Real Life Or Lego Life? 'Hit The Bricks' Is A Plastic CU-Boulder

Dec 4, 2014

Partial nudity, death by nuclear accident and dozens of free-roaming buffalo named Ralphie. It's just another day on the Boulder campus of the University of Colorado. At least at the Lego-ized version of CU.

More than 500,000 plastic bricks have been transformed into five buildings and a series of vignettes that bring the university campus to life on a smaller scale.

"It's really exciting to see how they can take so many little pieces and create such different dynamics  to the model," said Allyson Smith director of CU-Boulder Heritage Center, which commissioned the Lego look alike named Hit The Bricks.

The 12 x 17 foot model includes Old Main and several other iconic campus buildings. The 1,000 pound display is infused with strikingly life-like detail as well as fun. It's a mix that leaves plenty of room for artistic license, something the hired builders of the exhibit – the Colorado/Wyoming Lego Users Group – revels in.

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"We have buildings in different scales, we have them placed in, sort of, the area where they are supposed to be, but because we had to bring it in to a small footprint they're in places that might not necessarily be recognized as the right place in the campus," explained project manager Jessica Rigney.

Some of the vignettes were inspired by actual things: A bear climbing a tree, the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown, and the Foucault Pendulum at CU's Duane Physical Laboratory.

As true-to-life as some facets are, other elements of the design are fictionalized. A road crumbles into the mouth of an alien making its way out of the earth. Elsewhere there's an archeological dig, complete with a news team reporting live. The former is a wink at CU's connection to the space program and the latter a nod to its archaeology department.

All of the display showcases the skill, imagination and humor of the nine member team.

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Many Lego displays are built to "mini-figure" scale, but several scales and design techniques were used to create CU-Boulder's display. Two of the techniques employed in Hit the Bricks were Brick Built, for which pieces are stacked and staggered, and SNOT built (Studs. Not. On. Top.), where the bricks are turned out.

"We don't usually work in inches," Rigney explained. "We work in bricks and studs. So if you are building up you are going to talk how many bricks high something is and if you are working out, you know width, you are talking how many studs wide it is."

Some builders generate their designs using CAD drawings others approach their work free form. Either way, there's no chance of glimpsing the finished design on a package to confirm you are right.

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As he built a section of Folsom Stadium, 37-year-old team member Joel Hoornbeek noted that he's been a collector and builder since his parents gave him his first Lego set.

"I've got kids of my own," Hoornbeek said. "I'm sharing the hobby with them, the enjoyment with them, so it's a lot of fun."

The Heritage Center wants to extend that excitement to visitors as well.

Director Allyson Smith said they plan to develop scavenger hunts that challenge children (and their young-at-heart counterparts) to locate happenings within the display.

Unlike other Lego installations seen in Colorado in recent years, the Heritage Center intends to expand the display annually. A Lego Fiske Planetarium is slated for 2015.

"It's not meant to be a static exhibit," Smith said. You might say that it's something to build on.

Arts District is a collaboration of KUNC, RMPBS, and KUVO