In the Buttliere family’s Buffalo Grove home, the Eiffel Tower shares a table with the World Trade Center complex, Toronto’s CN Tower, and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. A row of shops sits on top of an entertainment center, with cotton balls representing snow artfully arranged on the rooftops.
Each building is a 1:650 scale model assembled entirely out of LEGOs and designed and constructed by Rocco Buttliere, a senior.
Buttliere first became interested in LEGOs when he was in first grade and selling popcorn for his Cub Scout troop. He earned enough points to win his first set, a Harry Potter-themed kit.
Two years ago, he started designing and building models of skyscrapers, having been influenced by the work of Spencer Rezkalla, a fellow designer of LEGO models.
"My models are based off his work," Buttliere said. "They might look similar, but I use a different technique to make each model unique."
He does not use glue to hold the bricks together, reasoning that he can simply piece a model back together if it breaks.
Buttliere emphasized that he does not “play” with LEGOs. Indeed, it definitely is not play; Buttliere designs and assembles each skyscraper, usually taking as much as three months to complete one model. Simply starting a project can take weeks, as Buttliere is particular regarding which color of bricks he will use for a skyscraper. He also acknowledged the difficulty of incorporating details to scale and in such a small space. His website details the number of bricks and time used to complete a building.
“I don’t want cost to push me from using certain colors for the building to look right,” he explained, noting he typically purchases pieces from LEGO-specific websites and has waited as long as one month for a shipment from overseas. He estimated he spent almost $2,000 in LEGO pieces since he started building skyscrapers two years ago.
Carla, his mother, quickly pointed out that Buttliere paid for 90 percent of his LEGOs himself by doing small jobs.
Buttliere uses a computer program to help him design a skyscraper. In addition, he has traveled to downtown Chicago to take extensive pictures of a skyscraper, including street-level views.
An Eagle Scout with Troop 140, Buttliere is the third of four boys. His parents did not have previous experience with using LEGOs for architectural models before Buttliere started constructing his skyscrapers.
“Our other sons played with the kits, but not on this level,” Carla said, gesturing toward Buttliere’s models.
His hobby is definitely a family affair, with his parents accompanying him to LEGO conventions. Last summer, Buttliere and his father, Randy, attended Brickworld, a convention created by Adult Fans of LEGOs.
"Rocco had a few of his skyscrapers on display, and it was just great to see people in their 40s and 50s coming up to Rocco and asking 'How did you do that?'" Randy said.
"When Rocco sets a goal, he finds a way to finish it," Carla said. "He's very determined in his goals."
Buttliere doesn’t have plans to walk away from LEGOs. He recently applied to the Illinois Institute of Technology, with the goal of eventually becoming a set designer for LEGO. He also is designing a model of the World Financial Center in New York.
Some of Buttliere’s skyscraper models are on display at . He will display additional skyscrapers and landmarks from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 3 at the library.
"I want to do this exhibit at the library because I want to show kids that LEGOs aren't just something you do from the time you're 6 until you're 10. The LEGOs can help you mathematically, too," he explained. "Whatever someone's hobby is, it doesn't matter. It's what you like to do."
Chris Gibson, the library's associate director of public communications, is excited about Buttliere's exhibit, noting that some of his models previously had been on display at the library.
"Rocco has quite a collection, so it'll be neat to see," she said. "Hopefully, this will encourage other patrons to share their collections at the library."