Lego masters show work at White House
The assignment for this year’s White House holiday display came with a tight deadline. A team of Lego master builders, within 2 1/2 weeks, had to create 56 unique gingerbread houses out of the toy bricks, one for each state and United States territory.
For this group, it was child’s play. The seven masters at the US headquarters of Lego Systems in Enfield, Connecticut, had them designed, built from more than 200,000 Lego pieces and in a van to Washington in time for the unveiling.
“We had an all-hands-ondeck kind of thing,” said Paul Chrzan, one of the master builders. “We basically gave ourselves a day for each house. And we just built like crazy.”
The team prides itself on building just about anything out of Lego bricks, including, among other recent projects, scenes for The Lego Movie, a replica of Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics, and a life-size statue of Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
Promoted to the highest ranks for their skills, the master builders fulfill a marketing role for the Denmarkbased company, but also see themselves as inspiring young builders.
The team of seven — including a former pastry chef, a retail worker and an actor — works in the model shop, a building down a slight hill from the administrative offices that features a Lego Christmas wreath on the walls, designers at computers and the sounds of builders tinkering with the latest structures.
Some, like Chrzan, 55, had a Lego affinity from childhood, when his Danish mother was among the first in his neighborhood to buy the sets. Others did not play with Lego as much as kids but studied sculpture or fine arts in school. All see the toy brick as a medium for artistic expression.
Master builder Pete Don- ner got his start as a model gluer out of high school in 1997. As a child, he said he was awful at building Lego sets, preferring to set aside the instructions. He said that helped him win the job he has now.
“For each one of us it’s a unique journey,” he said. “The secret to my success is I drew a lot and I built a lot.”
Advances in technology over the past 20 years have dramatically changed the job, with proprietary Lego software churning out rough blueprints that once had to be etched by hand on graph paper. Still, a life-size model of a character can take 70 to 150 hours to design and 350 hours to build.
Donner said he builds with Lego even after finishing his day’s work. In addition to building with his two daughters, he has his own side projects.
“I have access to the biggest Lego collection in the world,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I utilize that?”
I have access to the biggest Lego collection in the world. Why wouldn’t I utilize that?”
Paul Chrzan, Lego master
A model of the White House was one of 56 Lego gingerbread houses that were created by the master builders for the holiday display.