Two for Tuesday: Adrian Egli

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Good evening constant reader, its happy hour and our bartender Lloyd is setting them up neat, just the way you like it. Tonight’s V.I.P. in the Manifesto lounge is an O.G. savant that you may not be familiar with, in part because he’s never been one to seek the spotlight and in part because he hasn’t posted much in the last few years (with the exception of convention photos).  As a connoisseur of fine models you should get to know him though, because he’s responsible for some of the greatest large-scale bridges online and helped push the envelope in the formative days of LUGNET and Brickshelf.  Above all that, Adrian Egli is just a good dude who deserves some props in a hobby that tends to forget the soft-spoken, urbane gentlemen that walk among us unnoticed in the herd of sweaty, often churlish mankinder.

I had the good fortune of meeting Adrian Egli on two seperate occasions: BricksWest 2003 and BrickFest PDX 2007.  Both encounters were unfortunately unremarkable, like driving a Hyundai or drinking a Rolling Rock and fall into the “drive by” variety of conversation that characterize all too much of the convention scene.  After nearly every one of the dozen cons I’ve attended, I’ve left feeling like I’d missed an opportunity to really connect with some of the people I wanted to.  Also, I think it’s fair to say that Adrian was a somewhat awkward guy back then or at the very least shy in public situations with idiots like me.  During both meetings Mr. Egli made solid eye-contact, politely listened to me ramble my praise about his bridges and thanked me for the complements.  But so say that there was a connection, or that we became fast-friends like other people in the TfT column would be a lie.  Adrian also didn’t seem that interested in my space ships (can’t say that I blame him) and the conversation just kind of died on the vine.  I think it might be different if I met him today, because back then I was a wide-eyed greenhorn and he’d already accomplished a great deal in terms his involvement in LUGs, LTCs, conventions and all that larger community stuff.  My convention-based interests were limited to enjoying intoxicants with like-minded sci-fi nerds and people-watching all the magnificent weirdos our hobby has to offer.  But drive-by conversation aside, the builder and his builds made a lasting impression on me.

For tonight’s first shot, we’ll be examining the bridge that first captivated me over a decade ago when I first became aware of Adrian’s work on LUGNET, where I would often read his posts about building curves, LTCs and trying to get a LUG off the ground in our mutual home town, San Diego.  I’m going to date this bridge in the very early 2000’s, I wish I could offer a more precise date, but his Brickshelf account is gone and the dates on Flickr refer to when he uploaded the shots, not when they were originally posted online.  You’ll find very little commentary or statistical information in Adrian’s Flickrstream, which is a shame, but very much in line with his humility about what he builds and his quiet demeanor.  I would also like to mention that San Diego is an underrated city for bridges, it has a little bit of everything and you can certainly see echoes of them in Adrian’s work.

For my money, this lovely curved suspension bridge encapsulates everything that makes Egli’s work so memorable and important to the history of the hobby.  Of course you’ve got the curved road, which might not seem that difficult today, but back then this was like alien technology to many of us, or purely theoretical in nature.  Then you’ve got those striking V-shaped support stands, which are impressive creations in their own right.  Lastly you’ve got the suspension factor, something I still don’t see done very often.  And yes…yes…we all know the boilerplate axiom that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, that size alone should not be a determining factor for brilliance.  But look at the size of this thing in comparison to the furniture and the fireplace in the background…if that doesn’t impress you more than a spaceship you can fit into the palm of your hand, you’re either lying, possess questionable faculties or you’re a god-damn communist.  This model also doubles as a legitimate piece of home furnishing!  Talk about a conversation starter, I don’t know if I’d have the heart to tear this thing down if it were mine, this thing should be preserved for permanent display by a convention or that oddball Lego museum I hear strange whisperings about.  For my money, this is a wonder of the ancient AFOL world and an important slice of action that showed me what was possible and stoked the fire of my imagination at a crucial moment.

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For our second shot, I selected this little number, again from the mid 2000’s.  It doesn’t have a name, none of them do, they are named after the seasons Winter StudySpring Study …etc, there is no tedious backstory to distract from the build.  I like his naming conventions, and the implicit notion that a particular model took an entire season to build, it kind of drives home the committment involved to see such a project through.  What’s also lost in the ‘bigger isn’t better’ argument is that many people who like to play that particular trumpet don’t have the attention span or endurance to build something on this scale and complexity.  Yes, some can’t afford to build something this big but it’s not the limiting factor.

I cannot overstate the personal importance of this bridge and the inspiration it provided to my own build, Zero Hour on Highway 44.  I didn’t quite have enough space or gray brick to pull off a bridge at this scale so I opted for a double-decker highway, but without Adrian’s work I don’t know if I would have dreamed big enough to build something this ambitious on my own.  I’d previously built a slightly larger project, but that was with major contribututions from two other builders and it didn’t have nearly the same height.  At the time, I thought seriously about reaching out to Adrian to see if he wanted to collaborate, but as I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I didn’t feel like I knew him well enough and that it wouldn’t be his bag.  If I had it all to do over again I would change that, and I don’t rule out working with him somewhere down the line.  San Diego is only a short drive from Vegas…

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Another reason I wanted to talk about Adrian this week is because in addition to being a great builder, he also suffers from epilepsy and uses the brick for a way to cope with it.  I stumbled on this article  in the San Diego Union-Tribune a couple of years after meeting him and I appreciate his bravery for putting it all out there in the hope that it might help somebody suffering in silence.  Normally I would never reference a person’s medical condition in a blog post, I’ve only done it once before when Chris Giddens had his public bout with cancer so I don’t write this lightly.  Much like Chris with his condition, Adrian is comfortable talking about epilepsy and advocating for his peers in a public forum, so I figured he wouldn’t mind me mentioning it as a part of this story.  Although I can only think of one other builder who suffers from epilepsy, I don’t think this kind of relationship between the brick and health is all that unique.  Whether it’s cancer, epilepsy, autism or clinical depression, I know from my travels both online and in person that a number of us suffer from serious ailments and use building as a form of therapy.  If you don’t want to click on the article, here is the relevant quotation:

Adrian Egli of San Diego also has continuing difficulty with convulsive seizures. Not yet 40, Egli has been unable to work full-time and is soon to go on Social Security disability. His hobby, which he credits with helping him overcome depression, is building structures with Legos.

Egli said he got epilepsy after being struck by a car when he was 5. He went years without a seizure, and was even considered cured. Then he had a convulsive seizure in a ninth-grade class.

Suddenly, students didn’t want to be near him. “I felt like a freak,” Egli said.

Egli spoke at a meeting-related press conference sponsored by UCB Pharma, a maker of epilepsy drugs. The company is trying to address the stigma of epilepsy by sponsoring a program to place service dogs with those with epilepsy.

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Photo credit: Joe Meno

For this particular feature on the Manifesto I like to conclude the proceedings with a photo of the builder in question. I do this to help you put a face to the name and sometimes with the express intent to take the piss out of the builder. This is one of those times. Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder.

Even though it’s nowhere nearly as bad as Dan Rubin’s now infamous pink version from a previous installment of Two for Tuesdays, Adrian is sporting the uniform of the damned…a polo shirt.  The color and lack of corporate logo certainly help his case and it is accessorized with a perfectly serviceable belt…but I simply cannot go on the record endorsing this most hated style of shirt.  Adrian, you’re better than this, leave the polo shirt for golfers, prep-school attendees and low-level corporate yes-men.  At your age you still manage to have it all: good teeth, a full head of hair and a distinct lack of a spare tire that plagues so many of the early generation of builders.   Please don’t let that go to waste my friend, there are other more humane options out there.  I hate to pick on a guy with epilepsy but master bridge-builder or not, old school AFOL or not, I’m afraid it’s time to…

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