What’s your first memory of Lego, Robin?
My first memories are of my mum buying me a little plastic tub of bricks from a thrift store. I was about three years old, and I still have some of those bricks.
Were you hooked from day one?
Lego became something I was always interested in and the toy I would keep coming back to. I liked the ability to do my own stuff: back in the day the theme was ‘what will you make today?’ and ‘a new toy every day’, and that was the case for me. I always wanted to work in Lego but reality kicked in – I went to work in IT, and then when the internet came out I realised I wasn’t just one of a handful of adults around the world who liked playing Lego, there were tens of thousands of us.
Clubs started to form, conventions became popular and here in Vancouver where I headed up the local club we were doing events for libraries or shopping malls and the public was loving it; we were getting calls from all over the place wanting us to come and build things. I realised there was a market for this and contacted Lego in 2005 to see if we could respond to this demand with their support. They loved the idea and that was the start of this programme that I’m now a part of, which is the Lego Certified Professional Programme.
How many are there of you?
There are 14 of us. We get to go out, have fun, and essentially Lego gives us their blessing. We’re certified, but we’re also completely free to choose the things we do. We each kind of have our own region and we get together every couple of years to share stories and help each other out. We’re like a guild of Lego artists, it’s a ton of fun and there’s no shortage of work – I have to turn business away. People want us to build creations, they want us to stage events, they want all kinds of things.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve built?
My most well-known one is probably the giant 2.5m-tall sphinx I created. I actually built that several times over – it was for a travelling exhibit I made called Secrets of the Pharaohs that toured around Canada. I’ve also done a few big castles over the years – I’m a sucker for medieval stuff.
How many Lego bricks do you own?
I have a lot of bricks! There’s always bricks coming in and out, and at any given point I estimate I have about 2.5 million bricks to hand. I spend a lot on Lego, as you can imagine, but we can buy bulk direct from the Lego factory – which is great when you get a pallet of freshly made bricks, it’s like opening a bag of freshly ground coffee, only it’s the aroma of freshly minted Lego. I spend many tens of thousands of dollars per year, and the total I’ve spent would be in the high six figures.
Why does Lego continue to be so popular?
There’s a bunch of reasons but the strongest, I think, is that Lego gives you a safe way to be creative. A lot of people find creativity intimidating, because with clay or drawing the options are too broad; however, when you pick up Lego bricks they click together naturally but you can still very quickly get something unique. Just six 2x4 Lego bricks can be connected in almost a billion ways. A set with 100 bricks in it has near infinite possibilities. And what you come up with is really cool; you get that pride of creation, which is not easy to come by.
Have you been involved with the new Legoland Dubai?
Not really, but I do know that when Lego creates an attraction they always try to do something to make it relevant to that area, and Dubai lends itself so amazingly to large building structures.
Which character from the Lego movie did you most identify with?
Ha ha! I loved that movie – I think they nailed it. I think Vitruvius was pretty cool.
What’s the worst Lego injury you’ve had?
Well, there’s always a rule that we clear up the floor around here so there’s none of that stepping on Lego in the middle of the night. One thing that does happen a lot – and this is a real first-world problem! – is that when you’re running your hands through bricks all day they tear away at your cuticles. So it’s not very dramatic, but sore fingers are a regular occupational hazard.
And your biggest Lego disaster?
There’s one we call The Backpack Incident. I was doing an event at a mall and it was a back-to-school promotion, so I was creating this giant kids’ backpack and it was coming together nicely when I suddenly realised I had miscounted. As I started to connect things up I could see it would be out – they wouldn’t connect. I didn’t have time to go back and fix the problem so I just had to kind of hide this terrible crack in the design. Now, whenever I’m building anything like that, we double and triple and quadruple-count to make sure there’s no mistakes.
Yeah – more recently I ordered 10,000 flat, white 2x6 ‘plates’ for a large structure I was making in Calgary: it was just one line on an order of about 400 other items. The pallets arrived and I could see that there were too many boxes, so I started opening them and quickly saw that I’d been sent 10,000 Duplo bricks – I’d ordered the wrong part number, which is easily done. So now I had 10,000 of these things that are mainly for younger kids and are twice the size in every dimension. I had to completely revamp the design, but I did end up using a huge number of them inside as the support structure. That was a great save, but my goodness – that sinking feeling as I opened box after box of Duplo was pretty horrifying.
Finally, what’s the strangest place you’ve ever found a piece of Lego?
On a hiking trail. I was walking through the forest when I saw a couple of Lego bricks in the dirt – my eyes are always attuned to finding and seeing Lego bricks and I thought, ‘That looks like Lego’ because the colours kind of jumped out at me. I can’t get away from Lego. If I put my hands in my pockets there’ll always be a little piece of Lego in there.