Feature
Liberty in LEGO®

Jessica Farrell

We speak to the incredible LEGO® artist who replicated our iconic building in 105, 282 bricks

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A London landmark, our iconic Grade II* listed heritage building was finished in 1924. Designed to feel like a home, the building was - and still is - completely unique. In order to preserve its magnificence, Spring 2020 marks the start of a major restoration, matching the profound craftsmanship that originally built it. The task is monumental – and LEGO® artist Jessica Farrell has an acute understanding of its scale. Farrell replicated the building’s every intricacy, inside and out, using a grand total of 105, 282 bricks. As we bring her creation to the fourth floor, she fills us in on her extraordinary endeavor.

Liberty in LEGO®
When did your interest in Lego begin?

I fell in love with LEGO® bricks at the age of four when I was given my first set. From early on I was fascinated with their geometrical precision, how they all worked on a strict grid and yet allowed for unbridled creativity. I grew up in a family of artists and gradually came to realise that LEGO® was to be my medium.

What have been your highlight projects to date?

All of my projects are special to me, since I pour so much of myself into them, but among the more well-known ones would be: Her Majesty’s Theatre (now on display in the real theatre in Haymarket), the Audemars Piguet Hotel (built for Danish architect firm Bjarke Ingels Group) and the Sub-tropical Swimming Paradise (commissioned by Center Parcs)

When and why did you decide to build Liberty?

It is both challenging and rewarding to successfully recreate architecture of great beauty. London has so many lovely buildings to offer, but Liberty stands out as unique and iconic. As an artist, I was taught to appreciate beauty in form, colour and design. Liberty stands out in all three, not just in the exterior of the building but in its ornate interior, high quality merchandise and artistic displays. It was in my mind for a few years to build Liberty since it is a store I particularly enjoy visiting. Whilst studying it, I came to realise that to do it justice I would have to not only build the exterior in all its glory but also faithfully render all the wonders of the store itself.

Liberty in LEGO®
How did you familiarise yourself with the building?

First, I researched Liberty’s fascinating history…such a rich and interesting story! I also learned about the values and ethos of the company so as to rightly portray the feel of the store. Finally, I visited the store and took over seven hundred photos of the interior and exterior from as many angles as I could (I was so terrified of accidentally knocking over something breakable in the process!). I was also assisted by a lovely employee by the name of Harjit Shukla, who was actually a sales assistant in the store back when I was a child! In acknowledgement, I have included her as a LEGO® minifigure in my model.

"As an artist I was taught to appreciate beauty in form, colour and design. Liberty stands out in all three, not just in the exterior of the building but in its ornate interior, high quality merchandise and artistic displays."

How did you document it? Was this a long process?

Liberty is a dynamic store with ever-changing merchandising and displays. How then, to build an interior that would still be relevant after the year or so it would take to create or, indeed, in years to come? The answer came while I was organising my photographs. The photographs had succeeded in documenting the entire store exactly as it was on that particular day, so I would set my model to forever depict that moment in time (I would, however, take artistic license with the front windows, as I really wanted to build my favourite Liberty Christmas window displays). Once that was decided, the rest was just a matter of measurements and maths, all on scraps of paper. I never use any digital design tools and I build organically, so documentation is actually minimal.

Liberty in LEGO®
What was your starting point with the build?

I started at the ground and built upwards! Before one brick was placed, however, I had to determine the divisions of the modules. A model of this size has to be built in sections in order to be transported, and I didn’t want the modules to end up cutting right through a window or tricky bit of roofing. So I actually had to plan the roof before I started on the ground floor!

What were some of the main challenges?

A lot of famous buildings have been built out of LEGO®, to varying degrees of success. Nobody had ever succeeded in building Liberty, and, as I embarked on the project, I quickly discovered why! Most buildings have some degree of repetition. No matter how complicated a section is, once one has solved the technical problems, the solution can be used again elsewhere in the build. In Liberty, every section of the façade is different and each posed problems that had to be solved individually. The interior also has such variation, from architrave to flooring. Even the display tables are all different. At one point, on creating the fourth floor, I cried out, “If I have to come up with one more design for a table, I’m going to scream!”

How many bricks did you use in the process?

Exactly 105, 282. And yes, I counted each one, believe it or not. I keep a mental tally as I build and jot down the running totals at the end of each build session. Everyone always asks how many bricks are in a model so I think it’s nice to be able to answer with certainty.

Did you have to commission bespoke pieces?

Every piece used in the model is a standard LEGO® element, available from ordinary sets. There are no customised elements, as building within the limitations of the LEGO® system is part of the challenge.

Liberty in LEGO®

"The hardest thing to replicate was not a feature but a feeling. True art must evoke feeling and, in this model, the importance was to capture the essence of the Liberty shopping experience."

Can you tell us about some of the minute details?

If a viewer takes the time to thoroughly study a model, I believe they should be rewarded for their time and attention. In this model there were no shortcuts taken; some areas can only be seen by peering through the windows or around corners but, if one makes the effort to look, the fully detailed room is there to see. I have tried to faithfully represent every department, from bolts of fabric to potted plants (there are even people in the changing rooms but let’s respect their privacy).

What was the hardest feature to replicate?

The hardest thing to replicate was not a feature but a feeling. True art must evoke feeling and, in this model, the importance was to capture the essence of the Liberty shopping experience. In my research I read that no matter where a shopper was within the store, they would always be aware that they were in Liberty, not just any store. I worked very hard to make that also true in my model.

Is it completely to scale?

The model is as much to scale as is possible with LEGO® bricks. LEGO® minifigures are not actually to human proportions, so certain things like doorways, stairs and furnishings have to be adjusted accordingly.

How did you colour-match the pieces?

Since no pieces were customised, I needed to work within the existing LEGO® colour palette. Some of the colours were discontinued long ago, so for certain rooms I had to source old pieces from the 1980s and’90s.

"Nobody had ever succeeded in building Liberty, and, as I embarked on the project, I quickly discovered why! Most buildings have some degree of repetition…in Liberty, every section of the façade is different and each posed problems that had to be solved individually."

Liberty in LEGO®
What’s your earliest Liberty memory?

The smell of spices! We lived in London when I was a child; my mother would often take me to Liberty when she went shopping. I used to marvel at the creative displays and particularly remember one which was reminiscent of the Spice Islands, complete with open hessian bags of whole nutmegs and curls of cinnamon bark. I would hide amongst the silks and flowing fabrics, pretending I was on a great ship from the Orient.

What are your favourite places within the store?

I am particularly fond of the housewares, with memories of my mother showing me the quality glazed stoneware and fine china - and, of course, the swirl of colours and fragrances in the florist shop within the main entrance.

What does it take to make something like this?

Long-range vision, the courage to pick up the very first brick and the firm belief that the end result will be worth the effort.

How do you feel about it taking up residence in store?

When an artist creates a monumental work it becomes, in a sense, their baby. Now that my model has left the nest, the store is truly the most fitting place for it to reside. It will be at home.

Liberty London

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