Lego Model Aqueducts Bridge Ancient and Modern

Professor Gary Robbins, an expert on hydrology, assembles a model of the Bargegal aqueduct and mill, a Roman watermill complex located near the town of Arles in southern France. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Professor Gary Robbins, an expert on hydrology, assembles a model of the Bargegal aqueduct and mill, a Roman watermill complex near the town of Arles in southern France, that could produce enough flour to feed 12,000 people a day. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Gary Robbins, professor of geology in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, is an expert on hydrology. He’s involved with state-of-the-art groundwater research and teaching, and is a recognized expert on the fate and transport of groundwater contamination and groundwater supply sustainability. He also likes to play with LEGOs.

Robbins is the architect behind an exhibit of Roman aqueducts made from LEGOs on display in the Plaza Gallery of the Homer Babbidge Library until Oct. 24.

A Lego model of tThe Aqua Claudia, built between 38 AD and 52 AD and considered to be one of the finest of all Roman aqueducts. A photo of the aqueduct is shown for comparison. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The Aqua Claudia was built between 38 AD and 52 AD and is considered to be one of the finest of all Roman aqueducts. Some of its arches are more than 100 feet high. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Among the featured models is the Aqua Claudia, built in the first century AD by Emperors Caligula and Claudius, that brought water to Rome from Subiaco, 45 miles away. It is considered possibly the finest of all Roman aqueducts, with some of its arches rising more than 100 feet high. Also represented are the Baths of Caracalla, the second largest of Rome’s public baths, built between AD 212 and AD 216, during the reign of the Emperor Caracalla.

“I love both the architecture and the engineering of the aqueducts,” Robbins says. “They are functional and beautiful at the same time.

A model of the Baths at Caracalla,one of the last baths the Romans built in the third century. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

This model, constructed with hundreds of Lego pieces, depicts the Baths at Caracalla, one of the last baths the Romans built in the third century AD. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

“We take running water for granted,” he adds, “but were it not for Roman ingenuity, who knows how the world would have developed. As it was, with the aqueducts, they created a system that delivered running water and that led to indoor plumbing and sewer systems that helped control disease. Roman engineering was flawless, and they also managed to create fascinating architectural designs at the same time.”

But why LEGOs? To that question Robbins laughs and says, “You can credit my grandchildren for that. I have always liked to use online simulations as a teaching tool and I got the idea of creating three-dimensional computer simulations of aqueducts. But then I visited my grandchildren and saw the possibilities in their collection of LEGOs. That’s what got me started.”

A model of the High Bridge, centerpiece of the Old Croton Aqueduct, a 41-mile aqueduct built in the 19th century in the style of the Romans. A photo is shown for comparison. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Not all aqueducts were built by the Romans, but later structures followed a similar style. The High Bridge, a 41-mile aqueduct built between 1837 and 1842, carried water across the Harlem River to Manhattan. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

For the uninitiated, ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of the two Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”. Robbins notes that the colorful plastic pieces offer practically unlimited possibilities for creativity, and the fact that his grandchildren’s collection included tiny arches and columns that ‘spoke’ to him made it a natural leap for him to begin model building.

“These models are really good teaching tools,” he says, “but they’re also fun to build and to look at. There’s nothing wrong with making learning fun, and if my students smile while they’re learning about water transport, then so much the better.”

To see a model watermill in action, visit YouTube here.

A reception for exhibitors of this and other current exhibits at Babbidge Library will take place on Thursday, Aug. 28, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Plaza Gallery. The exhibit will be on display through Oct. 24.