St. Olaf College | News

Student’s Lego version of campus highlights present and past

Anders Cote ’24

By the time Anders Cote ’24 arrived at St. Olaf College, he had already written a book about the history of his high school titled Chronicles of the Knights: The History of Fairview High School. “The summer before my junior year, I decided I’d like to learn about the history of my high school. There are a lot of really interesting buildings with interesting designs, so I just researched them. I was like, ‘There are a lot of unique things here, especially the school building, and people should really know about it.’”

The links between history and architecture have always captivated Cote, especially when it comes to places that he can relate to, like his high school and St. Olaf. While his interest in the architectural history of his high school led to him publishing a book about it, his interest in St. Olaf’s architectural history took an entirely different creative turn — this time toward Legos.

During the long winter break in December of 2020, Cote built a digital Lego model for the entire St. Olaf campus. It took him a month to research and map out the whole campus and build a digital Lego version of it. The digital model he designed for St. Olaf requires about 11,000 pieces to build — including some that are rare and custom-made. 

Because of the sheer number of pieces needed, the cost to build the model would be mind-blowingly expensive. “Even though each piece is just a couple of cents each, the rare ones are expensive. It’s mostly small pieces but because there’s so many of them, it’s a little pricey — so it’d be about $5,000-$8,000,” he says.

The animation in Cote’s voice as he describes the design of his model shows the thought and effort he put into creating the model. 

“I made the landscape into nine separate pieces, and you can break them up and attach them together to make it easier to carry. The buildings are all separated, too. So you can at once attach the landscape together and you can put the buildings in little holes where they belong,” he says. “You could also take out current buildings and replace them with historical ones, like ones that have been torn down in the past or remodeled or have been added on to. Right now I just have the most up-to-date version of the current campus. It would be a pretty big thing to go back and make old buildings, but we’ll see. We’ll see.”

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Cote is interested in ordering the pieces and building the physical Lego model, but for now he’s still looking at options for covering the cost.

“I think it would be cool to have it displayed somewhere on campus so people can see it,”  he says. “So what I would like to do is raise enough money to order the pieces, build it, and put it in a display case somewhere on campus. I would like to have it ideally displayed in the library or Buntrock Commons so students and anybody who comes to campus can look at it and appreciate it.”

This isn’t the first time Cote has made history somewhat tangible through Legos. His first attempt at recreating something historical with Legos was when he was still in middle school. “When I was still in middle school, going into high school, I downloaded a digital Lego designing app on my computer, and it’s really cool. There are tons of Lego pieces — any Lego piece ever made — and you can use as many pieces as you want, in any different color. So I designed my own version of the Titanic from scratch, both from memory and by looking at pictures. Then I went online to a kind of Lego eBay site, called BrickLink. I found every piece that I needed to build that. I ordered all the pieces, had them shipped to my house, and I built the actual thing.”

This isn’t the last creative project Cote has undertaken either. Cote’s creativity kicks off anew every break. This summer he developed his St. Olaf Lego project even further by designing a Lego version of an old St. Olaf building that stood in place of Buntrock Commons 25 years ago. He is also working on designing an interactive map that has photographs of and information about every St. Olaf building ever built. 

It seems that we will keep getting to witness more and more of Cote’s creative endeavors with history and architecture in the future. Although he stays busy as a history major and member of the St. Olaf men’s cross country and track and field teams, he still likes to pick up extra projects in his free time. “History and architecture are my two main interests, and I keep coming up with projects and want to share them with the St. Olaf community and the world. More stuff will keep coming along, for sure,” he says.