Wednesday, 22 June 2011


I've received a few messages of late asking me how I'm getting on with the LEGO city layout I wrote about on these pages a while back, so I figured it was probably about time that I provided a brief progress report.

On the surface, it might appear that progress has been non-existent, given that more than 6 months after taking my first, faltering design steps using LDD I've built almost nothing at all. Truth be told, however, it has become increasingly clear to me that if you want to build something fairly large out of LEGO, the actual process of building is the least of your worries....

To recap, last time I wrote about this project (November last year, believe it or not) I had already designed much of the lower level of my city layout using LDD. My plan was for the lower level to basically consist of an oval of railway track running completely enclosed within a tunnel. The outer wall of the tunnel would be made up of open arches so that you could see the train running within, and a section of tunnel on one side of the layout would be cut away to reveal an underground station platform with broad steps leading up to ground level (pics below - click to enlarge). The upper level of the layout, featuring another oval of track plus sidings, roads, buildings, vehicles and landscaping, would then somehow sit on top of this lower level.

Work In Progress : LDD Screengrab of MOC City Layout
I encountered an interesting issue as my virtual creation grew ever bigger; as the number of virtual bricks increased, LDD became increasingly sluggish. This problem was greatly magnified when I merged a few LDD files including some Modular Buildings and incorporated them into the upper level of the layout, whereupon LDD slowed to a crawl and became almost unusable. Evidently, LDD is clearly not designed to cope with large creations such as this this, and I consequently had to abandon any notion of designing the whole layout in one go within LDD.

Work In Progress : LDD Screengrab - experimenting with merging LDD files....

In parallel with my design trials and travails, I needed to carefully think through exactly where in my house I’d physically be able to put the model. I’d always planned on having a permanent set up in my study which I could work on over weeks (or more likely months or years….) and admire without interruption, and I estimated that the biggest I could realistically make it without it preventing me from using my study for work or other things was around 1.25 metres x 2.5 metres. I therefore needed to ensure that my LDD design didn’t exceed these dimensions. When you mark out an area of 1.25 metres x 2.50 metres on the floor, it looks like a respectable size for a layout, but in truth, you can’t fit a huge amount of LEGO track in a space of that size. I found that realisation somewhat disheartening, but I got over it pretty quickly and resolved to press on and just make the best layout I could in the space available.

Another thing I needed to consider was how best to position the model for building and display. The simplest and cheapest solution is just to build and display on the floor, but I quickly discounted that option for a number of reasons. Firstly, I decided that it'd be thoroughly miserable and frankly back-breaking to spend all those hours on my knees hunched over it while I was building. Secondly, I figured that the layout would be more agreeable to look at and interact with if it was at waist height. And thirdly, I'm desperate for storage space to accommodate my collection of LEGO (aren't we all ?) and I concluded that were I to elevate the layout somehow I would be able to use the space underneath for storage. I therefore made the decision to build the layout on top of something, and set about trying to figure out what that 'something' might be and where I might find it. After trawling the websites of all manner of furniture stores, D.I.Y. stores, hardware stores, large supermarkets and frankly anything else I could think of looking for something suitable, I eventually settled on some INGO dining tables from Ikea. These self-assembly pine dining tables measure 75 cm wide by 125 cm long by 73 cm high; three of them side by side therefore almost completely fill the maximum space available to me. Also, they're unfussy, they have lots of space underneath for storage, and they're ridiculously cheap at just £29 each. And as an added bonus, being pine they smell nice....

Assembling the tables was a breeze, and before long they were comfortably installed in my study. The space beneath was rapidly occupied by a variety of LEGO sets, and I had my blank canvass upon which to fashion a masterpiece......

Something to build on.....

...and somewhere to store some sets.

Except of course there's something missing. Something pretty important, actually. An area of 1.25 metres by 2.25 metres might not accommodate a very large train layout, but it can sure as hell accommodate a lot of LEGO bricks.... And that's really where much of the last 6 months has gone - accumulating the large number of bricks needed to make a meaningful start on the build. Bricklink, PaB, LUGBULK, my childhood LEGO collection - all these and more have been raided for the parts I'll need. My boxed, official sets were spared, but anything and everything else has been fair game in my quest for suitable building materials. And over the past week I've finally got to the stage where I can start to build. Of which more next time...........

LEGO City Layout : next blog entry -->


  1. Dave can't wait to see the progress. I'm in a similar process myself and can relate to all the same issues you're encountering. Good luck.

  2. Thanks, sweener - having spent so much time in the planning phase, it's exciting to finally start building. I'll aim to post updates periodically.

    Good luck with your project also !

  3. Wow - you really do have a lot of (unopened?) Lego sets! I don't get the appeal of collecting these personally - I love to open the boxes, build the sets, and then use whichever parts I need. The boxes themselves get thrown away.

    I'm also building a Lego city layout (with train) though - currently it's on the floor in my attic (need a table like yours).

    Are you going to attempt a ramp up/down from the lower level track to the upper level track?

  4. I'd love to run trains between the two levels, Frankie, but the gradient would be prohibitive unfortunately - my Emerald Night can barely scale a 2 plate gradient let alone anything steeper !