It must be incredibly humbling for an architect to design a 130,000-square-foot homage to the same toy that inspired him to be an architect to begin with.
Prolific Danish architect Bjarke Ingels may not fully credit Lego blocks as what lead him to pursue a career designing ski slope-topped power plants and garden-wrapped skyscrapers. In interviews, he cites comic books and graphic novels as being his childhood obsessions. His earliest dream job was that of cartoonist.
Still, much like any self-respecting Dane, Ingels often mentions that Lego — one of Denmark’s most widely known exports next to Carlsberg beer, Pandora jewelry and fairy tales princesses who live under the sea — played a formidable role in childhood. A 2017 Vogue profile described his childhood bedroom as being "given over to a constantly evolving Lego city." The Copenhagen native has Lego in his blood.
Ingels himself has described his latest completed project, the just-opened Lego House in Billund — the quaint Danish company town where the candy-colored plastic construction bricks were born and still made — as a “childhood dream" come true.
At the much-anticipated grand opening ceremony of Lego House, Ingels was loath to even refer to Lego blocks as a children's plaything. As the New York Times reports, he made a point of calling Lego “...not a toy. Rather, it's a tool that empowers the child to actually imagine and create their own world, and then to inhabit that world through play.”
He continues: “And I think architecture, when it is at its best, it is the same thing. As architects and as people, we can imagine what kind of a world is it that we want to live in, then we can design and build that world, and then we can actually go and live in it.”
Inspiring words for sure, and Lego hopes that Lego House — “Home of the Brick” — will inspire future generations of builders, dreamers and Bjarkes-in-the-making. Offering a decidedly less frenetic experience than the original Legoland theme park and resort also located in Billund (it’s Denmark’s top tourist attraction outside of Copenhagen), Lego House is one part museum, one part playhouse, one part interactive art installation, one party community center and one part house of worship for Lego enthusiasts hailing from near and far. Adult Fans of Lego (AFOLs) are also very much welcome.
To avoid any confusion as to what exact purpose Lego House serves, Lego refers to the attraction, which, of course, resembles a freewheeling structure built from Paul Bunyan-sized Lego bricks, as an “experience center."
Architect Bjarke Ingels (center) joins Crown Prince Frederick and Princess Mary of Denmark, Lego Group chairman Jørgen Vig Knudstorp and others at a grand opening ceremony in late September. (Photo: Lego Group)
Rising 75-feet-tall and filled with 25 million individual plastic bricks ready for interlocking, Lego House isn't constructed from plastic. Or bricks. Large amounts of steel that frame 21 overlapping concrete blocks clad in brightly hued clay tiles give the structure its Lego-like appearance.
Inside, Lego House is divided into color-coded “experience zones” that match back to the rooftop tiling. Centered around a plastic cataract cascading from the ceiling, the Red Zone is home to a bustling, hands-on Creative Lab where kids of all ages are encouraged to don “virtual lab coats” and “strut their creative stuff.” In the Green Zone, visitors are implored to explore their “social competences” by filming mini Lego movies at the Story Lab and crafting miniature, yellow-faced humanoids at the Character Creator. The Yellow Zone is all about “understanding, expressing and regulating our emotions to help us build confidence and make reasoned choices in life.” The Blue Zone, with its City Architect simulator and Lego vehicle test-driving tracks, revolves around the strengthening of cognitive skills.
Outside the interactive experience zones are the Masterpiece Gallery and History Collection. Located in a massive white "2 x 4" brick atop the structure, the gallery displays a rotating selection of curated large-scale Lego creations constructed by skilled adult Lego artistes. Currently, the sky-lit space is occupied by a fearsome trio of dinosaurs. On the building's lower level, the History Collection functions as a proper brand history museum complete with an interactive timeline of the company and encased displays of early and iconic Lego sets.
Visitors suffering from hunger pains and/or Lego overload can unwind at one of three on-site dining establishments: Brickacinno is your casual coffee shop/snack bar but with a "The Lego Movie" theme. Mini Chef is a cafeteria-style casual eatery staffed by “animatronic Lego robots." The New York Times manages to make dining here sound both semi-complicated and semi-stressful. (“Upon seating, each diner is given a packet of red, green, blue and black bricks, which correspond to items on the menu. To order, we picked one of each color block, snapped our meals together, then slotted them into a special tray attached to the iPad.”) But whatever — it's probably a hoot for the under-12 set. Finally, Le Gourmet is an upscale, reservations-only joint that features New Nordic cuisine and only slight traces of Lego-themed gimmickry.
As one might expect, at the physical center of Lego House is a plus-sized retail outpost that offers all the latest Lego and Duplo releases along with some exclusive items like a 774-piece Lego House architecture kit. Really, there’s no better way to commemorate a visit to the spiritual headquarters of Lego than to painstakingly recreate that very same Bjake Ingels-designed building on a tabletop when you return back home.
Although the colored experience zones require ticketed entry (199 kroner or about $31 for adults), the other sections of Lego House — the restaurants, shops, museum-y displays, and central atrium, which is home to the iconic, 50-foot-tall Tree of Creativity — do not. A series of rooftop playgrounds gracing the scalable structure’s staggered terraces as well as three pocket parks flanking the building are also open to the public sans admission fees.
From the get go, Ingels and his namesake firm, BIG, envisioned Lego House not just as another tourist attraction (250,000 annual visitors are expected) in a town that already lives, sleeps and breathes Lego. (Founded in 1949, the family-run company's corporate headquarters and factory remain in Billund.) Built atop a parcel in the middle of town where the old city hall once stood, Lego House's locale isn't just poetic but strategic. In a press release, BIG notes that it "was conceived as an urban space as much as an experience center." Locals are encouraged to congregate in, climb or unwind in its interior and exterior public areas.
The completion and opening of Lego House has been highly anticipated and very long awaited — I first wrote about the project for MNN when Ingels’ involvement was announced in June 2013. Ground broke a year later. Now that it’s open to the masses, it’s safe to speculate that Lego House is very much a case of life imitating play: Just like the most ambitious and awesome Lego creations require time and patience, so did the human-sized structure that celebrates them.