I’ve always wanted to experiment with the hanging gardens of Babylon concept.” After a sketching out the idea, I said, Let’s turn it upside down!” (Below Left: An Early Concept Sketch by yours truly Below Right: a final sketch also by yours truly)
Ian looked at us glumly and said, “That doesn’t look very dark to me. Let’s have it turning into black cubes.” The idea of a pastoral yet civilized paradise decaying into black cubes culminated in the final concept of Arca. We did more sketches.
The final build can be described as portraying three ideas: cultivation, consummation, and corruption. My responsibility was to build the first: the walls and garden boxes housing and sustaining the foliage. Paul was tasked with building the consummation section, the pinnacle of civilization from which the Inhabitants control their structure. Thomas Cole first used this word to describe the peak of a nation’s existence in his series of paintings The Course of an Empire. Arca combines the second, third, and fifth paintings of this series by portraying a civilization at its consummation (painting three) in harmony with an Arcadian monument representing the natural world (painting two) while quickly decaying into black nothingness (fifth painting). This corruption was built by Ian and is represented by the black 4x4 cubes.
The basic connection between these cubes was Paul’s design (above left), but unfortunately LDD does not calculate structural integrity. Thus, Ian, after ordering hundreds of travis bricks, 4x4 black plates, and tires (above right), assembled the bones of Arca, adding modifications to his structure to strengthen it.
When this black pyramid of cubes collapsed in the car on the way home from Ian’s, I should have heeded the early warning. Instead, I began immediately to construct and attach the walls (above). It was obvious what wonderful communicators the three of us are when I discovered the nonexistence of a ratio between Ian’s box structure and regular bricks. Only every fourth box lined up with my walls, and the fit was not exact. In early March, after fitting the walls snugly on the black skeleton’s sides, I attempted to flip the structure over. It was a disaster.
The skeleton crumbled as I shifted it, the walls came tumbling down, and I had a mess to clean up. I took the opportunity to further strengthen the skeleton by replacing the central column of boxes with a solid pillar of 2x4 bricks which could hold almost any compressive force (above). I also realized that my walls, with their imperfect ratio to the boxes, were squeezing the rows of cubes together loosening them on the opposite side. This was remedied by adding a few plates where spaces appeared between cube connections. While the black boxes no longer formed a perfect square, they were much sturdier with the walls on.
Meanwhile, Paul, over 300 miles away, was creating the city. Buildings were modeled to resemble the glass garden boxes on the outer walls, and the cityscape is dominated by olive cheese (why are you surprised?), trans clear sky scrapers, generators, and olive fiddle heads supporting pneumatic tubing monorails. His dimensions were very specific to fit the width of Ian’s boxes and to rest inside of my walls. The city rests on only half of the structure’s top, meaning that it subjects the already fragile frame to tilting forces as well as compressional forces.
Back in Chicagoland, Arca was now upside down and fully supported on a rocky stand (built by yours truly). The city and a few of its remains were shipped to the Pointner house and fitted perfectly on top of the work in progress. Unfortunately, it also tipped the build over. Thankfully, my young friend Sadie was over building with me and propped the pyramid while I removed the city. Sadie, you have earned my eternal gratitude by saving Arca, hours of my time, and all of our sanity. To remedy the weight problem, I built waterfalls and attached them to the sides of the city, holding up its edges, and leaning the burden of the weight towards the center column within the black skeleton.
For final touches, Ian and I had a few build sessions in which Ian added some bare black buildings to the corrupted half of Arca’s summit, waterfalls of junk hanging from its sides, and black vines crawling up the base. At long last, after another final collapse (above), Arca was finished and Paul, in town in mid May, added a few details and photographed the build!
Building Arca was one of the greatest projects I’ve been part of. It was great to fuse our ideas, bricks, and time into the final abstract product. Huge thanks to Mike for hosting this contest and dealing with our late entry! If you’ve read this far, thank you!
The Three MOCpages Kings have done it again! This upside-down ziggurat is quirky, creative, organized, mysterious, and did I mention creative? This earns five stars (or rather minifigure heads) from me!
It was very good of you to take of your time to re-post this. You were such a champ in making this thing come together! I'm shocked by what MOCpages has done to your account. And I'm seriously, seriously miffed at this website now.