Meet the Utah father behind the @salt_lego_city Instagram account

In just three months, Philip Sadler has garnered more than 6,000 followers on his relatively new Instagram account @salt_lego_city, where he posts LEGO brick recreations of Salt Lake City landmarks and businesses — from restaurants to bookstores to just about anything else a local would recognize.

“There are these amazing culture nests that are on every block,” Sadler said. “I want to highlight these areas so that people associated with Utah can get in touch with them and show them to their friends and family to discuss together in a light-hearted forum.”

Some of the “buildings” Sadler, who grew up in Chicago, has designed include the library in downtown Salt Lake City, the Gilgal Sculpture Garden, and the Dee’s Family Restaurant sign in the Sugar House.

(Philip Sadler) A Lego replica of the Dee’s Family Restaurant sign in the Sugar House. According to the restaurant’s website, the restaurant’s founder, Dee Anderson, began serving hamburgers in Utah in 1931. Today, Dee’s has three locations in Utah.

Along with a few different photo angles and sometimes an accelerated video of the Lego bricks being digitally assembled, the posts often include a lot of background information, like when a landmark was built or a fun fact. Of the Dee’s sign he wrote: “I use this sign for driving instructions more often than I care to admit.”

As a father of two, Sadler said he works with Lego because the building block toys are almost instantly recognizable and “evoke a sense of nostalgia.” His daughter Remy, 11, and son Jack, 2, both enjoy playing with them.

“The inspiration for many of these creations [come from] my daughter,” Sadler said. “She definitely helps with ideas and sometimes with the builds themselves and the direction they should go.”

A team effort

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Remy Sadler, 11, is working with her father Philip Sadler to put together a Lego game on July 21, 2023.

Initially, Sadler focused more on creating larger landscapes in downtown Salt Lake City, but almost immediately his Instagram followers began asking for more specific landmarks like the 9th and 9th Whales, the much-discussed sculpture unveiled last year became.

“[There’s] so much attention to detail; “They recreated the wall paint and street signs and even threw the gnomes in,” Stephen Kesler, artist of the piece formerly known as “Out of the Blue,” said of Sadler’s recreation.

The garden gnomes were inspired by early protests against the proposed sculpture, when some anti-whaling neighbors placed gnomes in the roundabout where it was eventually erected.

(Philip Sadler) A Lego replica of the 9th and 9th whales, complete with garden gnomes at the base. Artist Stephen Kesler’s Salt Lake City sculpture was installed in 2022.

As Sadler’s follower count skyrocketed, the community became an ever-larger part of the project — so much so that he created a poll for people to take to ask what Lego replica they’d like to see next.

“I love that people are interacting with it by sending ideas,” Sadler said. “I feel like that adds a whole new dimension to how these things are designed so that they have a community aspect.”

Sadler uses a free computer-aided design platform called BrickLink Studio for most of his builds. The platform reproduces Lego bricks in exact size and color, making the design process similar to physically building its replicas. Instead, he’s able to work with an “endless supply of all sorts of colors and pieces.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Philip Sadler and his daughter are working together to create a Lego replica of a Salt Lake City landmark on July 21, 2023.

“Lego is prohibitively expensive for most people, especially at the scale I usually design. So I love the idea that you can theoretically become a Lego master without spending a dollar,” he said.

In the future, Sadler plans to convert more and more of his digital Lego creations into physical models for display around town. He also hopes others can contribute to the project by submitting their own Lego creations, which he can then share with his followers.

Hold a “magnifying glass” to Salt Lake City

Sadler began creating digital Lego replicas just a few months before he began publishing. It has become a way for him to “get a fuller grasp” of the city.

“I live here, I love it and I just want to be more and more a part of this culture,” he said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Philip Sadler laughs with his partner Angi Powell and their son Jack as Sadler and daughter Remy make Lego replicas on July 21, 2023.

When Sadler decides on a place to recreate, he usually visits it first before trying to figure out the history behind it, such as how long it’s been around and what difficulties its owners or creators may have faced in bringing it to life to keep in place.

“And so it’s a way for me to bring these important landmarks closer to the people of Salt Lake City,” he said.

Dave Ammott, an architectural historian, loves the report because it gets people to pay attention to what Salt Lake City, well, Salt Lake City is all about.

“Hopefully projects like this can in some way lead to investment and people valuing the real things so that they endure and the flavor of Salt Lake stays alive,” Ammott said.

Ammott said the idea of ​​humans recreating the world in miniature is a centuries-old tradition.

“It’s a way that we humans can perhaps understand the world and grasp it in all its complexity – reduce it and recreate it in our own way,” Ammott said.

Though the replicas are small, Sadler hopes his followers will get a small rush of endorphins from recognizing the locations in his posts.

“I hope they bring with them a greater sense of community,” he said, “like a slight sense of pride that the places they enjoy are also enjoyed by many others here in Salt Lake.”

(Philip Sadler) A digital Lego brick replica of The Claw, a 165ft tall, 190 tonne stage component once used by the band U2 on tour, which was installed at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper in 2019.

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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