Going big with Lego in NZ: Mosaics, malls and rescue helicopters

Back at the start of 2012 I received an intriguing email from a company investigating building a Lego helicopter – I wasn’t too sure if the idea was for me to build it, to pitch for the job or just offer advice on suitable framing methods and glues for that tricky Lego plastic.

I gave some suggestions and a picture then followed of a kids sized ride on Westpac chopper. Phew, I thought, at least they’re not trying to build a life sized BK117 (Bolkov Kawasaki 117) helicopter – I’d seen full sized LegoVolvos and suggestions that such a creation could take months with multiple team members building.

Things went quiet, and in the depths of the NZ winter I organised a two week Lego building programme – Let’s Lego at LynnMall – at the west Auckland shopping mall that attracted almost 1300 children and their families to take part in 5 dedicated themed building sessions each day.

Lego LynnMall Sessions

With the fantastic help of Ryan “The Brickman” McNaught – one of only 13 Lego Certified Professionals – we also built New Zealand’s first (and to date largest) mystery mosaic.

In total, the Lego Lord of the Rings design contained almost 56,000 pieces and measured almost four square metres in size. Over 1500 people built a small 6 x 6 stud section and we had visitors from all over Auckland (and further afield) stop by regularly to check in on progress.

Final Lego Lord of the Rings Mosaic LynnMall

Once the final object was completed it was presented to the Waitakere hospital out in Henderson, a great feature to brighten up any hospital ward.

Lego Mosaic LynnMall Waitakere DHB

Some months passed and I heard no more about the helicopter project until whilst hosting a Lego birthday party one of the children mentioned the Lego Westpac chopper had been on the news!

Check out the short video on the TVNZ website to see time lapse footage of the build, it’s a great project for a bank associated with such a positive community resource as the Westpac rescue helicopters.

I was down in the CBD today attending a Google event (geeking it up again but wearing one of my other hats as web dev/web analytics data mining enthusiast) and couldn’t help but pop in to the Queen St branch (Westpac at number 79 Queen St) to see the Lego helicopter ‘in the flesh’.

You’ll have to excuse my blurry cellphone pictures but the Lego chopper looks great close up – the team did a good job moulding the shape of the machine and included a perspex windscreen to avoid clear brick issues:

Westpac Lego Helicopter Queen St (1)

Given the lunchtime queues for bank tellers you might spot some strange looks in the photos as I shot the chopper in the branch and there were no kids there!

However the rotors move round slowly and small kids can indeed sit down inside and use the Lego controls (gently please!).

Westpac Lego Helicopter Queen St (2)

Better still, the company has small chopper kits on sale for a donation of $10 to the Westpac rescue chopper appeal in the bank.

Am I sad I didn’t get to take part in the build? Yes for sure, but it’s great to know there are companies out there seeing the fun and value in using Lego to make a marketing/corporate statement about serious community projects.

You just have to look at the effort involved in Habitat for Humanity’s Build Challenge 2012 which ran over the October school holidays around New Zealand to see how Lego, kids and a good cause can be put together.

All in all 2012 has been a great year to be involved with Lego in New Zealand and we’re still 8 weeks away from 2013.

LEGO activities for Auckland school holidays

One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘do you run a LEGO holiday programme?’

The current answer is: No

In the past we ran a weekly LEGO club and occasional holiday events but due to pressure of work Brick Builders only currently offers LEGO birthday parties.

Other holiday programmes with LEGO

If you’re in the Auckland area here are some other holiday childcare providers that may be of interest:

  • The Parnell Trust runs a series of LEGO robotics workshops that are great fun (using Mindstorms)
  • Kidactive run ‘LEGO Corner’ courses for morning and afternoon sessions in Meadowbank, Howick, Takapuna and Herne Bay

Toyworld Onehunga have also started holding Lego building sessions for 2 or 3 hours during the school holidays.

This July they are holding sessions on Wednesday 20th and Tuesday 26th July. Give them a call on 09 633 0300 to check times and places.

If you run a holiday programme around Lego contact us or leave a comment and we’ll add your details.

Lego, Lego and more Lego!

It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post for the Brick Builders website. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost interest in all things Lego, anything but.

Since putting the weekly after school school into hibernation at the start of this year, I’ve focused the company on providing unique and entertaining birthday parties. It’s proved so popular I’m currently booking 6 weeks ahead!

The weekly club was fun to run and popular too but difficult to fit in around a fulltime job. I’m still convinced a network of Lego clubs around New Zealand would be a great way to share the joy (and educational benefits) of Lego with kids who might not have piles of it at home.

My attempts to franchise the club brought lots of interest from across the country but it proved difficult to convert to a club network . Despite having a proven business model many people are put off by the up-front costs of buying the raw materials.

With that in mind I’m currently writing a manual on How to Start and Run Your Own Lego Club – my aim is to offer it as an ebook or PDF download for a nominal fee to 1. test the market for self-publishing (I’m thinking Kindle publishing here) and 2. to see if a full guide will get some motivated people up and running.

Watch this space (and like us on Facebook) – if you’re feeling creative and want to get your own local club up and running get in touch. The more people who email me, the quicker it’s likely to get published!

The Tallest Lego Tower in Auckland?

I was feeling inspired by the story of the people of Limmen, Holland who broke the Guinness world record for the tallest LEGO tower earlier this month and rushed off to purchase more basic bricks for our Auckland record breaking attempt.

Keep in mind that the Limmen tower contained more than 700,000 bricks, an amount I’ve estimated would cost a whopping $56,000 to buy at retail prices.

They also had the benefit of 1800 volunteers and 3 days to work over to create their 30m tower.

So, armed with 5000 new bricks, we worked during the 17th June session to create the tallest tower possible in 90 minutes.

The result, pictured below, was just under 4m tall – not bad at all!

The tallest LEGO tower in Auckland

It wasn’t truly structurally sound but the Brick Builders team enjoyed the challenge and also learnt just how hard it is to keep tall buildings like the Sky Tower standing up.

All systems go at Brick Builders!

When I first discussed the idea of starting an after school LEGO club with my 8 year old son, I never imagined we’d be up and running within a month.

That’s probably the biggest benefit of trying to start a new business in New Zealand – it’s a land of entrepreneurship and people are happy to embrace new ideas and small, family led organisations.

And so, after publishing the first advert for Brick Builders in the school newsletter last week, I found myself touring the shops this weekend to stock up on supplies.

After all, you can’t start a LEGO club without a great supply of building bricks.

So to encourage parents to enrol their children (and children to pester their parents), I’ve put this photo up of my haul of LEGO goodies.

I must confess to already having a large collection of vintage LEGO from the 1970s, gratefully saved for future generations by my forward thinking parents. We also have a Mindstorms NXT 2 kit for tinkering with robotics, but that’s for future Brick Builders sessions….

For now, be certain that signing up for Brick Builders after school care means lots of fun – we’ll be having free-building slots, speed building races, working together to create supercities and even trying to build working catapaults.

Read more about the club and enrol now to secure your place.