Survey a group of architects, engineers, and designers about their childhoods, and a common affinity is sure to emerge: Lego. With a little imagination, a Lego set can become a potent primer for space planning, structural engineering, and even landscape design.
In fact, the association between the plastic blocks and actual buildings has become so strong that Lego produces a separate Architecture line geared toward adults, complete with respectable austere white pieces and reproducing various notable buildings.
And so it’s no wonder that when it came to creating a new headquarters and museum for Lego in the toy’s hometown of Billund, Denmark, an architectural wonder emerged. The work of superstar Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and his firm BIG, the Lego House was completed this September. Composed of 21 staggered, giant interlocking blocks, it feels like a love letter to right angles, with hardly a curve in sight. A massive steel frame masquerading as a brick building [tiles give the illusion of offset bricks], the entire building looks like it could be constructed from giant Lego blocks.
However, while one might expect a garish and motley mess of color and embellishment from a toy brand, don’t forget: we’re in Denmark, where simplicity and form are sacrosanct. And so, Lego House manages to balance a tasteful and rigorous Danish design sense with its youthful subject matter. It’s all a matter of how you look at it.
From street level, the structure is the picture of modernist respectability: gleamingly white with stark ceramic tiles. One could mistake it for a gallery or even a government complex, and, in a sense, one wouldn’t be too far off. The 12,000 square-meter Lego House replaces Billund’s former town hall and maintains a civic-minded component. At the center of the stacked galleries is a sheltered town square open to the public.
Over the last seven decades, Lego has become part of the fabric of the town, and the company employs more than half of its residents. Lego built Billund’s international airport and maintains a factory still responsible for producing more than 90% of all Lego products in Billund. The Lego House was partially conceived to draw visitors into downtown Billund. Before, visitors tended to remain near the Legoland theme park on the town’s outskirts.
There is, of course, a more playful side to the Lego House. If you were to fly into Billund, you would see a very different building. A bird’s eye-view reveals terraces that pop with the vibrant hues of a kindergarten toy chest. A series of ramps connect the building’s colorful rooftops, turning the top of the building into a kind of playground. In the center of the ziggurat is a single, giant white Lego block (the brand’s signature 4×2 rectangle] complete with eight studded, circular skylights to give inquiring eyes a peek inside.
Stretched over sixteen galleries, Lego House is part art exhibit and part playground. Four color-coded zones offer up opportunities for experiential play and discovery. Massive Lego installations from “master builders” are placed throughout the complex. There are dinosaurs, life-size people, sharks, and submarines. At the heart of the building is a bit of simulated greenspace—a massive tree composed of more than six million Lego bricks.
But the true diehards will want to dig deeper. Hidden under the public Lego Square is the Lego Vault, a subterranean archive showcasing first edition playsets from the more than sixty-year history of the brand.
Lego House is part of the brand’s large-scale attempt to promote itself not simply as a toymaker but also an educational product that fosters creativity, imagination, and experiential learning.
To listen to the architect, it’d be hard to refute the argument. Bjarke Ingels is himself an avowed Lego enthusiast: “Lego…is amazing because it’s not a toy where someone has premeditated how you’re going to play with it. It’s more like a tool that empowers the kid or the grownup to create their own world and then to inhabit that world through play. When architecture is at its most interesting, that’s exactly what we do… You can create the world as you wish it was.”
If you aren’t able to visit the Lego House in person, you can always build it yourself. A 774-piece Lego Architecture set of the Billund building is available for purchase and is significantly cheaper than a trip to Denmark.
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