Bucknellian Brickmasters

Bucknell parents design a Rooke Chapel LEGO kit for their graduate
by Brooke Thames

hen Abby Strayer ’22 looks back on her college graduation, she’ll have more than cards once stuffed with cash, the memory of a fancy dinner or a souvenir from a celebratory summer trip to spark fond memories of that special day. Thanks to her imaginative parents, she’ll own a handcrafted tribute to her college years — a model of Bucknell’s Rooke Chapel, constructed entirely of LEGO bricks.

Using architectural blueprints sourced from the University, Tim Strayer P’22 designed a build-it-yourself kit of the iconic campus building. “My wife and I wanted to present a graduation gift that was both interesting and meaningful,” he says.

Rooke Chapel made out of legos
Woman holding a lego roof with chandeliers hanging
Photos: Cydney Scott
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Tim Strayer P’22 sourced custom and hard to find bricks from around the world, including chandeliers and a pair of croissants to represent filagree work on the chapel’s front portico.
The couple was inspired by their family’s years-long affinity for tinkering with the construction toys. It’s a hobby that began when Tim and his wife, Carmen Pancerella P’22, coached their daughter’s middle school team through the FIRST LEGO League Challenge, in which young students build and program a LEGO robot to complete a series of tasks. From there, the Strayers endeavored to become amateur Brickmasters, transforming their basement into a LEGO lab, where they’ve assembled everything from a 900-piece retro diner to a 3,000-piece treehouse.

The homemade Rooke Chapel’s main sanctuary and adjoining meditation space comprise 3,512 pieces, making it among the largest LEGO sets Abby has ever worked on — and the most personal. As one of Bucknell’s Rooke Chapel Ringers, the history and theatre double-major spent Thursday nights on campus in the sanctuary, practicing with the handbell choir.

“This couldn’t have been a more heartfelt present,” says Abby, who returned home to West Newton, Mass., after graduating in May. “When I was in the beginning stages of building it, I could already see the hours it took to plot it all out, one brick at a time.”

Brick by Brick

A computer scientist by profession, Tim used computer- aided design software to construct his LEGO Rooke Chapel brick by brick in digital space. But ensuring it would stand on its own in reality meant he had to build it himself, and sourcing the parts and pieces “is not as simple as going down to the store — not for a highly architectural project like this,” Tim says.

“There’s a whole community of buyers and sellers I turned to in order to acquire very specific or uncommon pieces,” he explains. “Since the community is worldwide, a lot of the pieces ship from Canada, Germany and Scandinavia.”

Those unique pieces included a pair of croissants ordered from Germany, which Tim used as the ornamental filigree on the chapel’s front portico. Assembled from 25 pieces, the door was the most difficult aspect of the structure to conceptualize, with Tim going through four iterations before settling on the most true-to-life design. The next most challenging feature was the spire, which required perfectly sized flat tiles to mimic the steep slope.

Man and woman posing with a lego replica of Rooke Chapel
Photo: Cydney Scott
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Bucknell’s Facilities division provided building schematics to help Tim Strayer P’22 (right) create a 3,512 piece, one-of-a-kind replica of Rooke Chapel in LEGO bricks, a graduation gift for daughter Abby ’22 (left). “My wife and I wanted to present a graduation gift that was both interesting and meaningful,” Tim says.
Minifigurines inside the lego chapel
Photo: Cydney Scott
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A personal touch are the Minifigures representing Abby and other members of the Rooke Chapel Ringers handbell choir.

The Perfect Piece

To ensure that all of the intricate details of the model are visible, the building’s facade and roof components detach, revealing the pews, pulpits and altars that furnish the interior — along with a special surprise: In the main sanctuary’s chancel is a troupe of Minifigures playing handbells, each one representing a real Rooke Chapel Ringer (Abby, Ryan Bremer ’22, Jon Riker ’22 and handbell choir director Rob Riker ’88, M’91, P’22).

Once complete, Tim disassembled the structure and packaged the pieces into a boxed kit that he presented to his daughter when they returned home following Commencement.

“It speaks perfectly to my time at Bucknell, but also to all the years we’ve spent working with LEGO together as a family,” says Abby, who spent the summer reconstructing the chapel, using a 762-page manual her father created. “I’m lucky to have parents who would think so outside the box for me.”