LEGO Aqueduct Exhibit At UConn

Gary Robbins is a geology professor at UConn specializing in groundwater hydrology. One afternoon last year, he was playing with his grandkids in New Hampshire. Sitting amidst a sea of hundreds of multi-colored LEGO blocks, Robbins got a brainstorm that turned him into an artist.

"I wanted to build a physical model of an aqueduct to get a better feel of how they are built and how they work. I couldn't find much available online," Robbins, 66, of Manchester, said. "But my grandkids have tons of LEGOs. I put together this tiny little aqueduct. I thought, 'This is great.'"

An exhibit at Homer Babbidge Library at UConn in Storrs shows the progress of Robbins' LEGO-engineering project. More than a dozen ancient Roman aqueducts — and one American 19th-century one using Roman technology — are re-created with LEGO blocks, with arches, arcades, shafts, tunnels, siphons, tanks, baths, fountains and tiny bathers, gladiators, workmen and rubble. It's engineering and ancient history, made adorable.

"Aqueducts are marvelous things to behold," he said. "It's not just the engineering. It's the art. They all have some artistic flair beyond engineering, beyond structure."

Robbins said that he buys most of his LEGOs online or at tag sales. "My grandkids won't give me their LEGOs," he said. "It turns out you can't use LEGOs to design things very precisely. You're limited by the size. Nonetheless, they certainly show the major characteristics."

Robbins uses the LEGO models to teach water resource management and development. His students love them. "Everyone smiles. People can really relate to them," he said.

But he's just beginning his project. "Right now I'm working on making working models," he said.

MODELING THE ART AND ENGINEERING OF ROMAN AQUEDUCTS WITH LEGOS will be at the Plaza Gallery in the Homer Babbidge Library, on the campus of University of Connecticut in Storrs, until Oct. 24. Information: lib.uconn.edu/about/exhibits.