Lego Olin in front of the real building

What’s Tiny, Bookish, and Made of Bricks? Lego Olin Library!

With advice from his son, a Cornell staffer built a miniature version of the Arts Quad landmark—and now you can too

By Beth Saulnier

Eight-year-old Jasper Mains is a Lego megafan who has built such impressive structures that an Ithaca art gallery once hosted an exhibit showcasing his creations.

His dad, Craig Mains, is a staffer at Olin and Uris libraries who enjoys sharing his son’s favorite hobby.

A hand holding Lego Olin Library

Pull those facts together, and what do you get? A Lego Olin, depicting the (admittedly, already quite blocky) Arts Quad edifice in adorable miniature.

An initial, relatively simple version of the design made its public debut in March 2020, garnering more than 6,300 likes on the University’s Instagram feed.

It was the early days of the pandemic, when classes had just gone remote and COVID was a constant source of stress. Says Mains: “At that moment, people were ready for something more lighthearted.”

Mains eventually refined the design into a structure that comprises 500 pieces and measures roughly eight inches long and six inches high, including its terrace.

It’s currently on display in its real-world namesake—which it depicts at 1:500 scale—as part of a wider exhibit of the library’s Lego-related holdings.

A page from the Lego Olin directions
The building guide Mains created echoes Lego’s official, highly detailed instruction booklets.

And Mains has taken the project a few steps further—creating a detailed, 43-step guide instructing fellow Lego aficionados on how to make their own Olin, plus a fast-motion YouTube video chronicling the build.

The library has embraced its tiny doppelganger, compiling a web page with comprehensive info including where to buy the needed bricks.

And guess what: Olin isn’t the first building on the Hill to get the Lego treatment.

An eye-poppingly detailed model of the Vet College—a six-month-long passion project by then-student Samuel Burkhardt, DVM ’20—has been on display in the Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library since 2019.

The Cornell Vet College in Legos
The Lego Vet College is made up of about 20,000 pieces.

What other Big Red structures could be next?

“I’ve been puzzling out Uris Library, but trying to make a Uris that’s the same scale as Olin is tricky,” Mains observes.

“Rand Hall is a possibility. It would be exciting to see Milstein and Sibley together. And the Johnson Museum could be an easy candidate for a Lego build. Actually, I’m surprised it hasn’t been built already.”

All images in this story provided.

Published August 30, 2022


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