BRICK ME UP
Step inside the spiritual home of the famous Lego brick in the adventure town of Billund in Denmark.
What Lego fan wouldn’t want Stuart Harris’s job? As senior experience designer at Lego House, just down the road from Legoland in Billund, he’s the brains behind the brick, supervising the addition of elements and liaising with Lego-lovers around the globe. They like to talk about appealing to “children of all ages” in this themed Danish town, and Harris is an enthusiastic example of some of the more senior children.
Lego House, opened in 2017, and Legoland are distinct entities, both feed off and nurture the global affection for this most practical and expressive of play brands. Lego House was the brainchild of Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, chairman of the Lego Group and member of the same Kirk Kristiansen family that founded the company here in 1932. The history collection in the basement of Lego House, added in response to fan community wishes, related how the company made wooden toys until the famous brick with its interlocking tubes was developed in 1958. The name derives from an abbreviation of “play well” in Danish – leg godt – and appropriately, “lego” means “I put together” in Latin.
Billund’s Legoland, the original of eight around the world and several Lego Discovery Centres, was conceived in the 1960s to demonstrate the versatility of the Lego House – the Home of the Brick. Designed to resemble an assembly of 21 white Lego bricks from outside, the interior focuses on a vast central “Tree of Creativity,” a metaphor for the company’s heritage. This creation is one of the biggest Lego builds ever, made from 6.3 million bricks, weighing over 20 tonnes and measuring 15.6 metres tall.
PLAY IS A SERIOUS MATTER
For Lego, play is a serious matter. “Kjeld had the dream for many years of an experience centre to help understand something that is very important to Lego, and that is ‘learning through play’,” says Harris. “He and his son Thomas (the next family member to move into the group leadership role) are very passionate about this. Learning through play is one of our main ethoses and all the experiences are designed with this in mind. We wanted to get something very hands-on, where you could realise the brick’s potential creativity. The ‘generic’ Lego brick is at the heart of the place,” says Harris.
It can be central to the way that a child learns to interact with the world and to prepare for the kind of creative thought that the modern world increasingly requires. For older devotees, building with the iconic blocks is an absorbing alternative to online pursuits and also a distinct art form.
Harris’s responsibilities include coming up with innovative ideas and to administer and maintain Lego House buils – devised by himself and by the legions of international fans of all ages.
Fundamental to the design of the House was the idea that it should be a venue for fans to exhibit their work, and Harris is in charge of sourcing and curating the fans’ work. Every September a “swap-over” is planned, timed in connection with a major international fan event in Denmark.
Billund has evolved into “Lego central,” and its facilities and infrastructure, including its sizeable international airport, have developed in response to Lego’s presence, not vice versa. Nearly all enterprises in this pleasant Danish rural town setting are linked in some way to Lego business and tourism. But was this the first choice for an ambitious, creative venture like Lego House?
“There were many discussions about where to build the House but it was decided that it would be loyal to the brand to have it here in Billund, not in New York or somewhere more commercially obvious,” says Trine Nissen from sales and marketing. “It’s only 200 metres from where everything started in 1932. you won’t see anything like this anywhere else.”
The name lego derives from an abbreviation in Danish of “play well” – leg godt
The element of play is present all around Lego House, including its three resturants. To order at Lego Gourmet, one selects tiny bricks of different colours and sizes to represent different items on the menu and inserts them into a table-top device. A digital screen whirs into action and shows animated Lego minifigure characters busy in the kitchen, chirping away in in “Lego-ese.” When the order is ready, two robots sort meals in colour-coded brick boxes and deliver them to the canteen.
And then there are the play areas that are located all over the building, where children, young and not so young, can – literally – dive into oceans of Lego bricks and lose themselves in creative experience. Four experience zones are coded: red for creative skills, and yellow for emotional skills.
In case anybody is daunted by this sudden proliferation of Lego resources, blue-shirted members of a team of Lego play agents are always on hand. These are led by ten play heroes, part of a 200-strong permanent workforce. “Our day-today job is to assist the guests in returning to childhood memories with Lego bricks and to help them start creating,” says play herp Mathias Throning. “We want to kick-start those childhood memories so that one, two or four hours later they want to show off what they’ve done – even the parents!”
AFOLS ARE NO FOOLS
The House is clearly a hit with the public – pre-booking is essential for all visits – but their affections also endure for the venue’s cousin one kilometre up the road. Legoland, with its family friendly amusement park atmosphere, provides a different, more expansive experience. This is augmented by the original Legoland Hotel and a new arrival, the Lego Castle Hotel with its colourfully-themed wizard and knight wings, where Lego dragons perch in the corner of the rooms and cupboards contain surprises.
The lines are forming outside the Legoland gates 30 minutes before they are due to open and model shop assistant Morten Gravgaard is doing some last-minute checks in Miniland, the enchantong miniature re-creation of towns and cities that is probably the park’s most famous attraction. Trained as a baker, he prefers to work with the legendary bricks.
“My job is to repair, replace, and build new Lego models,” says Gravgaard. Visitors are inspired to build by the models and creations they see in Legoland, he says. “There are plenty of adult fans of Lego – AFOLs – I know because I am one of them! It’s a kind of therapy, building in Lego.”
Unlimited possibilities: It’s an explanantion for Lego’s magic expressed by many fans, including Morten Gravgaard. It’s a magic that crosses borders, too. The best ideas are the simple ones, says Stuart Harris. “Lego holds together as if by glue – we call it clutch power – but you can always pull it apart. There is an element of under-rated sophistication about it, but it’s also very egalitarian. You can give the same bricks to everyone and depending on their imagination, cultural refereneces, and background, they will create something different.
Children can literally dive into oceans of Lego bricks at Lego House.
Building with Lego is an abserbing alternative to online pursuits.