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.
Box and contents
The box is the usual sturdy top-flap-opening type that all Architecture sets are packed in.
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.
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.
The 128 page perfect bound manual contains background information about the buildings in addition to the instructions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
San Francisco is known for its hills and steep roads so this microscale depiction rightfully includes landscaping.
Once the painted ladies and other smaller structures have been added to the scene, the bridge is built to complete the model.
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!
Of course, it really only works when viewing it from the left or head-on, From the right, it plays tricks with your mind!
The cables have been formed using flex-tube which I believe appears here in dark red for the first time.
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.
Alcatraz island is certainly nowhere near the bridge: that would make escaping far too easy!
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.
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.
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.