The last brick has been placed on the long-awaited LEGO House in Billund, Denmark. Yesterday, the Danish royal family was on hand to open the building to visitors. Before the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)–designed structure, the city was only famous for architectural splendor of a different (smaller) scale. Now, however, Billund finally has something BIG to shout about.
Flying into the city, it’s hard to miss the almost three-acre LEGO House. The building’s vibrant terraced squares of red, yellow, green, and blue are easy to spot beneath the clouds despite the equally colorful LEGOLAND and Lalandia water park nearby. This aerial view, which will be the first for many who visit the LEGO House and a rare instance where aerial photography and renderings are relevant—hints at the modular structure's 21 rectangular volumes, waiting to be discovered on the ground.
Though colorful from the sky, the LEGO House is predominantly white at the street level. Ninety-thousand white clip-on ceramic tiles wrap around the building, each abiding by the proportions of a two-by-four LEGO brick. This reference to the toy-maker's most iconic brick can be found more explicitly in what Ingels calls the LEGO House’s “keystone.”
Sitting at the top of the building, the keystone features eight oversized circular studs and tops out the LEGO House which rises to just over 75 feet high. Rather surprisingly, this makes the building Billund’s tallest, though this isn’t exactly a tough achievement in the low-rise city.
Billund is very much a company town—something its residents aren’t afraid to admit. Around 3,000 LEGO employees work here, though not all live in the city, which had a population of 6,194 as of 2014. The city center is generally ignored by tourists who visit Lalandia and LEGOLAND, as those going to the latter stay at the LEGOLAND Holiday Village. This is not because the center is far away: You can drive around Billund in five minutes, or walk. The center just has very little to offer, with few restaurants and shops.
Billund Mayor Ib Kristensen is hoping the LEGO House will change that. “I don’t have any concerns,” he told The Architect’s Newspaper (AN). “The LEGO House will bring at lot of guests into the center of Billund and it will help other shops, restaurants,” he said, adding that he estimates the building will bring 250,000 visitors to the city every year.
With the municipality so reliant on LEGO, news of the company cutting eight percent of its workforce was not welcome at the start of the month. The cuts will eliminate 1,400 jobs worldwide, and Kristensen said this would mean 600 lost jobs in Billund. Despite this, Kristensen noted that LEGO House has created 180 new jobs and that the city’s “Triangle Region” has the lowest unemployment in Denmark, though this is partly because many travel into Billund for work.
Locals share the mayor’s optimism in spite of the grim jobs news. Tina Hald Kristensen, (no relation) who has worked in a sleepy cafe opposite the LEGO House for two years, is eager to see an influx in potential customers and revenue to the area. “I think it’s a much-needed positive addition to the city,” she said.
Despite its lofty ambitions and height accolades, the LEGO House is not imposing. BIG struck a sensitive balance with Billund’s topography and sprawling surroundings, while making the statement LEGO want to make.
Steadily rising cubic volumes create two corners that form an orthogonal cascading landscape that provides steps and seating. These rubber-surfaced areas will be open to the public 24/7, while the rest of the roofscape, which includes an assortment of play areas, will only be accessible during official open hours.
Considering the building is an almost all-white structure, with walls and terraces open to the public at all hours, the potential for it being a target of graffiti springs to mind. However, Hald Kristensen stressed that this was unlikely to occur. “Billund isn’t that sort of town,” she said. A wander around the area confirms that there’s no graffiti at all. Potential vandalism aside, it remains to be seen how the white tiles and other white surfaces will be maintained in their pristine condition.
It is in the white tile facade, however, where BIG’s details stand out. On the inside, the tiling continues, gradually pixelating into various shades as you enter different areas, most dramatically into black as you enter the basement.
Here, on the lower level, adults who are still interested in LEGO or played with the toy as children will find a nostalgic treasure trove. This area resembles a museum of the company, going back to its first product. Well-known LEGO and System products line the walls and old moulds used to make two-by-four bricks can be seen. Furthermore, an interactive database of almost all LEGO sets lets visitors scroll through and find their favorite.
Anna Manins, a local resident who is a mother of three, is more pleased that her children will have a place to keep them entertained in the winter when LEGOLAND and Lalandia close down. The LEGO House is ultimately a venue for children. Three hours away in Nørrebro, Copenhagen, Ingels' Superkilen park is evidence that his work for children can stand the test of time. Completed in 2012, the park is still well-used five years on.
Like Superkilen, the LEGO House uses color as a circulatory means. As denoted by the colored rubber on the terraces, four zones feed off an interior concourse where a shop, restaurant where LEGO robots serve food, and a staircase spirals round a LEGO tree that has carvings of the first LEGO products that were made from wood can be found.
According to the firm, the Red Zone is for “spontaneous creativity and free-building”; the Green Zone is for "social activities" and “roleplay with your own characters and stories”; the Blue Zone is for “putting your cognitive skills to the test”; and the Yellow Zone is intended to “play with emotions.”
In these areas, children can see their creations come to life on CGI-animated screens and are encouraged to build with each other, contribute to other buildings which are added to throughout the day, race their own LEGO cars, and make stop-motion LEGO movies.
An interesting and unexpected activity is the role of the urban designer. In the Yellow Zone, modular blocks, limited in size to a square base, can be placed around a city-like grid. Custom-made creations can be built around pre-built fixed buildings such as a soccer stadium and concert venue. Similar to playing Sim City, the interactive grid responds to what is placed, demanding at times a particular typology—which you build—be placed in a certain area.
There is room for adulting here too. The accomplished work of certified LEGO builders of all scales —there are only 40 LEGO “master builders” in the world—are dotted around the building. Some are carefully curated moving scenes that tell a story. If you can find it, a depiction of LEGO owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen can be found having his picture taken with his leg in a cast (he broke it when the LEGO House's foundations were being laid).
BIG's plans for Billund don't stop at LEGO. Apartments for families, the elderly, and rental apartments designed by the Danish firm are set to be built in the city. LEGO is also planning a new headquarters in the city, courtesy of C.F. Møller, another Danish studio. For the time being, though, small bricks are the only thing anyone is talking about in Billund.