The LEGO House is amazing. Really, there is no other word fit to describe both the building and the experience.
I was honored to receive an invitation from the Lego Group this past spring to attend the fan weekend opening celebration. This was a chance for LEGO Ambassadors (individuals who represent various recognized lego user groups) as well as attendees of the Skærbæk Fan Weekend. Needless to say I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity and I started planning my trip immediately. With six months to anticipate the event, my expectations were running high.
So what is lego house?
Lego House is a building designed by architect Bjarke Ingels. The house is created to resemble the brick esthetic. The purpose of the building is to be the public “home” of the Lego Group. It is designed to be a place for people to experience the concepts of play behind the popular building toy. It’s also a place to educate fans about the companies history and to celebrate the amazing fan community.
That’s a lot to ask of one building.
The large public space on the first floor is an airy and light filled space filled with live trees, lego models of people which simulate a park like setting. Scattered around the large atrium are benches and tables for relaxing and eating.
There is also a coffee and juice stand (Brickaccino), a sit down cafe (the Mini Chef) and a gourmet restaurant (Le Gourmet). There are lockers, a coat check and of course a LEGO Store. Before you begin your adventure you need to check in at one of the kiosks to exchange your ticket for a wristband with your name printed on it. This is your golden ticket into the LEGO House.
Once you pass through the automatic gates you will ascend the white and glass staircase to the upper gallery. These stairs wrap around the Tree of Creativity, the centerpiece of the building. On each of the large branches are small LEGO scenes which represent a classic theme in the LEGO line. I was looking for any sign of Chima, but I was unable to spot it. I know these sets have been in place for a few months and they are already showing signs of dust. Because I’m such a practical person, I kept thinking: “How do they dust them?”
The Masterpiece Gallery is dominated by three large dinosaurs (one made from Duplo, one from regular bricks and one from Technic parts. The surrounding walls are filled with glass fronted cases featuring the work of some amazing fan builders from all over the world. I was so pleased to see the work of Peter Reid and Chris McVeigh featured in the Masterpiece Gallery.
The Red Zone is filled with activities designed to stimulate your creativity. These include Brick Builder, Creative Lab, and Duplo Brick Builder. There are plenty of fan built creations in the display cases to inspire you.
The Yellow Zone is an area designed to inspire your emotions. You can build a fish in the Fish Designer, make a critter ‘dance’ at the Critter Creator, build a flower and add it to the ‘garden’ or play in the Duplo Mood Builder area.
The Blue Zone is designed to stimulate your logic and cognitive skills. You can rescue mini figures and mammoths from the ice in the Robo Lab, create a city with City Architect, test your car building skills at Test Driver or build a gigantic Duplo train.
There are also areas set aside where you can create a movie using one of the 18 stop motion studios or create a custom mini figure.
One fun aspect of the LEGO House is that it is also the official museum of the LEGO brick. By descending into the basement you will take a trip down memory lane. To get you in the mood, the ubiquitous white tiles begin to turn grey eventually turning black. The basement contains two molds set into the floor, under glass, a cinema and a time line marking the major milestones of the company. There are plenty of vintage sets on display to help get those happy childhood memories flowing. When I was there the cinema was showcasing vintage LEGO TV advertisements. While these where fascinating, I didn’t linger, there was too much to see!
My experience was colored by the amazing people in attendance at this historic event. One of the reasons I made this trip was for the opportunity to connect with people I’ve been interacting with for years on social media. These included Chris McVeigh and Tim Johnson (my editor on Bricks Culture Magazine). When Peter Reid (the designer of my favorite robot Keiko) reached out to me a few weeks before the event and said to come find him and say: ‘Hello’, I knew I had made the right decision to attend. The only question was: Who else would be there? What other connections would I be lucky enough to make?
Afternoon Fika and some unexpected guests
I was one of a handful of LEGO Ambassadors who arrived in Billund early enough to take part in an impromptu tour of the LEGO factory led by Kim Thomsen, one of several Community Managers at LEGO Group. After the tour, a small handful of us decided to meet up at the Billund Bageri and Cafe. Ten LEGO fans, originally strangers from Hong Kong, Germany, USA, France and Italy, told stories, swapped business cards, shared a chocolate cake and generally geeked out on the simple fact that we were all in Billund for the opening of the LEGO House.
This was also the moment that I finally met the incomparable Priovit70. Luigi and I have been internet friends for nearly two years. We were brought together by our mutual roles as LEGO Ambassadors as well as our love for a little robot called Keiko; designed by previously mentioned Peter Reid. To finally meet Luigi was one of my main goals for this trip – and I wasn’t disappointed. Luigi is as nice in person as he is on line. Plus I found out he is a LEGO legend in his country of Italy.
Growing restless (not to mention the bakery was closing soon) we took the short walk to check out the LEGO House proper. Soon the toys were out and photos were being taken featuring LEGO Doug. Much to our surprise and delight a van dropped off a few unexpected guests: THE master builders who are featured in the Masterpiece Gallery of LEGO House. Within a few minutes I had met both Chris McVeigh and Peter Reid. Hugs were given and received and of course a few selfies were captured. My trip was already a successful and I hadn’t even been in the building yet!
The big day!
The next morning there was a large queue of LEGO fans standing in front of the main door. You could feel the excitement in the air. When we got inside there was plenty of room for milling about and socializing before the opening speeches.
Luigi was kind enough to introduce me around to a few of his friends including Martin Redfern, one of the featured master builders.
Martin’s work included in the LEGO House include a beautiful roadster and a steam punk family, which can only be described as whimsical and amazing. It was a pleasure talking to Martin, a truly humble LEGO genius.
I’m not going to bore you with the details of the speeches. (If you’re interested in them, others may have videoed them and you cansearcbh for them online.) I did love the backdrop to the speeches though – a mosaic made entirely of LEGO cheese wedges that when viewed from one angle is the portraits of the four generations of LEGO leadership and ownership in black and white. And from a different angle you see a full color version of the company motto: Only the Best is Good Enough.
My favorite moment during the obligatory speeches was when Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen (grandson of the founder of the LEGO Group) welcomed us to LEGO’s house; he called it our house too. We have been encouraged to meet at this amazing space, gather their and share the space with our friends and our LEGO Communities. While this wouldn’t be particularly convenient for me since I live 7,663 kilometers away, I still think it’s a nice thought.
To the Cafe!
In our attempt to beat the lunch rush Kristina, Luigi and I, headed to the Cafe first. I think it was not long into our meal before Kristina pointed out that the entire museum experience was designed to be shared via social media. Who can resist taking a photo of your latest mini figure – a little chef that comes free with each meal? Not me!
Ordering was an interactive experience. You “build” your meal by placing four bricks on a white tray that corresponds with your four dish choices. These trays are slid into a slot below a monitor. On the monitor you can see your choices translated into an order. You have a chance to review your order before it is sent off to the kitchen to be created by the mini chef and her crew. Once the meal has been placed you can order drinks which will soon be brought to your table.
On the monitor on your table is a short clip showing mini figures busy at work in the kitchen while near the bar, two LEGO robots wave their in synchronized movements and seemingly to push meal boxes towards happy (and slightly overwhelmed) patrons. The meal boxes arrive from the kitchen via a moving track near the ceiling, similar to ones found in the LEGO factory.
Your meal comes in four separate compartments that are stacked like LEGO bricks. While this is cute, the food sits higher on the table than I’m used to and this made eating awkward. With a table filled with three of these boxes, loose LEGO, random mini figures, glasses and utensils, our table was feeling a little cramped.
There was lots to look at in the Cafe; I couldn’t help but think it would be great place for a family with small kids. There was plenty to keep you entertained and it felt like we were only getting the hang of the place when our food arrived.
Even though lunch came at a pretty steep price, I was glad we gave the Cafe a try. Now I have a cool chef mini figure with the Lego House logo on the back as a remembrance.
Onwards and upwards
Soon we entered the paid area of the LEGO House. The brightly lit upper stories beckoned us. We were excited by what we found; each area had plenty to see and do. There where interactive areas in every section and plenty of places to take a break. The entire museum is designed to connect people through the art of play. There were opportunities galore to interact with fellow attendees through collaborative building, track races, or quirky dancing bugs. You could create a stop motion movie together, complete a city experience by building micro scale buildings and parks as well as rescue mini figures and mammoths in the robotics area. There is even a library corner where you can explore one of the many LEGO themed books that have been published. Whatever activity you choose, it will put a smile on your face.
Honestly the best part of the experience for me was the chance to play. I could choose to build quietly in a corner, help another guest find parts or build a collaborative piece with both friends and strangers. While all the guests on this day were LEGO fans of the highest order, I think it will still feel natural to play this way with strangers. LEGO fans are the same everywhere and no matter what language we speak, we have the common language of LEGO to communicate with.
With all these curated activities, it was nice to see that the LEGO designers included plenty of outside play areas to escape to. There were several spots where parents could take kids to burn off a little excess energy and get a view of the surrounding town at the same time. I certainly enjoyed the break and a chance to take a few photos outside.
I look forward to a time when I can return to the LEGO house and experience the play aspects with both friends and strangers alike.
Exit through the gift shop
As you descend the stairs after several hours of positive play, be sure to check out the working injection molding machine. Use your wristband to check out and receive a personalized card to commemorate your visit and a bag of six bricks. The same six bricks you can use to create 915 million unique combinations. In the LEGO store there are a few items unique to the Lego House: a color scale model designed by the architect firm BIG (the same people who designed LEGO House), key chains and plastic coffee mugs.
My Favorite Experiences
There are a couple of experiences that really stand out for me. The first was playing in the build a mini figure area. There were so many parts to create a unique character that it was overwhelming. The bin of parts was deep and fun to run my hands through. The variety of accessories was positively tantalizing. So tantalizing in fact that I wanted to ‘liberate’ a few choice parts. Of course I didn’t, but it made me wonder about how the staff restocks these large areas of loose LEGO.
The other area I really enjoyed playing in was the Blue Area – or the urban architect section. I like to build micro scale and I found hanging out building small parks and buildings to be very relaxing. It was a classic building experience with my fellow builders helping me to find specific parts. I enjoyed searching for parts, laying out interesting pieces to see what I wanted to build and then placing the finished piece in the ‘city’. I found the process to be relaxing and satisfying.
Fun fact: Lego has hired a separate crew to take apart all the fan built models each evening.
Made for Social Media
Like other museums and cultural hubs you’re encouraged to share your LEGO House experience on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtags #LEGOHouse and #HomeoftheBrick. You can even find signs in the bathrooms encouraging (reminding?) you to do just that.
You can take photos of your creations to share or take selfies infant of full sized LEGO ‘waterfalls’. You can also photograph yourself with several of the life sized LEGO figures in the public gathering space. There was no shortage of attendees doing just this throughout the day.
Where is the Toy Photography?
As a toy photographer I was pleased to see that some aspect of our craft was represented by way of the Stop Motion studio. I hope in time that the LEGO Group will find a place in this Home of the Brick for a proper toy photography display. If it was up to me, I think a few monitors in the Cafe with a rotating selection of toy photography would be an appropriate fit. In the Cafe we’re asked to believe that mini figures have created our meal. I think a few photos of toys being brought to life, would fit right in.
Will I make a return visit to the Lego House? Probably. One day was not enough time to really dive into this experience. Do I think you should plan a trip to see this fun play space? Yes! If your travels take you to Denmark (or even near Denmark) I would suggest planning on spending a day in Billund immersed in lego play.
Because this isn’t LEGO’s House, this is our House.
I’m indebted to my friend, the uber talented Kristina Alexanderson. Kristina was gracious enough to accompany me on this epic journey and document the proceedings. Thank you Kristina!
Additional photos of the opening by Alexander Alekseev of DoubleBrick.ru can be found here.