Building Blocks

At first glance, a photograph of Jim Garrett’s Fisher Building could easily be mistaken for an image of the real thing.
Photographs by Cybelle Codish

Composed of more than 100,000 bricks and weighing more than 220 pounds, the Lego replica of the Detroit landmark is an impressive structure that immediately disproves any notion that tinkering with Lego bricks is mere child’s play.

“I picked the Fisher Building because it happens to be a great example of 1920s style and is one of my favorite buildings. When it comes to architecture, I am not an ideologue. Albert Kahn apparently was not one either,” says Garrett, who names the Detroit architect as one of his favorites.

The Fisher replica was the first attempt — and first success — by this man, who’s a computer programmer/analyst by day, and builder/architect by night.

Since the completion of his Fisher Building, Garrett has tackled the David Stott and Penobscot buildings, the Main Detroit Public Library, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The old Union Depot (which was at Fort and Third downtown, and is demolished) is his most recent feat.

Garrett assembles the skyscrapers in his Redford basement, using snapshots as blueprints and moving his creations outside to take photographs. They’ve traveled farther than his own yard, starring in exhibits at the Great Train Expo and, more recently, The Henry Ford.

Garrett says the level of difficulty in his projects varies with the type of architecture that he attempts to replicate. “If you can come up with the novel collection of parts to create a Corinthian capital, there’s some satisfaction in that, especially if you’ve done it before anyone else,” he says.

In addition to the pure fun of a pastime  that offers a break from his computer-based career, Garrett says he’s driven by his desire to rectify a misconception that Detroit is lacking in good architecture.

“Some thousands of young people have seen pictures of my Detroit building replicas [online] before they ever looked upon photos of the real buildings in Detroit,” he says. “Perhaps that can help some people’s perceptions of the city, or perhaps it won’t amount to a hill of beans.

“Nevertheless, I think it’s worth a try.”