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Free Universal Construction Kit

2012 | Golan Levin and Shawn Sims

Free Universal Construction Kit

The Free Universal Construction Kit is a matrix of adapter bricks that enable complete interoperability between ten popular childrens construction toys. By allowing any piece to join to any other, the Kit encourages totally new forms of intercourse between otherwise closed systems. As with other grassroots interoperability remedies, the Free Universal Construction Kit implements proprietary protocols in order to provide a public service unmet, or unmeetable, by corporate interests.

The Free Universal Construction Kit is not a product, but a provocation. It offers working adapters between Lego, Duplo, Fischertechnik, Gears! Gears! Gears!, KNex, Krinkles (Bristle Blocks), Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys, Zome, and Zoobadapters which can be downloaded for free from various sharing sites as a set of 3D models suitable for reproduction by personal manufacturing devices like the Makerbot (an inexpensive, open-source 3D printer). In so doing, the Free Universal Construction Kit prompts consideration about intellectual property, open-source culture, and reverse engineering as a mode of cultural practice.

Opening doors to new creative worlds is one major reason we created the Free Universal Construction Kit. Another is that we believe expertise shouldnt be disposableand that childrens hard-won creative fluency with their toys shouldnt become obsolete each Christmas. By allowing different toy systems to work together, the Free Universal Construction Kit makes possible new forms of forward compatibility, extending the value of these systems across the life of a child.

In producing the Free Universal Construction Kit, we hope to demonstrate a model of reverse engineering as a civic activity: a creative process in which anyone can develop the necessary pieces to bridge the limitations presented by mass-produced commercial artifacts. We hope that the Kit will not only prompt people to create new designs, but more importantly, to reflect on our relationship with material mass-cultureand the rapidly-evolving ways in which we can better adapt it to our imaginations.

The Free Universal Construction Kit comprises nearly 80 two-way adapters. These allow each of the different construction toys (Lego, Tinkertoy, Fischertechnik etc.) to interface with any of the other supported systems. Prior to modeling, the dimensions of the various toy connectors were reverse-engineered with an optical comparator fitted with a digital read-out accurate to less than one ten-thousandth of an inch (0.0001in., or 2.54 microns). The resulting precision ensures that the Free Universal Construction Kit actually works, enabling tight snap-fits between custom and commercial components.

The Kit was conceived and developed by Golan Levin and Shawn Sims, and released through the Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab and Synaptic Lab collectives. The Kit was developed with support from the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, and is represented, for legal purposes, by Adapterz, LLC.

Project Media

  • The official web site of the Free Universal Construction Kit is http://fffff.at/free-universal-construction-kit.
  • Complete STL files for the Kit are available here (45 Mb). Note: units are inches.
  • An archive of high-resolution photographs of the Kit can be found in this Flickr photoset.
  • A print-quality PDF of the Kit grid can be found here (3 Mb).
  • In the video below, recorded at the 2012 Eyeo Festival, Golan Levin briefly presents the origins and development of the Free Universal Construction Kit. [Vimeo YouTube]

  • Select Press
    The Free Universal Construction Kit has been discussed in a range of academic and popular publications, including Sculpture Magazine, WIRED, Forbes, Hyperallergic.com, BoingBoing, and Slashdot:

    Benchoff, Brian. "Connecting Toy Blocks with a Universal Construction Set", Hackaday, 3/20/2012.
    Chayka, Kyle. "The Almost Anonymous of the Digital Art World", Hyperallergic.com, 4/19/2013.
    Connor, Michael. "3 Excellent Uses of 3D Printing from Eyebeams F.A.T. Gold Exhibition" Rhizome.org, 4/18/2013.
    Doctorow, Cory. "3D-printed adapter bricks allow interconnection between ten kids construction toys." BoingBoing, 3/19/2012.
    Greenberg, Andy. "How A Geek Dad And His 3D Printer Aim To Liberate Legos." Forbes Magazine, 4/23/2012.
    Gunn, Ali. "FutureEverything 2014: Tools for the Unknown Future." The Skinny, 4/9/2014.
    Keats, Jonathon. "MoMA Envisions A Future In Which Designers Become Political Philosophers", Forbes Life, 3/23/2015.
    Keats, Jonathon. "The This Is For Everyone exhibition reveals future of philosophy," New Scientist, 12/27/2015.
    Keller, JK. "Design: The Free Universal Construction Kit". 2Paragraphs, 9/23/2013.
    Koch, Simon. "Des hackers rconcilient les briques de jeux incompatibles." Le Matin, 4/12/2012.
    Krassenstein, Brian. "Free 3D Printable Adapters Allow Kids To Connect Legos, KNex, Tinkertoys and 7 Other Construction Sets", 3DPrint.com, 7/14/2014.
    Lange, Alexandra. "The New Cooper Hewitt", The New Yorker, 12/12/2014.
    Liszewski, Andrew. "Adapter Kit Lets Your Lego Bricks and Lincoln Logs Play Together." Gizmodo, 3/19/2012.
    Masnick, Mike. "Free 3D-Printable Kit To Connect Different Toy Construction Sets Released - But Partially Blocked Due To Patents." Techdirt, 3/20/2012.
    ODwyer, Rachel. "Bits that Matter". In Neural.it 43: Networked Tangibility, p.39. 12/2012. ISSN: 2037-108X.
    Popeson, Pamela. "This Is for Everyone: Free Play" INSIDE/OUT (MoMA NYC Blog), 3/27/2015.
    Rinck, Jonathan. "Democratizing Design". Sculpture Magazine, 10/7/2015.
    RTV Slovenija," Golan Levin - F.U.C.K. & QR kode za digitalne nomade." 4/17/2014.
    Sharwood, Simon. "Culture jammers connect Lego clones with 3D printer files." The Register, 4/10/2012.
    Slashdot. "3D Printer Models For Universal Construction Toy Connectors." 3/21/2012.
    Sterling, Bruce. "The Free Universal Construction Kit from F.A.T." Wired News, 3/19/2012.
    Stinson, Liz. "Inspiring Objects Designed for Everyone, From Arduino to a Soy Sauce Bottle." Wired.com, 2/19/2015.
    Warnier, C., et al. (Eds.) Printing Things: Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing. Gestalten, 4/2014. ISBN: 978-3-89955-516-5.

    Select Exhibitions
    The Free Universal Construction Kit has been accessioned into the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, NYC), and the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. It has also been presented in the following exhibitions, among others:

    #NODE17 (Node Forum for Digital Arts). Knstlerhaus Mousonturm, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. 6/26/2017-7/2/2017.
    3D, Printing the World. Curated by Carmen Baselga and Hctor Serrano. Espacio Fundacin Telefnica, Madrid, Spain. 6/14/2017-9/14/2017.
    Climactic: Post Normal Design. Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. 11/4/2016-12/11/2016.
    This Is for Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good MoMA (NYC), Curated by Paola Antonelli. 2/20151/2016.
    F.A.T. GOLD: San Francisco. Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco. Curated by Lindsay Howard. 5/21/2015 - 5/31/2015.
    Making a Difference / A Difference in Making: Exploring the Added Value of 3D Printing. Bozar Center of Fine Arts, Palais Des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium. Curated by Marta Mal-Alemany, 4/24/2015 - 6/7/2015.
    Short Cuts. Kunsthaus CentrePasquArt, Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. 4/19/2015 6/14/2015.
    Creative Technologies. Macy Gallery, Columbia University, New York City, 6/1/2015 6/22/2015.
    Beautiful Users. Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York City. Curated by Ellen Lupton. 10/2014 - 4/2015.
    NeutraaL. Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam. 4/17/2014 - 5/4/2014.
    F.U.C.K. & QR Codes for Digital Nomads, Aksioma Project Space, Ljubljana, Slovenia. 4/23/2014 - 5/9/2014.
    F.A.T. Gold: Free Art and Technology. MU ArtSpace, Eindhoven, Netherlands. 11/2013 - 1/2014.
    CLICK Festival: F.A.T. Lab (Too Lazy to Fail). Elsinore, Denmark, 5/8/2013-5/12/2013.
    Designs of the Year, London Design Museum, London. 3/20/2013 - 7/7/2013.
    F.A.T. Gold: Five Years of Notorious R&D. Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology, New York City. 4/1/2013 - 4/20/2013.
    Museum As Manufacturer, Museum of Arts and Design, NYC, 3/12/2013 - 6/09/2013.
    Singularit Exposition, Biennale Internationale Design Saint-tienne, France. 3/14/2013 - 3/31/2013.
    The Lab, organized by Ars Electronica, at ITU Telecom World 2013, 11/19/2013 - 11/22/2013, Bangkok, Thailand.
    The Science of Digital Fabrication, Center for Bits and Atoms, MIT, 3/7/2013.
    Ars Electronica Festival, Linz, Austria. 8/30/2012 - 9/3/2012.

    Images (click to enlarge)

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