Lego Ideas Modular Castle Designer Interview


I get sent a lot of Lego Ideas project submissions, and I’m always happy to promote the best ones. But it’s very rare that one comes along that makes me think, “why don’t Lego make that already?” But Michael Kalkwarf’s modular castle system is exactly that. Rather than being just a single model, it’s an entire castle building system, with walls, turrets, gates, balconies, ramparts and more – all of which can be re-arranged to create your dream castle.


Kids who start building with Lego do two things early on – they build towers and then they build walls. That’s what makes Castle such an obvious theme, it’s a natural extension of a child’s basic building skills. Sadly it’s been a while since Lego have done anything with it, with the closest thing being Nexo Knights. But Castle was great because of the simplicity, the clean lines and muted colours. This modular system would be the right way for Lego to bring the theme back, with a huge opportunity for a whole range of sets built on this method. If you agree, vote for it.

I took the opportunity to ask it’s creator some questions about his history with Lego, and where the idea for this set came from.

Where are you from?
I live in Seattle Washington with my wife and 2 boys 10 and 12.

How long have you been building Lego?
I have only been building with Lego since my boys got me interested in building along side them. That must have been 6-7 years ago.

Where do you get your inspiration for what to build?
My children have been my inspiration. When building with them, they would ask me to build them something, like a spaceship. I could never finish what I was building before they went to bed and would end up staying up late to finish it for them. My son had an X-Wing fighter where two of the major sections were connected by a pair of Technic pins. That gave me the idea of making modular spaceships. That way I could build a tail section or cockpit in one sitting with my kids and in the end have something new they could play with. Every new spaceship piece further extended what their ship could be and before long we had a fleet of ships made of interchangeable parts.

Then after visiting BrckCon in Seattle where we saw some awesome castles, they asked me to build them a castle. I knew I could never build them anything close to what they had seen in any reasonable amount of time. So I started looking around for a modular castle system or standard and was unable to find anything that could do what I wanted. For Lego, I found that “modular” sets were really just ways to take something apart in large chunks for transporting, not for rearranging them in any combination. I wanted a way to build them a new module at a time to give them something new each week like I had done with the spaceships. I started experimenting and came up with this system. It is constantly evolving and improving as I figure out new types of modules to create. Each new module significantly multiplies the number of possibilities of what you can build.

What is your actual job and does this relate?
I am a technology Manager at Expedia. In technology you want your software to be generic and reusable so that you can take advantage of that piece of code numerous times rather than writing something new each time. This way of thinking led me to the “modular” way of building with Lego.

Do you build official sets as well or just do MOCs?
I don’t collect sets and rarely buy one for the purpose of building it. For a while, I did buy sets for the pieces I wanted that I could not steal from my kids. Then I discovered BrickLink where you can get any piece ever made.

I don’t build beautiful frail modes that would fall apart at the first touch of a 10 year old boy. Everything I build is for kids to play with. I give all of my MOC’s to my kids and eventually they become parts for their next creation. As they are getting older they tend to keep the better ones together longer and longer.

Is this your first submission to Lego Ideas?
I submitted the same concept without knowing how to take decent pictures or how to communicate what the set could do. I thought I could edit my post as I improved things. I did not realise that once you submit an Idea, you cannot change it. It did not get much attention. When it was close to expiring I took the time to submit it again learning from the mistakes I made the first time. It is still difficult to convey all the different things you can do with this system. I am trying to post a new Castle of the Week to try and highlight and explain a new or unique capability of the system.

How big is your piece collection and how do you extend it?
I have no idea how many Lego pieces I have. When I need more I harvest them from bins of torn up sets and MOC’s in my kid’s room or buy on BrickLink.

What’s your advice for somebody who only ever follows the instructions?
If you want to build your own creations and are not sure where to begin, making modifications to existing sets is a great place to start. You could add guns to the wings or add controls in the cockpit. If you continue to make bigger and bigger modifications as you gain confidence you will end up rebuilding more and move of it until you have completely redone it.

Having your pieces sorted is crucial. If you have an idea and have to spend 15 minute digging for the piece you want, by the time you find it you forget what it was for in the first place. That can be very frustrating.

Why do you love Lego?
Lego is so cool because you can build what you can imagine. I always envied artists who could draw what they could imagine. I could never get my hands to draw the lines the way I imagined them. With Lego I don’t have to draw, I can just assemble the pieces to make the thing that I imagine. It is the one way that I can create.

To learn more about the modular castle system, you can see Michael’s Flickr account, Youtube channel, and of course, make sure you vote for it on Lego Ideas.

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