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Master LEGO builder recreates West Van's architectural icons

LEGO is being elevated from plaything to artform in West Vancouver for the next two months.

West Vancouver was the birthplace of West Coast Modernism. It was also the birthplace of master LEGO builder Paul Hetherington. It was only a matter of time before these two got together.

Over the last two years, Hetherington has faithfully recreated eight Modernist masterpieces set to go on display at the West Vancouver Memorial Library for the Bricktacular West Coast Modern Show.

In the height of the pandemic, Hetherington started work on recreating Arthur Erickson’s Eppich House 2 simply as a passion project. It was West Vancouver author and artist Douglas Coupland who suggested the West Vancouver Art Museum and Hetherington collaborate for a full-scale exhibition, and they curated a list of surviving homes designed by Erickson, B.C. Binning, Fred Hollingsworth, Paul Merrick and Geoffrey Massey, among others.

West Coast icons

The West Coast Modern movement sought to make buildings fit in with their environment rather than dominate it, breaking down the barriers between nature and living space. It popularized floor-to-ceiling windows, low-pitched or flat roofs with large overhangs, and open concept interiors. But, where Hollingsworth and Binning emphasized using local materials, Hetherington’s preference is Danish brick.

“LEGO is whatever you want it to be. It depends on your intention,” he said. “To some people it’s a toy, but to a growing number of people in the world, it’s an artistic medium.”

To make sure the likeness of the models was spot-on, Hetherington reviewed the original architectural drawings, studied photos, video and Google Earth renderings and conducted site visits so he could accurately build them from the inside out.

Hetherington grew up around the West Coast Modern style, but getting to know its most stunning examples up close brought a new level of appreciation for them, he said.

“They’re just so cool. That’s the short answer,” he said. “It just draws you in. You want to go and knock on the door and explore.”

One model – almost certainly the most recognizable of the group – isn’t technically West Coast Modern. Villa Maris, better known to locals as the Pink Palace, is actually a rare Canadian example of New Sensualism, a Miami Beach strand of Modernism. But it’s so well recognized and loved, Hetherington couldn’t resist recreating it in detail, right down to the placement of the trees in the private garden terrace designed by famed landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander.

West Vancouver’s cultural gift

Unlike other works of art, West Coast Modern homes are all privately owned, and you’d have to be trespassing to see and appreciate most of them. That’s why museum curator Hilary Letwin said they were especially drawn to the exhibition’s innovative way of educating the broader public about West Vancouver’s cultural contributions to the world.

“Through this new and kind of whimsical way of looking at the buildings, it gives us a whole new perspective, or introduces us to this architectural movement,” she said, adding that too many West Coast Modern homes have already been demolished, and those that remain always seem to be under threat of redevelopment. “West Vancouver just holds such an important place in the history of West Coast Modernism.”

Hetherington’s other pieces have been shown all over the world, although it’s rare for his work to be on display at home in Canada. The Bricktacular show will be his first ever solo exhibition. Its grand opening is on Friday May 5 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and coincides with the start of West Coast Modern week in B.C.

What: Bricktacular West Coast Modern Show

Where: West Vancouver Memorial Library

When: Grand opening Friday, May 5, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The exhibit runs until July 31.

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