10189 Taj Mahal was released in 2008 and was the largest set ever produced up to that point, containing some 5922 pieces. The adult market for LEGO products has grown at an exponential rate since then and demand for that impressive set has risen accordingly, particularly following its retirement in the waning months of 2010.
The abrupt announcement of 10256 Taj Mahal therefore proved to be a tremendous surprise for many LEGO fans, not least because direct re-releases have been rare in recent years and the return of such a large set is unprecedented. Nevertheless, this met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction on the whole as many more people will now be able to enjoy this fantastic model of the Taj Mahal. The addition of a brick separator has brought the piece count up to a total of 5923 while numbered bags have been introduced to improve the building experience.
Box and Contents
The box is absolutely enormous, as one would anticipate, measuring 58cm wide, 48cm tall and 18cm deep. Both the front and back show familiar views of the renowned mausoleum, matching the design of 10189 Taj Mahal's packaging almost exactly. However, the branding has been updated to reflect the modern Creator Expert line and I think it looks much brighter and more inviting than the original box artwork.
An attractive frame surrounded the image on the back of 10189 Taj Mahal's box but I much prefer this design as the model is exhibited on an attractive tiled surface, matching that at the real location. The orange tone of the background really accentuates the bright white colour scheme of the set and the inset shots look great too as they show off some of the smaller details that are not visible when viewing the model from a distance.
The box contains a total of 41 bags which are numbered between one and fourteen. These are divided into three groups as some of the bags are stored in smaller white boxes while others are loose within the main box, as with many larger sets in recent years. 10189 Taj Mahal also divided the bags into three groups using a segmented tray but numbered bags were not found in the 2008 model. This is among the most significant differences between the two versions, although a single, 184-page manual has replaced the three instruction booklets from the original set.
Construction begins at the base of the plinth. The model is built on six 16x32 baseplates and includes a few brightly coloured pieces for support inside. Fortunately, these are concealed when the model is complete. Building the base does become repetitive as rows of headlight bricks and 1x3 arches line the edge of the model, although this is inevitable given the subject matter. Furthermore, there are few intricate building techniques in this area so the plinth can be assembled fairly quickly in relation to some of the later stages.
Hinge plates are used to form an octagonal shape at each corner of the structure, perfectly replicating the architecture of the real Taj Mahal. Lining up these stacked elements is tricky as any gaps between the bricks and plates are clearly visible as a result of their uniform colour. However, the resultant design looks superb and I was pleasantly surprised at the strength of the octagonal walls once the plates are fitted on top.
Uniting the six sections is very satisfying and gives an immediate impression of the model's incredible size. They are joined together using four Technic pins at each connection point so the structure is reasonably sturdy, although I would recommend separating it into at least two sections for transport as the plinth tends to flex very slightly when picked up.
The fourth bag contains the pieces for the minarets. These consist of 2x2x4 curved panels which are assembled around a Technic core to ensure they remain absolutely rigid. It is worth noting that the 3M axles with studs at the top of the minarets are dark tan rather than dark bluish grey as they were on the original model. This is the only difference between the two sets other than the inclusion of a brick separator and some revised elements. For instance, 6x6 dishes features hollow studs in 2008 but now have solid studs.
We next turn our attention to the mausoleum at the centre of the Taj Mahal complex. This is the most time consuming aspect of the build as four identical structures must be assembled, all of which include subtle details. Each section is constructed upon a Technic base and makes use of bricks with studs on the side to create vertical stripes. This is particularly interesting as the bricks have studs on two sides but only need one, reflecting the fact that the 1x1 brick with a stud on one side was not available when 10189 Taj Mahal was designed.
This sense that some of the building techniques and elements would probably be updated for a model created today becomes increasingly prevalent as construction continues. However, I found this rather enjoyable as it makes a change from the modern selection of brackets and bricks with studs on the side. There are still many fun building techniques to be discovered, including a section of offset wall fitted to the jumper plates shown in the image below.
The four corners of the mausoleum employ a similar range of building techniques and building these is also fairly repetitive, as one would anticipate. Some Technic bricks form a strong base once again and columns of trans-clear 1x1 plates replicate the tiny window panes of the real building. This is very effective but ensuring that they are all arranged neatly is monotonous as almost 300 1x1 plates are stacked at the corners alone.
I like how the angled sections are fitted using a single stud at the ground, first floor and roof levels, demonstrating the versatile geometry of the 3x6 corner plate upon which they are built. Cylindrical bricks disguise every seam between the angled and perpendicular walls. These will later line up with a series of decorative spires around the edge of the roof, perfectly replicating the design of the Taj Mahal in reality.
Technic pins join the eight sections to form a large cuboid, measuring 29cm across and 15cm in height. This is initially rather fragile but a web of Technic beams slots into the centre of the building, solidifying the entire structure. In fact, I was very surprised at the resultant strength of the model, so much so that you can pick up this entire assembly quite comfortably at this stage, without fear of it flexing or buckling.
A layer of reddish brown plates fits over the top of these Technic bricks, thereby completing the lower levels of the mausoleum. This is incredibly satisfying after many hours of repetitive construction and positioning a few exposed studs among rows of tiles is intriguing as one wonders exactly how they will be used during the next phase of the build.
Four chhatri, commonly known as kiosk domes, surround the central onion dome. Eight windows are arranged in a regular octagonal shape to support the dome, just as on the original building. These are constructed using layered plates that face in five directions and a single 3x3 dish completes the elegant shape very nicely. You will find some brightly coloured elements inside but these are not visible with all four sides of the dome in place.
A cylindrical drum elevates the onion dome and this is among the most interesting aspects of the entire build. Click hinges are used to create a sixteen-sided prism of 2x10 and 3x10 stud faces which combine to form a reasonably consistent curve around the entire circumference of the drum. The structure looks rather fragile at first glance as it includes no central column but the presence of long plates and bricks ensures that it remains rigid, even with the additional weight of the large dome on top.
Curved surfaces are rarely suited to the angular nature of LEGO bricks, particularly where they curve in multiple directions, but the Taj Mahal's famous onion dome is beautifully sculpted. Just as with the small kiosk domes, layers of plates form a shallow arc and these are attached sideways using a few bricks with studs on the sides. Nine separate sections make up the dome but the final shape is almost seamless, particularly when viewed from a distance. This was a highlight of the building experience for me.
Placing the finial on top of the central dome brings the construction process to a fitting conclusion. It is undoubtedly arduous at times but includes some brilliant building techniques and completing the set gives a real sense of achievement. 10256 Taj Mahal's repetitive build is reminiscent of 10253 Big Ben, although the earlier set includes smaller details which must be assembled many times over while this one involves building identical large sections, usually only four times to reflect the design of the real mausoleum.
The Completed Model
The scale of 10256 Taj Mahal does not become apparent until it is complete, measuring 51cm in both width and depth as well as 43cm high. Finding somewhere to display this behemoth is therefore very difficult but it is undoubtedly worthy of display, featuring a spectacular array of architectural details and a surprisingly varied colour scheme as tan, reddish brown and medium blue accents complement the predominant white marble beautifully.
A series of tiny archways surrounds the base on which the Taj Mahal stands, matching the source fairly closely. These features are considerably deeper than those seen on the real structure but improving upon them would be very difficult at this scale and I love the use of headlight bricks to complete the decorative carvings. The tiled surface around the plinth is also represented using 208 turntable bases which show part of the blue baseplates underneath. This technique is very effective but dark red would have been a more appropriate colour for the baseplates in order to better match the real tiled surface.
Minarets are situated at each corner of the mausoleum complex. These tall structures include some lovely scrolling details as well as golden finials, represented here using yellow parts. Pearl gold would have been far more appropriate in my opinion, although the original set featured yellow decorations so this model must as well. It is also unfortunate that there is not room to include the eight windows of the real minarets but I think four is a reasonable alternative at this scale.
Most of the architectural detail is focused upon the mausoleum that lies at the heart of the Taj Mahal. This spectacular structure includes five domes, 28 arched pishtaqs and 16 spires which are known as guldastas. The building includes a remarkable level of textured detail and some subtle accent colours, most notable of which are the medium blue stripes running across the walls of the lower level and around the base of the main dome.
Rows of 1x2 bricks with a grille profile are found on the interior surfaces of the pishtaqs, representing the intricate carvings on the real building. The inscriptions around the archways on each side of the Taj Mahal are also included as 1x2 grilles and 1x1 tiles are fitted over dark red plates. I like this design but the shape of the arches could have been improved upon using 1x3x3 brick with bow, a piece introduced in 2013. However, the nature of this set prohibits the use of modern elements and I find this quite charming.
The kiosk domes look splendid against the reddish brown roof and I like the yellow finials which add a welcome splash of colour. Building such small domed shapes is very difficult using layered plates but it works remarkably well here, matching the technique used at a much larger scale for the central dome. Alternating 1x2 and 2x2 tiles form some brickwork texture around the drum beneath the dome and a line of medium blue tiles, beneath 1x1 clips, creates a wonderful pattern.
Studs cover almost the whole of the central onion dome. The real surface is far smoother so I can see why the exposed studs would bother some people, especially as a considerable range of curved slopes are available today. However, I like the studded exterior which is consistent across the entire model and makes 10256 Taj Mahal feel as though it is truly built from LEGO. In addition, the designer has found room for some realistic details as a decorative lotus design surrounds the spire at the peak of the dome, just as on the actual building.
The Taj Mahal is one of the world's most spectacular structures and this model is similarly impressive, offering almost unrivaled display value due to its tremendous architectural detail. More colourful sets are often superior in this respect but the overwhelming abundance of white elements is very striking and looks splendid alongside a few subtle accents of yellow, tan and medium blue. The set is remarkably sturdy too, employing some Technic pieces to strengthen the model where necessary but not compromising its outward appearance.
Modern elements could definitely have been used to improve certain aspects of the model, although not necessarily in the ways that I was anticipating. It must also be acknowledged that construction is tedious at times, befitting the symmetry vital to the architecture of the Taj Mahal. Despite these flaws, this is a magnificent set and I think it offers good value for money at a price of £299.99 or $369.99. I would therefore recommend 10256 Taj Mahal to those seeking an impressive architectural model. Hopefully it will be available again soon.
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This set was provided for review by The LEGO Group but the review is an expression of my own opinions.