Review: 21043 San Francisco

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Like the first European settlers, LEGO's Architecture Skyline series has been working its way westwards across the North American continent and has now reached the west coast.

21043 San Francisco is the tenth in the series and might just be my favourite.


Box and contents

The box is the usual sturdy top-flap-opening type that all Architecture sets are packed in.

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The back lists the structures that are included in the model which are, from left to right, the 'painted ladies', 555 California St., Transamerica Pyramid, Salesforce Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island. Coit Tower and Fort Point are also modelled, but not labelled.

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The set's 565 parts are packaged in numbered bags, which is not normally the case for Architecture sets.

There are a number of re-coloured parts and I'll direct you to New Elementary's excellent article about them if you want to find out more.

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The 128 page perfect bound manual contains background information about the buildings in addition to the instructions.

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Construction

As is always the case with Skyline sets the bulk of the volume of ABS in the box goes into constructing the three-plate-high base, which is 36 studs long.

After exhausting the parts in bag #1, the base and foundations of downtown SF have been completed.

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Salesforce Tower is the first building to be erected. Here you can see how its curved form is constructed using an internal SNOT tower clad in plates and curved bricks.

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Parts in bag #2 complete the three named skyscrapers and also several others in front of them.

The white Transamerica pyramid consists of tiles mounted vertically and two 2x8 spikes either side: a simple but surprisingly effective way of capturing the distinctive outline of the building.

Note the sloped road -- complete with cable cars (jumper plates) -- that will be behind the painted ladies.

View image at flickr

It's uncommon to find printed pieces used to depict details such as windows in Architecture sets -- they are usually implied using other methods -- but here printed 1x2 bricks have been used on the Alcatraz island buildings, and one of the smaller skyscrapers in the picture above.

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San Francisco is known for its hills and steep roads so this microscale depiction rightfully includes landscaping.

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Once the painted ladies and other smaller structures have been added to the scene, the bridge is built to complete the model.

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The completed model

What's particularly interesting about it is the way forced perspective has been used for the bridge. Given that most people will see the the real bridge with a view such as this it makes perfect sense to do it that way, not to mention that to model it to scale would require a base quite a lot longer than 36 studs!

The towers have been modelled as if looking at them head-on rather than from the side. The road goes behind the near tower and in front of the far, not between the sides of them as you would expect. Despite all this, it seems to work!

View image at flickr

Of course, it really only works when viewing it from the left or head-on, From the right, it plays tricks with your mind!

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The cables have been formed using flex-tube which I believe appears here in dark red for the first time.

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The downtown San Francisco area looks fantastic and unlike any other Skyline set, thanks to the landscaping and additional buildings that have been included which make it more like a model of an actual place rather than a collection of buildings, although I understand that in reality the structures are nowhere near each other.

View image at flickr

Alcatraz island is certainly nowhere near the bridge: that would make escaping far too easy!

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The painted ladies look tiny against the skyscrapers behind, as indeed they should. Colourful cable cars traverse the steep road behind them.

The white 1x1 plates with black square printed on one side, used to good effect in the painted ladies, first appeared in this year's Ninjago sets, I believe.

View image at flickr


Verdict

The landscaping, additional buildings and the clever perspective of the bridge set this skyline apart from others in the series. Often they look look like the structures have been plonked on the base somewhat randomly but that's not the case here.

I've never been to SF and don't know the significance of most of the buildings but I still feel that the spirit of the city -- its steep roads, colourful old houses, modern architecture, and of course that bridge -- has been captured superbly. In fact, it makes me want to visit, so from that regard it's a successful model!

It'll be available from 1st January, probably for around £49.99 / £39.99.

View image at flickr


A local's verdict

Brickset staff member MeganL lives across the bay from SF. Here's what she thinks of it:

I was very excited when I heard that the Architecture Skyline series would feature San Francisco! Like many others I was curious as to which buildings the designer would feature in the set. Based on previous Skyline sets, I expected that the layout would be very similar to the others in that it would be a series of buildings situated next to each other. I am very pleasantly surprised that this set resembles a regular skyline as opposed to buildings all in a line.

While the set does resemble a regular skyline, it certainly doesn't represent San Francisco's skyline in reality. Salesforce Tower is probably the farthest away from the Golden Gate Bridge, and yet it's right next to it in the model. However, issues around accuracy with respect to location is not unique to this skyline, and the finished product still looks quite nice.

I can't fault the designer's selection of landmarks to feature. The city is synonymous with the Golden Gate Bridge, so it makes sense that it's the most striking part of the skyline. Huw is correct that Alcatraz is nowhere near that close to the bridge, but you really can't have a depiction of San Francisco without including it!

555 California, formerly known as the Bank of America Center, was the tallest building in the western U.S. when it was built. That honour was taken over by the Transamerica Pyramid some years later - an iconic building that was the tallest building in San Francisco until earlier this year, when Salesforce Tower opened. The inclusion of Salesforce Tower was a matter of some debate among local AFOLs when the set was announced - some preferred to have the skyline built without it, saying that it would be more representative of the "classic" San Francisco. I like that it's been included, and it certainly provides a great focal point next to the bridge.

I'm happy to see that Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill was included - it's one of my favourite places to take visitors to San Francisco. The Painted Ladies (San Francisco locals like to tell everyone that these are the *original* Painted Ladies) make for a really nice touch in the foreground. Fort Point I had to Google (since I've always thought of that landmark as the building at the end of Crissy Field!), but I like how the designer has included a couple of transparent blue cheese slopes to represent the waves that the surfers like to ride offshore there.

A minor quibble I have is with the cable cars, where it looks like there are one red and one blue. I've never seen a cable car in any colour other than red. I also like that miscellaneous other buildings have been included - one has a not-so-passing resemblance to the building where I work!

The designer has managed to pack in a number of iconic San Francisco sights in a small space. However, I do wish that a couple more were represented: first would be Lombard Street, aka "the crookedest street in the world". It could have been added to the landscaping, but would have been difficult to incorporate considering the depth of the model. Another would be Dragon's Gate, the southern entrance into Chinatown. There's also the beautiful new eastern span of the Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco to my town of Oakland. However I recognize that would make the set much longer and that would be impractical.

All in all, it's a great set, and I can't wait to get a copy of my own.


Thanks to LEGO for providing the set for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

37 comments on this article

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By in United States,

"Open up that Golden Gate, California here I come!!!!"
-Al Jolson, The Jolson Story

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By in United States,

Great review, Huw, and thanks for the additional detail, MeganL. This set looks great but I’m on the fence regarding the bridge. I’d have to see it in person, but I think it would have been better to have an actual bridge than a forced-perspective silhouette.

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By in United States,

Minor correction on
“The white 1x1 plates with black square printed on one side, used to good effect in the painted ladies, first appeared in this year's Ninjago sets, I believe.”

I think Ninjago City is a 2017 set, and that’s where I know the piece from. Used to make the lettering above the comic shop.

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By in United States,

It needs a little brown swirly piece at street level to represent all the dookie in the city.

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By in United States,

@isaac the animator
San Francisco is a video game with shooting in it and it’s wholly inappropriate for a kids’ toy. SMH LEGO has really lost their way. :P

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By in United States,

Where is Starfleet Academy? Or am I a few centuries off?

For all the Treky Bricksetters.

"One of the buildings looks like the place where I work"
Brickset towers has a cameo in a Lego set?

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By in Czech Republic,

Im not sure that I would use the word "erected" with the Salesforce tower. That object (pardon me) looks pretty much like a phallus..

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By in United States,

The Architecture theme seems to be getting better and better! This is great! Might actually have to get this one. So many sets to buy with so few dollars...

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By in United States,

I live in San Francisco. Love how they captured the topography and buildings!!! Not sure the San Francisco Bay is that blue and where is the representation of a techie commuter bus that we are filled with? ;)

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By in Austria,

This is one of only 3 Architecture sets I'd ever buy! It looks great, especially Golden Gate Bridge!

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By in United States,

I still think the Salesforce tower is secretly a rocket for techies to escape an imminent extinction event...really no other reason for how big it is and how it looks placed where it is...I'm sure in space it will combine with the new round Apple saucer "building".

really folks you can't make this stuff up

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By in United States,

I was born in SF (live in Palo Alto), and had no idea this was coming! Looks delightful and sums up SF's best! Would have liked more Chinatown/Presidio but this is fantastic.

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By in New Zealand,

Arguably the best looking Architecture set yet. It definitely benefits from actually looking like a skyline rather than a "usual suspects" line-up!

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By in Australia,

Looks great as a generic no name futuristic looking microscale city set. It doesn’t scream ‘San Francisco’ to me. Everything seems all bunched up together. Probably one of the worst Architecture sets in a while.

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By in United States,

I’m not sure how I feel about all the printing. If you’re going to do that for one building (or four), then why not for all?

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By in United States,

I think it's a beautiful "skyline" model, though I wonder how well it will blend with the others in the series, which are mustly much more linear in appearance. Likely to be a first day purchase!

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By in United Kingdom,

I think the grey slope at the front should have been printed to represent Lombard Street. It's the famous steep twisty road. That would have topped this set off perfectly.

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By in United States,

I've never considered buying the other skyline sets, but this one is a maybe. Has nothing to do with it being SF though.. I just find the colors and composition very appealing.

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By in Canada,

Using the Bird-of-prey from Outdoor People Pack for Star Trek reasons. Perhaps there is only one cable car and Steve McQueens car on that sloped road? And most what I know of San Fran is from TV, movies, and Grand Theft Auto San Andreas with its San Fierro

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By in United States,

The 1x1 white plates with the printed windows are reused in the Minecraft theme as turtle eggs.

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By in Canada,

I've grown to love this line and look forward to getting this years offerings when available.

Thanks again for your review and opinions.

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By in United States,

Love the illusion of perspective, very clever.

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By in Singapore,

@Issac I'll do you one better: Why is San Francisco?

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By in United States,

Oh wow! I don't own an Architecture set, but I'd buy this!

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By in United States,

The Architecture line is getting better and better, IMO. I agree with the forced perspective build as most people who view it will be from those angles. I just visited SF earlier this year and would love to get my hands on this one.

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By in United Kingdom,

This is a truly incredible set! I am going to San Francisco in a few years and this has only made me more excited!

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By in United States,

Very cool. Thanks Megan for the review!

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By in Hong Kong,

Very interesting and I really like the little landscape with the Painted Ladies, Alcatraz and Transamerica Pyramid but I'm not sure I really like the forced perspective of the Golden Gate (which must be one of the main reasons anyone would want to buy a San Francisco skyline). The single flexi-tube makes the bridge look kind of two-dimensional in my opinion. I think I would like it more if they could have somehow worked in a twin set of tubes to really exaggerate the perspective even more.

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By in United States,

Huw & Megan, thanks for the review. As a Bay Area resident I, too, have been looking forward to this skyline, and will be "first in line", on-line, to order it. Megan, 2 other landmarks that might have been interesting to include would have been the Sutro Tower and the Waldo, aka Robin Williams, Tunnel at the northern end of the bridge.

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By in United States,

I'm going to try switching around the left clip on the left-side tower to the front so the flex-tube attaches in front of the tower, then switch the right clip on the right-side tower so that the right-most flex-tube attaches in the back. I think that will enhance the forced perspective even better with the given configuration for the bridge.

And I have to agree with @legoed19 that the grey 1x2 slope at the center front of the left-side hill is meant to represent lombard street - it's actually farther west of koit tower but it's location on the set works to have a steep west to east downhill grade.

Great set!

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By in United States,

What's really missing from this set that would truly capture the realism of San FranSICKO would be microfig bums crapping in the streets that are immune from police intervention that attack pedestrians daily, roads that lead to nowhere courtesy of Moonbeam Brown, and a never ending tradition of mayors that were completely unqualified for the job that were only installed because of "diversity."

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By in United States,

I live north of SF and will be driving across that bridge once again on New Year's Day on my way home from the airport. This set is a MUST BUY for me. Now if only they'd do Boston...

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By in United Kingdom,

Thanks for that mind-bending alternative view, Huw! That's a fun shot.

@Harkenx
Other than complain about it, what are YOU doing to improve the city?

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By in United States,

Love the bridge

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