LEGO Adventures

Engineering Legos*

Design centered building

Robert McKeon Aloe
7 min readJan 7, 2021

Since I was little, I had a lego city. I was always tweaking it and making city planning designs. When I bought a house in 2011, I finally had a basement to build my dream Lego city. Like any city, it’s always being worked on.

I’ve been playing and engineering legos since my earliest memories. I remember the day I wanted to play at the big table with the little pieces with my dad and brother. I was too young previously, and now suddenly there were all these parts. I remember biting the pieces to pull them apart before the LEGO separator came out. I remember my brother and I both got the Pirate Island one Christmas. Every time I went to the airport, I would design a new airport for my city. Slowly, a city took over my room, and I lived out another life in the city. Mostly police car chases and battles, but I did have a mall and a barbershop.

They played a huge part of how I ended up being an engineer because I was already engineering using legos for years by the time I hit university. There seems to be four things that seemed key: visual searching for pieces, limited resources, prioritization, and creativity.

Visual Searching

I didn’t organize my legos until in my mid-20’s. I had two large bins and one smaller bin. I would dig through and pull out interesting parts. I always had multiple designs I was working on, so the smaller bin had pieces for these, high potential pieces, and rare pieces. While this method made me search longer, I would run into different pieces and had a better feel for my entire inventory because I would see most of it everyday.

I finally did sort my legos because I changed how I built legos. I used to design and build sitting on a floor, but that did such a number to my back, I started not enjoying building legos. So I setup on a table, and having them organized was easier. I sorted them by color, which was an interesting sort task that took a long time. I then have a few bins of specialty parts and separated projects. This method seems to work pretty well as long as I know where everything is located.

My inventory has greatly increased due to legos dropping in price by roughly half from about 20 cents/piece to about 10 cents/piece.

Limited Resources

Unless you’re rolling in cash, legos aren’t cheap. The price has come down, but even if you had tons of money, that doesn’t mean you can get the exact pieces required to build something. As a result, there is always a push and pull for whatever I’m currently working on. There is always a question of what models can be cannibalized to build the next new great thing?

The same is true in industry. Nobody has unlimited free resources, so everything has to be balanced in some way to help sell products. Usually the cannibalization is not parts but rather function. Some new gadget will come out that takes the place of another, so a company may start seeing declines in one area while another area is taking off. Think iPhone cannibalizing iPod. I dealt with these issues all the time growing up, building legos.


Due to limited resources, projects have to be ranked in importance. Do I want a new airport or a space station? When I was young, there was always a choice. As an adult with more control over income, I can usually have both if I really want it. I really want the rollercoaster, ferris wheel, and merry-go-round, but I also like spending $1,000 on other things.

The process of prioritization is not possible with unlimited resources. In fact, when I’ve had more projects going on because of more resources, often times, I lose focus. The best projects I’ve build were very focused because they required structural design and picking which models would be gone as a result.

For many years, I had a city when I was young. In 8th grade, I decided to blow it all up. I’m not sure if it was peer-pressure from feeling different from others or simply a desire for change because I had stagnated in what I could build due to lack fo resources and an unwillingness to destroy what I had. The result was a large pile of pieces. I now had tons of resources, but my focus was all over the place. Finally, I built my submarine, and that started the slow rebuild.


As a result of how I searched for legos, the limitations of resources, and a push for better priorities, I had to be creative. This is particularly seen on a small scale with my retractable landing gear. I worked through multiple designs to reduce required space while still covering the retracted wheels and functioning as actual landing gear. This result was the most compact. In fact, when I bought the LEGO Space Shuttle set, I replaced the front gear box to give room for one more person in the cockpit.

Finally Retractable Landing Gear

Lego Slum

In a larger context, I’ve build multiple buildings, ships, a navy, and even a slum. The slum was from one lot of used pieces I bought for cheap. Somehow the person had broken about 100 pieces, so I made a slum. In reality, most big cities have slums even if you never see them.

Engineer in Training

All of these skills helped later in engineering design. I had dealt with structures and general systems. I had done large scale design to determine what my city needed. I made requirements for what was desired, and I had experience being creative with a lack of resources.

My current city is aimed to have a high urban density of tall buildings of three to four stories but not massive skyscrapers. I like industry type things, and one design I’ve been trying to work out is a steel mill. They are less common, but require a high level of creativity. I’m currently finishing a library, and I’d like to make a skyscraper, a steel mill, a mine, and a car manufacturing line.

Aircraft Carrier

My City

My Rocket vs Space Shuttle Set

Pizza Shop


Operating Room, CT Scan, and Morgue in Hospital

Dry Dock

Ode to Amantea

*Yes, I’m aware that it is LEGO blocks not Legos, but I’ve played with them the major of my life referring to them as legos (notice no capitalization). I believe Lego blocks have become repurposed the word lego to be a noun meaning interlocking blocks.



Robert McKeon Aloe

I’m in love with my Wife, my Kids, Espresso, Data Science, tomatoes, cooking, engineering, talking, family, Paris, and Italy, not necessarily in that order.