Taj Mahal [REVIEW] | LEGO Architecture
Theme: LEGO Architecture
Name: Taj Mahal (21056)
Price: €99.99 | $119.99
The Taj Mahal is the second largest LEGO Architecture set ever made, by piece-count at least. It’s the 30th “Landmark” set in the Architecture line, and LEGOs third representation of the iconic building.
The set released on June 1st 2021 (in Europe!) for €99.99 and comes with 2,022 pieces. This makes it the largest and joint-most expensive Architecture set available right now. With three other Architecture Landmark sets coming in at the exact same price, which one is best?
The set, like all Architecture sets, has no minifigures and no stickers. As such, those sections will be left out of this review
LEGO Architecture has always, in my opinion, had the best unboxing experience consistently among any theme. This set is no different. It comes in the classy, reusable box with the curved ‘arm’ slits. The set appropriately is branded as 18+, meaning you get that classy black boxart with the white greebling and subtle white background glow.
As usual with Architecture sets, as you unbox this set you get a few little messages to set the mood. When you open the first lid, you see a message that reads “Enjoy your building experience”. Similarly, on the inside of the box you’ll find another message on one side of the blacked out interior. This comes in the form of a quote by Edwin Arnold which reads “Not a piece of architecture… but the proud passions of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones”. This type of extra quoting is common in Architecture sets, and I love that they are keeping it up. It adds such a premium feel to the product.
LEGO Architecture, as a theme, has really pushed the envelope for these premium, adult-centred sets. No other theme consistently produces such high-quality, special unboxing experiences as these Architecture sets. I feel like, of all sets to be given the 18+ branding, Architecture sets truly deserve it.
The Instruction Manual
The instruction manual has a disappointingly short preamble section. LEGO must have gotten feedback that these sections are too long-winded or something, because there is shockingly little extra information here. You don’t even get a full page of information about the building. Instead you get two small paragraphs and literally half a page of just pure black. Of the other three pages, two are just large pictures, and the last one is information about the designer.
Even at that, the designer only gets a single paragraph with the vast majority of the page being essentially blank. This is incredibly disappointing to see. I loved sitting down and reading about the history and development of the landmark I’m about to build. With older sets, you’d get upwards of 4-6 pages of information and backstory for the set, and it would really set the mood for the rest of the build. This one just feels so lazy, and I don’t throw that word around lightly. For a building as iconic as the Taj Mahal, surely you’d have more to say than two tiny paragraphs? What a shame.
Something else that really surprised me was that the instructions are printed on a black background again. LEGO announced a while ago that they are moving back to the regular background colour for these 18+ sets. It seems Architecture is an exception to this. I’m honestly pretty happy to see this, because the Architecture theme had been using the black background for years before the 18+ range was introduced, and nobody had a problem with it. I hope they keep it moving forward as it really suits the premium feel of these sets.
The build experience was, for lack of a better word, grueling. Given the building’s shape, you would expect a lot of repetition, and you’d be right but also severely understating it.
The outside walls of the set were surprisingly fun to put together. They’re broken up into two sub-assemblies for each side, so its not as bad as it looks to put together. They are quick little builds that you just ‘patch’ on, which is always pretty enjoyable. There’s a fun little technique to get the 1×2 piece sticking out at the right angle at every corner too.
The next step though… dear god it was painful. In one go, you place down the outside three rows of tiles around the entire set. They are put together using six 1×1 square tiles on 2×3 plates. In itself, that doesn’t sound too bad, but you need to repeat this process 33 times… This, again, wouldn’t be too big a deal, if you didn’t have to centre each tile as you place it. If you don’t spend the extra few seconds per tile, you will end up with crooked and out-of-place looking tiles which look horrible. I thought by looking at the pictures that this section would be fun, but it was incredibly tedious. And the monotony and repetition doesn’t stop there…
Next you build the four arched entrances on each side of the building. You need to repeat the process twice for each side. Once you’ve finished that, Congratulations now do it again but with the tile colours inverted… again building two at a time, unless you want to rewind back multiple pages to repeat it again. These sections weren’t overly special in their construction either, with no techniques really grabbing my attention. They were just kind of long and repetitive.
The Four Corners
But at least that section is behind you. Now you can move on to bigger and better things!… Not exactly. The next step is building each of the four corners of the building… and they do look pretty similar to eachother…
These sections did offer some really interesting techniques in their construction though. To get the inside details of the windows done, you build an entire subassembly and slide it into place, guided by cheese slope pieces. What I found really cool about this is what you use as the ‘rails’ to slide it in. You slide it in through a gap that is perfectly wide enough to fit the radius’ of the two outside columns of studs. It feels like you go through an awful lot of effort for such tiny visible details, but at least it was fun.
Similarly, I loved how the pillars are done on each corner of the building. You build them using 4 candle-stick pieces with a droid arm on top. This arm connects at the perfect angle to fill a gap between pieces and connect to a 1×1 circular pointed stud piece. Again, it was such a cool building technique to achieve such a simple looking feature.
The problem is, these techniques were really fun to do….the first time. After you do it once, you have to repeat the process for the opposite corner, so it loses its magic. Not only that, these sections also have many occasions where you need to stack two 1×1 plates on top of eachother.
This is the most painful and unpleasant building technique in the entirety of LEGO building. You need to repeat this agony twice per wall, of which each corner section has three walls, then you repeat again for the symmetrical side.
Its just when you get to the end of these sections do you realise that a building generally has four corners, not two. Then the realisation hits you, and you cry a little. You now need to repeat the exact same process with no change other than the tile colours are inverted. This has got to be the most tedious and unpleasant stretches of building I’ve ever had to endure.
Once you get past this repetition, I quite liked how the inner dome thing was constructed. It’s a really simple build, but it was fairly satisfying to put together and slot into its place. Theres some nice tiling around the top of the walls and around the arches at this stage too. My experience may have been sullied by the hours of repetition that preceded this, as otherwise I would’ve enjoyed it.
The Top Dome
My favourite part of the build is also the one section that didn’t involve copious amounts of repetition. This would be the central dome/sphere on the roof. In fact, the entire central section of the roof was a really fun experience to put together. Its its own sub-assembly that doesn’t physically attach to the rest of the build. Instead it just slots into place and can be removed like a lid.
They used some amazing techniques in the dome section to create the spherical shape with the ‘belt’ around the diameter. It came together very quickly, but it was extremely enjoyable while it lasted. Its also its own sub-assembly to the roof sub-assembly, if that makes sense. The way it connects was surprisingly unique in that the anti-studs on the bottom are the backs of the 1×2 technic bricks you built earlier. You then attach the spherical section ‘upside down’ into it and it slots in perfectly with a bit of force.
The remainder of the build after that point is more repetition, sadly. First, you build four of the exact same mini-dome sections for the roof subassembly. This wasn’t too bad honestly, because you knew that you need to repeat it four times, so you could do all four at once. At this stage, all the remaining pieces on your desk service these subassemblies too. As a result, these went together fairly quickly and painlessly.
You then build the decorative spires around the railing of the roof. This involved repeating the same spire build 16 times, would you believe. Again, it wasn’t that bad because it was only a single step in the instructions. The repetition only really stings you when it blindsides you, so this was fine honestly.
The final step in the building process are the four minarets at each corner. You build the same sub-assembly (and you’ll never believe this) four times. These were quickly done too, and before you know it the build is complete.
The thing is, obviously there’s going to be repetition. It’s probably the most symmetrical building in the world so of course you must repeat the same step a few times to build it. I recognise that the building process needed to be the way it was and that it would be ignorant of anyone to expect lots of variety in a set like this. I’m not complaining that the repetition is necessary, I’m just sharing my experience as it was. And, though it was needed, it was painful, tedious, and unpleasant. With the only exception being the center of the roof, which was brilliant fun. If you are buying this set with the joy of building it in mind, you will be severely disappointed.
The design of this set is where it really shines. All of that repetition and tedium was in service of building this absolutely beautiful model. If you Google images of the Taj Mahal, 99% of the pictures you see are from the same angle. This iconic angle is easily recreated with this model and you can see from it how well they captured the shape of the building. Its genuinely hard to fault this set from a design perspective. I think they captured the whole thing incredibly well.
The tiling around the building is an area the designers definitely took some creative liberties, and for good reason. Representing the outdoor floor space with a checkerboard of tan and white tiles makes for a much more interesting and unique aesthetic. It’s something they didn’t do with the Creator Expert one, and I think this looks much better as a result. Having the outdoor section all white would technically be more accurate, but would make the set look much worse. The tan tiles go really well with the subtle tan accents throughout the rest of the set, I think. It also contrasts really nicely against the dark orange tiling on the outside and the roof of the building.
The staircase to the entrance is a small detail that is done in a simple but effective way. Its just a single triangular brick piece with two cheese slopes on each side. I love the attention to detail to intentionally leave a gap each side to represent the archways into the building. The left side of the wall of this area is very fragile though. In just moving around the set it broke off on me multiple times. No big deal, but worth mentioning.
I really like how they did the shaping on the outside arches and pillar-areas. Adding those 1×6 and 1×8 tiles around the big arch really solidifies the look of it. It also makes it look very accurate in the process. Using the 4 candlestick pieces as pillars to fill in the gaps between the angled corner sections was a great call aswell. These recreate the shape of the Taj Mahal in a really effective way, despite using such few pieces.
The minarets on each corner aren’t necessarily the most accurate parts of the build. I think these are an area the designer took a good few creative liberties to make them look more interesting. For example, on the real thing the cylindrical sections are almost perfectly flat (albeit tapered). This would be a very easy thing to recreate in LEGO using the 1×2 technic cylinder pieces, for instance. Instead, the designer went for these longer technic pieces with lots of texture on the outside. This texture is very inaccurate, but undeniably more interesting to look at than an otherwise perfectly smooth version.
Similarly, LEGO could have made the tops of these minarets much more accurate, but instead made them interesting. The dish piece used to represent the ‘lip’ at the top is far too large on the LEGO model. Instead, using a regular 1×1 white stud would give it a more accurate lip and still fit the small dome piece on top. As you can see in the picture below however, exaggerating this lip is undeniably more interesting to look at. I’m completely fine with LEGO sacrificing small accuracies like this for the sake of making a better looking model. I do think an ice cream piece on the top may have looked better though.
The roof section is easily my favourite section of this set, from both a build and design perspective. The entire middle part of the roof is full removable to reveal an interior. The roof isn’t attached by any studs, so it acts as a ‘lid’ in a sense, as mentioned earlier. Removing this roof reveals another smaller removable dome section. I think this represents a tomb area, but I’m not certain. Regardless, removing that reveals more ‘tombs’. The manual doesn’t explicitly tell you what these are but having interior detailing is always appreciated. Its similar to Trafalgar Square or the US Capitol Building, in this sense.
The set costs €99.99 and comes with 2,022 pieces. The price-per-piece is completely irrelevant with this set, and makes it look like a much better deal than it is. In reality, a huge chunk of these are tiny 1×1 or 1×2 pieces which don’t add much to the mass of the set.
LEGO Architecture sets have always had a reputation for being overpriced even by LEGO’s standards. Truthfully, this reputation is entirely fair for the most part. However, for the past few years, ‘Landmark’ sets such as the Statue of Liberty and Trafalgar Square have bucked this trend. So too does this set, I think. €99.99 feels like about the right price for this set, in that any less would feel like a steal and any more would be too pricey. I could see them selling this for €109.99 and getting away with it really. Any less and it would be treading into Trafalgar Square territory at €84.99 which would put it in danger of pricing Trafalgar Square out of the market. I don’t really have any complaints with the price here, on it’s own.
However, the LEGO Architecture theme is super competitive at this price range. For the same €99.99, there are four ‘Landmark’ sets to choose from (including this one). These are
- Taj Mahal (2,022 pieces)
- Statue of Liberty (1,685 pieces)
- The White House (1,483 pieces)
- Empire State Building (1,767 pieces)
I have a fairly clear cut hierarchy for these sets. I think if you want to spend €99.99 on an Architecture set, I think looking at the Rankings tells you all there is to know. The Statue of Liberty is still by far the best choice, in my opinion, with the Taj Mahal the next best. The White House would be next and very far down the list would be the Empire State Building. Simply put, if you don’t have the Statue of Liberty and are debating between these, definitely I’d say go for the Statue of Liberty first.
The Taj Mahal is an absolutely beautiful display model, but has one of the most grueling, repetitive and painful builds I’ve ever seen.
Compared to my other LEGO Architecture sets, I’m going to rank this at 4th out of 14 sets. It’s similar to the Capitol Building in many ways, but I feel the Taj Mahal is more iconic and has a better display presence than it, all for €10 cheaper. I still much prefer San Francisco though, for it’s excellent build and beautiful display.
All Sets Rank
Relative to my whole collection, I’m going to rank it at 38th out of 103 sets. It’s extremely close between this and the Porg, but for now I’m giving it the edge. I do much prefer the overall package offered by the Police Station modular though.
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