The Lego Taj Mahal - all 5,922 pieces of it - was originally released back in 2008. And like all 'Expert' Lego sets, it didn't stay around for very long, and soon became rather rare and rather quite expensive. If you wanted the Taj Mahal after its initial launch (where it cost £200), you'd be lucky to get one in mint condition for less than a grand.
Good old Lego, though, has just re-released the set, making it once again available at retail. This time, it costs £299.99. Minus the new packaging and a mysterious extra piece (there's 5,923 this time - although the extra piece is likely just the orange brick separator tool), the 2017 Taj Mahal is exactly the same as the previous release — and it's just as grand to behold.
First things first, the Taj Mahal is massive. At almost 6,000 pieces, it's the second largest Lego set you can buy — beat only by this year's 7,500-piece Millennium Falcon. Before you undertake the mammoth task of putting this beast together, make sure you've got room in your house. Finished, it's 50cm square, and 41cm tall. I'm geniunely having panic attacks about where on earth it's going to live, and I don't like the prospect of dismantling almost 6,000 bricks either. It's currently taking up about half of my dining room table, and there's where it's going to have to stay for a while.
Most of the building of the Taj Mahal is done piecemeal, and it isn't until the latter stages where you'll start to see everything come together. It means you'll need even more space during building in order to store the parts safely. For me, it meant putting the base and corner towers on the floor for a few days while I put together the central building. In a house with two highly spirited cats, that was not ideal.
Now, onto the actual building of the model. In the box are 42 (!) bags separated into 14 groups. The instructions are in one 180-page booklet. For a model so large, that seems fairly small (in comparison, the book for the 2,295 piece Ninjago Destiny's Bounty set is an extra 100 pages longer) but it makes sense once you start building. Considering the symmetry of the Taj Mahal, you'll be building certain parts two or four times over.
The first part of the build — which will see you through bags one, two and three, is all about laying the groundwork. The outer areas of the Taj Mahal are built on six 16x32 boards. All six pieces are similar to each other, but only two pairs are totally identical. There're a lot of white tiles made out of 'fan' bricks to lay to give the impression of the Taj's marble floor. It's an ingenious use of a brick that we're used to seeing with another function — although laying so many in a short space of time does start to hurt your fingers!
Two of these base buildings are rectangular, while four contain the foundations for the outer towers. This means building in a curve, with the clever use of hinged pieces. It can be hard at first to get these pieces laying neatly circular, but as you start to build more on top, the shape will become more sturdily defined. When all six bases are built, they're joined together with pegs. It's handy to be able to dismantle it into more manageable-sized pieces at least, but fitting them all together without noticeable gaps isn't so easy. Still, the patterns formed with the bricks on the finished piece look pretty impressive.
Four of the separate base pieces.
All joined together — yup, this is massive.
The next section involves building the four tall towers that rest in the corners of the base. This is the first part of the build which gets repetitive — I built all four towers at once to save time, but perhaps some people prefer to build them separately. These are fairly straightforward and, unlike the rest of the building, are made up of fairly large pieces so can be put together pretty quickly. They can be pretty flimsy though, so take caution — they're fixed in place with rods running through the centre; make sure you push these all the way through with force to ensure they keep the towers sturdy. A couple of mine rotate in certain sections because I didn't push the rods through far enough. It's not the end of the world though; it just means they're a bit more rattly when knocked.
The detail on one of the finished towers.
Now, all that needs to be put aside for a bit while the central building is put together. Here's where my towers were knocked down several times by my cats. (Side note: don't have cats and Lego together.)
The central building is made up of eight parts. Essentially, there are two lots of four. The four corners are all identical, as are the four flat walls joining the corners together. For me, this was the most tedious part of the build, as it meant constructing four of the same items at once. The inner walls, despite being the exact same build for each, are inexplicably split into one set of numbered bags for each. It feels as though you're intended to build them one at a time, but I really didn't like the idea of repeating myself four times over, so ended up emptying all four sets of bags out at once to build them all at the same time. It saved a bit of time, but meant I had a lot of bricks to sort through:
A sea of beige and white!
This section was by far the longest part of the build. The four walls are made up of lots of small bricks, with plenty of intricate detail thrown in. 'Stained glass' panels are built in by alternating clear and white 1x1 bricks, which look lovely when finished but were rather painstaking to put together. Having to repeat these eight times — there are two windows on each of the four walls — was tedious to say the least, but the finished product looks worth the hard work.
The finished flat walls. On the left is the outer part, what will be visible on the finished building. The right is the back of the same piece.
Have you ever seen anything so pure as a bag filled with hundreds of the same Lego piece?
Next came the four corner pieces of the building. Again, this was a case of building four items at the same time. Thankfully, these weren't quite as complex as the other set of walls, so it was a slightly quicker process.
Like the outer part of the building, all eight inner pieces join together with pegs when they're all built. Here's where the Taj Mahal really starts taking shape. It may be missing the signature dome on top, but there's no mistaking the building at this point.
The sides and corners joined together to make an (almost!) complete building.
From this point onwards, it felt like a downhill glide to the finish line — with most of the larger, repetitive sections out of the way, I had much more fun putting together the last few sections, which make up the roof and domes.
The first stage of building the roof is creating a frame in order to hold everything in place. Using a lot of 'Technic' style pieces, it felt more like putting together a futuristic drone than part of the Taj Mahal! You don't see any of this part, though, as it's all internal simply for the sake of giving the building some structure.
This sits at the top of the building to give the roof some structural support.
Building the base of the roof is a a simple case of placing flat pieces across the whole structure. The only problem is that the roof is brown, pretty damn large, and the outlines in the instruction book which indicate what bricks you're placing are red — i.e. pretty hard to see. Laying the roof felt more like guesswork, but as long as you manage to cover the whole area I suppose it doesn't necessarily matter if your bricks aren't in the same direction as the manual suggests. Still, I'd suggest making sure you build in very good lighting conditions to give yourself a fighting chance.
This roofing section also lays out five circular markers where the domes are going to sit. There are four smaller domes in each of the corners, and then the large dome in the middle. These were fun to build!
We've got a roof.
After the flat part of the roof has gone on, it's the first time we can put the Taj Mahal together. I picked up what was left of the base pieces after the cats had done climbing all over them on the floor, and put them back together into one piece. The inner building rests on a thin lip, so the very centre of the model is hollow. It's completely secure on a flat surface, but when it comes to moving it, for the love of god just remember that it comes in separate parts!
The domes, again, involve building curves and rounded edges. There's another bit of repetition as all four domes are the same, but they're very small compared to the walls from earlier so they never feel tedious at all.
The end is in sight!
The final dome has some really cool detailing and a clever design to bring it all together. The bottom is cylindrical, made up of 12 flat strips fixed sideways joined together on hinges. The dome itself is made up of four separate pieces, each held on sideways with SNOT ('studs not on top') bricks. I've never really built anything truly spherical out of Lego, so to see how easy this makes it is rather phenomenal. Well, I say 'easy' — it's easy for us to put together, but thinking about how much work has gone into designing this is incredible.
Finishing the Taj Mahal was bittersweet in a way. It was a relief to see the end, but building a big model is a big investment of time, and for that to be over... I dunno, it's sentimental in a way. Because of the repetitive sections, the Taj hasn't been the most enjoyable model I've ever built, but it's certainly one of the most impressive as a finished product. Seeing the small details come together and how bricks can be used to create intricate patterns and unusual shapes is fascinating and damn impressive.
From a distance, as a whole, it looks great, but it's when you see it close up and how every brick interacts with each other that you realise just how impressive this actually is.
Overall, it took me around 12 hours to complete the entire model. I probably saved myself a bit of time building the repeated sections together (but then, I'm not sure why you'd do it any other way). It's obviously one of the most impressive Creator Expert models out there — I mean, just look at it — but it's a model that requires more patience than some. Still, if you're a Lego fan, you've probably wanted this in your collection for a while — so make sure you grab it before it goes out of print again.