Building Blocks


Jonathan Van Horn’s childhood pastime helps him build a city.

Text by Carmichael Doan | Images by Jonas Maon

Utilizing more than 37,000 interlocking Lego pieces, wedges, and gears, 3D-modeler and architect Jonathan Van Horn has created an astounding rendering that highlights the coming changes to the Our Kaka‘ako neighborhood with playful flair.

“This is like an OCD dream for me,” says Van Horn, who grew up piecing together Lego models on his bedroom floor. Even as a child, Van Horn envisioned that one day he would design Lego sets for other children to puzzle over. Eventually, he was drawn to 3D-rendering and began writing software for a major game-design studio. His foray into gaming, however, was derailed as a result of 9/11, which wiped out much of the game-design market. Inspired by his father, an architect who worked on projects in Kaka‘ako decades ago, Van Horn switched gears and eventually earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture from University of California, Berkeley.


Van Horn’s childhood hobby became an integral part of his design process. He found that he could reify complex ideas using intricate Lego models. In that fashion, the model he built for Our Kaka‘ako is a way to appeal to the community without pomp and posturing, a way to present a vision that people could see and connect with. The initial drawings were created with the same program he uses for architectural design, but executing them wasn’t without complication. “There are angles and details that Lego pieces just don’t conform to,” he says of the process of matching, sorting, and buying each piece to fit snuggly and uniformly into a sprawling, organic landscape. “In those cases you have to use your imagination to figure a way to create that illusion without it becoming cartoonish or unrealistic.”

The pieces were bought from the Lego Store in Honolulu, online, and from Bricks and Minifigs in Kailua. Each piece was carefully chosen and vetted, and it paid off. The culmination of this graduated child’s play, designed over the course of three months and built in about 15 days, is an impressive and seamless transition from design into plastic landscape. Ultimately, Van Horn describes the process as a challenging but fun way to bring an idea to life. A vision to behold, his work is an eye-catching piece of art that bridges the past and future, brick by plastic brick.

Van Horn’s Lego model is on display at the Our Kaka‘ako Information Center, located at 660 Ala Moana Blvd. The entrance is on Keawe Street.