Late one night in February, Drew Finkel, BA ’08, was sitting around chatting with a friend when the big idea dawned on him: He would construct the UT Tower out of Legos. The 28-year-old native Austinite moved to Chicago this past August to work in sales for a robotics and AI company, and he was homesick. He also missed playing with Legos.
“I had about 8 buckets of Legos from when I was 4 or 5,” Finkel says. “It was 2 a.m. and it was a late-night, random thought, but I’d always wanted to do [it].”
So Finkel got to work, but his childhood collection was insufficient. Dedicated though he was, he trudged along, buying a bucket here and a bucket there. In his estimation, it took approximately 13,000 Legos to create the facsimile of the iconic tower.
“That surprised me,” Finkel says. “I thought it would be four or five thousand. It’s a little overwhelming.”
He also spent close to 100 hours of his free time, fueled by takeout from his favorite Chicago restaurant, Piece Brewery and Pizzeria, though he kept the drinking to a minimum for maximum hand-eye coordination. He even dropped the tower once and had to rebuild, a gaffe he blames on clumsiness. Despite the long hours, he had free reign to create in the apartment he shares with his wife, Laura.
“Hey Laura, I want to build a 3.5-foot-tall UT tower,” Finkel recalls telling his wife, not quite sure how she’d take it. “That sounds awesome. Do it!” she replied.
The couple visited campus in April, and while they were here, they made a trip to the UT Tower to check on some details.
“I took some pictures and studied the sides so that I could finish the tower correctly,” Finkel says. Previously, Finkel couldn’t find any suitable images of the Tower’s sides, and he was having trouble completing the model.
When the final corner pieces for the roof arrived at his doorstep last week, Finkel put the finishing touches on the building. At that point the tower looked about complete, but it was missing one crucial element: lights. So he rigged some remote controlled LED lights so that his replica flashes the number 1 in different colors. It’s a not-so-subtle message to Reddit readers, where the images were originally posted, that he cherished his time at UT-Austin.
“[The Tower] is a symbol of Austin,” Finkel says. “I went to UT and lived there after graduation for a few years. This is my piece of Austin in Chicago.”
The Lego tower takes up a significant amount of space in the couple’s apartment, but Finkel already has plans to expand.
“Once my wife and I move into a house, I would like to build even more of the campus,” Finkel says.
No word if he has the OK from Laura yet.
Photos by Drew Finkel. To see Drew’s entire process, step-by-step, including a hidden treasure chest with burnt-orange pieces, click here.
Cary Michael Cox:
Can't wait to see this staff and team in action!
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Cary Michael Cox:
What a great story and a wonderful tribute to his mother.
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