Modulex Is LEGO’s Long Lost Cousin

An image of a Modulex brick (left) next to a LEGO brick right. Both are 4x2 studs, but the Modulex brick is much smaller at 20x10x5 mm vs the LEGO's 32x16x9.6 mm.

We love LEGO here at Hackaday, but did you know that LEGO spun off a parallel product line made for architectural models called Modulex?

[Peter Dibble] takes us on a deep dive through the history of Modulex, starting with Godtfred Kirk Christiansen needing a better way to model actual buildings after trying to design a house in LEGO. The LEGO brick’s 5:5:6 ratio proved challenging for modeling full-sized projects, so Modulex was conceived around a 1:1:1 ratio 5 mm cube. This change means Modulex is not compatible with LEGO System bricks.

As architectural styles morphed through the mid-20th Century, designs based around blocky shapes became passe, and Modulex pivoted to targeting factory and city planning customers. Products later branched out to include wall charts and Plancopy photocopy-able planners along with reconfigurable signage. Modulex (now ASI) still goes on as one of the biggest signage companies in the world, but discontinued the bricks in 2004. An attempt was made to revive Modulex bricks in 2015, but LEGO Group bought the company that had the rights to the bricks and has no intention of producing Modulex.

For more LEGO hacks, checkout this machine learning LEGO sorter or these giant LEGO-like pieces.

23 thoughts on “Modulex Is LEGO’s Long Lost Cousin

    1. I’d heard of FischerTechnik, but never saw it until this week: I found a set of model production lines designed to be operated by 24V PLCs, as training aids. They were promptly liberated from the dusty cupboard where they were hiding…

  1. Let’s not forget “American Plastic Bricks” by Elgo. They are dead ringers for Lego bricks, and came out in 1931 (a full decade before Legos). Coincidentally, the two company’s names are also amazingly similar.

    Elgo bricks are slightly larger, but have the same 8 bumps on top and 8 sockets on the bottom. Lego’s main innovation was to use a softer plastic, so the bricks are held together by friction.

    1. Before Elgo’s “American Plastic Bricks” a company called Halsam made “American Bricks” that were pressed wood. They were also 2×4 studs, although the bricks were 1:3:3, which made them easier to design with. They were made in the 1930’s, and my dad had huge piles of them. They did not snap together. They relied on gravity so they were really only suitable for building models of houses. Halsam later became Elgo.

      I remember Modulex because in the early days of the world wide web a guy was making a lot of ascii art using Modulex: big piece of hung art of like Mona Lisa made from the Modulex smooth-front pieces with letters on them, and using the relative density of the letters to make gray-scale photographs. That was about 1995, I think.

    1. Tente were available in USA through Hasbro. They were mostly sold in Children’s Palace but it never caught on.

      I still have a lot of them, mostly ships and a couple Transformers-esque sets.

  2. What about Microscale LEGO? I spent a while last night failing to find the dimensions of those bricks.

    The guy who attempted to restart Modulex production should have been able to just tell LEGO to go pound sand. Give it a different name and change what’s on the studs. Modulex had no special textures or other patentable, trademarkable, or copyrightable features on the bricks for architectural and other building design. The printing on the planner and sign pieces might be covered by copyright, but those are products made obsolete by large flatscreen displays.

    Since MEGA BLOKS won freedom from being sued by LEGO over making pieces dimensionally compatible with LEGO, LEGO shouldn’t be able to stop anyone from launching a Modulex compatible brick line, especially if the rights to the things, and the Modulex name, were bought from ASI.

    Even without such licensing, the design patents on all or most Modulex pieces should be long expired.

  3. Nice coïncience! Just some days ago I tried to remember that Mini-Lego’s name and failed. My father had a small starter or demo kit like amount of them and mentioned it were for architects and related use cases, but he might never have mentioned the name or it was regionally different? I’ve no idea why he hat them. Maybe back then they they gave some of these starter kits to teachers?

    1. I had one of the buckets of Tyco “Super Blocks” as a kid that are probably still mixed in with my LEGO collection. The bucket cracked and got thrown out, IIRC though.

      I had a bucket from another manufacturer (also 1980s) that had studs on the bucket lid so you could use it as a base. Similar bright red to the Super Blocks, but smaller and I can’t remember who made that one.

  4. The Rokenbok Construction toys were pretty awesome too. They’re technically going out of business though, shifting focus to a line of STEM toys instead of RC trucks and factory construction.

  5. I wonder if any 3D printer fans have been making their own Lego bricks. Or better still, how about a toy plastic injection molding machine so kids could make their own Lego bricks out of waste plastic?

    1. That reminds me,
      years ago Hackaday had an article about using 3D printers to build adapter pieces that allowed various building toy parts (e.g. LEGO, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs? and such) to connect together.

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