Lego museum exhibition shows the Brick Wonders of the world

There are billions of Lego bricks all over the globe – it is one of the most recognisable brands on Earth.

Saturday, 1st January 2022, 6:00 am

There’s a good chance you played with them yourself as a child.

And your own children or young relatives may have just received a set or two for Christmas – living rooms and bedrooms across the land will be strewn with bricks as the youngsters complete their new kits.

Or given that Lego now markets directly to adults, maybe you received a set yourself and between finishing the chocolates have been busily building a 2,000-piece recreation of the set from Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things, or a 3,600-piece 1:8 scale Bugatti.

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The Great Pyramid of Giza, recreated in Lego as part of the Brick Wonders exhibition, at the Novium Museum in Chichester from December 2021-June 2022.

The tiny plastic blocks have been used to create everything from vehicles both Earth-bound and intergalactic, to creatures real and fantastical, cityscapes, dioramas from throughout history, and whole new worlds. If you can imagine it, you can more than likely build it in Lego.

Its genius lay in the fact that it is simple to pick up and it remains as enthralling to pre-schoolers as adults using it to create artworks.

A new exhibition is celebrating the wonders of the world, ancient, modern and natural – all recreated in 500,000 Lego bricks – including The Great Pyramid of Giza, Old London Bridge, the International Space Station, the Great Barrier Reef and many more.

Brick Wonders is on now at the Novium Museum in Chichester until June.

Up close with the Great Barrier Reef, recreated in Lego as part of the Brick Wonders exhibition. Picture by Chris Broom

Museum manager Stephanie Thorndyke says: ‘There are a couple of companies who do these fantastic Lego exhibitions, and we had hosted one in 2018 called Bricks Britannia which was a Lego-based exhibition looking at different moments of British history, so this felt like a natural progression which takes you on a more global journey and broadens that theme.

‘We were lucky to be able to secure it because they're hugely popular and they book up many years in advance – we had been due to host it slightly earlier, but with Covid it was postponed.’

Considering the appeal of Lego, Stephanie says: ‘It's that enduring desire in all of us to create and the way it makes creativity so accessible to people.

‘You find there are people who are very wedded to the instruction books and manuals and they like having every piece precisely in place, and then you have the people who love going freeform and using their imagination and creating whatever they can think of as they go along.

Market Cross in Chichester recreated in Lego to go with the Brick Wonders exhibition, at the Novium Museum in Chichester

‘Lego stems from the Danish words “leg godt”, meaning "good play”, so at its heart it is about play, creativity, imagination.

‘And then you've got these wonderful Lego artists who take it to the next level and layer it with interpretation and these journeys through Lego creations where you can be both entertained and learn as you go along.’

And even though she sees it every day, Stephanie is still finding new things in the exhibition’s 30 models.

‘I do love the scene of the Great Barrier Reef because the more you look the more you see, and the use of bricks is so creative.

Lego artist Warren Elsmore who is behind Brick Wonders

‘I also really really love the statue of Zeus at Olympia – you can take something that’s 13m high and then transform the look and feel of it in Lego bricks.

‘The more you look, even with the models which look quite small and simple, the more you see these details and the way the different bricks have been used.

‘I love that the exhibition’s not just all these huge pieces – there are some smaller ones as well that you might think: “That's within my reach, I could do that!” It's there to inspire you as well.’

The exhibition also features one specially created piece of the city centre’s Market Cross.

‘That was made by a local Lego enthusiast’, explains Stephanie, ‘and it just shows that there are people out there who are just at home building these incredible things. I certainly couldn't have made that.’

The main exhibition is the work of professional Lego artist Warren Elsmore and his team, who are based in Edinburgh.

A Chinese dragon recreated in Lego as part of the Brick Wonders exhibition

A lifelong fan of the brightly-coloured blocks, Warren, 45, took the plunge to turn pro nearly a decade ago.

‘Back in 2012 I was the chairman of the UK's adult Lego fanclub. Working with Lego and the Danish tourist board I built a model for the Olympics in London, and at about the same time I landed my first book deal to write a book of Lego instructions.

‘At that point I had a day job in IT, but it became time to choose between one or the other, so I thought I'd give it a go and try to do the Lego work full time, and here we are nine years later...’

Warren’s first book and exhibition was Brick City, and there have since been five more, Brick Wonders being one of them.

‘We had the original idea of the seven wonders of the world – everybody knows about those – but you couldn't really make a tour out of just seven models, it wouldn't have enough to it.

‘We wondered what to add, so we thought about seven modern wonders, and we came down to the idea of having seven ancient wonders, seven modern wonders – like medicine and the internet, then realised we could do seven old wonders which weren't the “ancient” wonders, but things which history has discovered which were wonderful, and then seven natural wonders.

‘We put those four segments together and then did a lot of brainstorming, a lot of thinking – what are we going to pick? How are we going to represent them? There were some which were obvious, and some where we had to think a little bit sideways.’

With models requiring tens of thousands of components and many hours to construct, computer aided design (CAD) has become an important tool in Warren’s work.

‘Most of it for this tour was just tinkering with bricks, but the internet map we did out on computer because it was much easier to design when the thing's massive.

‘The CAD ones on this tour, the map, the turtle and the ray in the Barrier Reef, you can do them by hand, but it's quicker to do it by computer!

‘Most of them though, especially things like the old London Bridge, that was literally just a couple of us sitting down with a big pile of bricks and going, we know very little about it, let's build what we know and take it from there...

‘You have the humour in the detail too, which we do by hand.

‘CAD is a tool you can use to get you somewhere near the end, but there's still an enormous amount of manual effort involved.’

One problem Lego fans face at home is that they can’t always lay their hands on the piece they want – a problem even Warren can’t avoid.

‘It does happen occasionally.

‘All of the walls surrounding the build desk in our office are covered in drawers and all of the Lego parts are divided up into different sections with pots inside each drawer for all of the different colours.

‘We keep 4m-ish elements in stock – it varies a lot, but it probably took us six or seven years to get to the point where we could build most things from the stock we had in hand. We're still ordering stuff all the time, but it took a long time to get to this point.’

Warren doesn't think Lego’s popularity is likely to fade any time soon.

‘Partly because it's been around to for so long, it's something you can instantly relate to your kids with – you did exactly the same thing. These are exactly the same bricks you were playing with as a kid, you're just doing something different with them now.

‘And Lego have also followed all the modern trends in the last 20-30 years, so you've got Star Wars Lego, Harry Potter and so on, so they've kept themselves in the zeitgeist.’

Tickets for Brick Wonders at the Novium Museum cost £4 (adults); £2.50 (child) and £12 (for a family of up to five).

As part of the exhibition the museum is running Make and Take Sessions on February 5, March 5 and April 2.

There is also a competition to have your own Lego creation become part of the exhibition, with Warren picking the winner. The deadline is January 17.

For more details go to thenovium.org/brickwonders.

Lego Facts

* The Lego company was founded in Denmark in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter.

* The first Legoland theme park opened in Billund, Denmark in 1968. There are now eight worldwide, including one at Windsor.

* The Lego Group operates 168 retail stores globally, with 18 in the UK. Our nearest is at West Quay, Southampton.

* The largest commercially available 3D Lego set is the 9,090-piece Titanic, released on November 8, 2021.

* In 2000, Lego was named Toy of the Century by the British Association of Toy Retailers.

* In 2014, the Lego Group became the world’s largest toy company, overtaking Mattel.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Eric Broom, six, in the play area of the Brick Wonders exhibition. Picture by Chris Broom
Modern 'wonders' from the internet age, recreated in Lego as part of the Brick Wonders exhibition