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Working on the LEGO Millyard Project at the SEE Science Center. Courtesy photo.




Not just for kids
Grown-up Lego users

11/12/15
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



If you’re older than 10 and you still love Lego, don’t worry — you’re far from alone.

From the SEE Science Center’s Lego Millyard Project (which took three years, 3,000,000 Lego bricks and 10,000 person hours to build) to the network of grown-up Lego-lovers within the New England Lego Users Group (a.k.a., “NELUGgers”), New Hampshire has ample opportunities for adults to enjoy the nostalgic plastic bricks.
Some NELUGgers, like Joseph Comeau of Newton, even wonder why it’s not more popular.
“The possibilities are endless. That’s what makes this so cool,” Comeau said. “There aren’t many things that can transcend generations, but this happens to be one of them.”
 
Local Lego users
If you live locally, the best way to immerse yourself in the toy is to become a member of NELUG. It requires you to be 18, pay dues every year and love Lego — that’s it. 
It consists of about 100 paying members, Comeau said, and they meet every month, usually in Massachusetts, to talk about Lego developments, projects, exhibits and all things Lego. (Their latest endeavor is creating Lego train displays, mini carnival rides and miniscule skyscrapers for Greenberg’s Great Train & Toy Show Nov. 21 and Nov. 22.)
For Comeau, finding the group shortly after it formed in 1999 was a godsend. Lego had just released its first Star Wars and Mindstorm products, and people like him who were uneasy about their grown-up Lego obsessions couldn’t stay away. 
“As a child, Legos are great, and then all of a sudden it’s not cool anymore, and then you stop. But then later in life you realize, this is kind of neat, and you can do so much more with it — but, I thought, people are going to think I’m crazy! So it was cool finding other people who are into it,” Comeau said. 
NELUGgers call this period before 1999 the “dark ages” for fanatics. They like that the little bricks provide them with a medium to be creative, and they argue it’s no different from paint or clay. In fact, if you’re a tech nut, you can do even more with the toy. 
“You can architect buildings and build robots — you can do just about anything with Lego,” Comeau said.
Comeau thinks the toy’s incredibly popular in New England because of the sheer number of Lego businesses here and because the company’s U.S. headquarters are in Enfield, Conn., which is where some of the world’s Lego Master Builders live and work. 
NELUG is one of many grown-up clubs around the world — called “LUGS,” short for Lego Users Groups, among Lego folk. A large number of members have engineering or computer science day jobs, while others are graphic designers, retail employees, 911 operators — they come from all walks of life, and they build things from Lego kids only dream of, with details and movement and grandeur.
Comeau said he loves seeing kids’ reactions at Lego shows, museums and exhibits.
“It’s not this life-sized sculpture of a fireman, which is what the Master Builders do. Kids are under no illusion — they will never have enough Legos to do that — but when it’s in mini-figure scale, and when they see the city we build … and when it comes to life with moving rides and trains going by, the level of excitement is incredible.”
 
Lego in Manchester
The biggest draw to loving Lego in New Hampshire is that it’s home to the largest permanent installation of Lego bricks at mini-figure scale in the world.
Located on the bottom floor of the SEE Science Center, the Lego Millyard Project was built from 2004 to 2006 with the help of hundreds of volunteers (NELUGgers and non-NELUGgers). 
SEE Executive Director Douglas Heuser said the idea stemmed from a conversation he had with Dean Kamen — founder of the Segway and the FIRST Robotics Competition, and whose company is right next door — shortly after the museum moved to its current home in the millyard in 1999. Heuser wasn’t so sure about it.
“[Kamen] said, go out to California, look at Legoland, and I think you’ll get it,” Heuser said. 
So he did. Heuser went to Legoland and met some builders — Bill Burr and Bob Tuttle, one of Kamen’s major business partners. The company had never done anything like this before, but they were all in. Heuser said it would have never happened without Lego support.
“The product is incredibly expensive if you’re buying it off the shelf. We have well over $1 million worth of Legos invested in the display,” Heuser said. 
SEE paid Master Builders Steve Gerling and Erik Varszegi — two of six Master Builders in the world at the time, Heuser said — to design the Millyard project’s layout. Lego donated the bricks, and volunteers donated their time during regular weekend builds. Comeau, who attended these builds, said there were easily 50 to 60 people at each phase.
For Heuser, realism was important; initial mock-ups contained fire engine red bricks, which wouldn’t do.
“I said, that looks like a child’s toy. That’s definitely not what we want. We want something that looks like the mills. I think we actually depleted everything they had in their warehouse — all their different shades of brown, from dark to light. I don’t even think you can buy them anymore because we used them all,” Heuser said.
At the 2006 curtained unveiling, the owner of Lego flew from the Lego headquarters in Denmark to see the display. It has since changed the SEE visiting demographic — people, adults especially, travel internationally to see it. It takes an enormous amount of space on the museum’s first floor and contains moving trains, running water, carnival rides and text that gives context to the display, which appears how Manchester might have in the very early 1900s.
The project was so successful that many Manchester organizations recruited NELUG for other projects. Lego and NELUG helped the Manchester Historical Society build city historic houses for an exhibit — these now line the walls in SEE — and the Manchester City Library recruited Boston resident David Gwon to create a mini-figure scale of its building for the centennial anniversary, which he did with the help of CAD software (to aid in design), old building blueprints, archival photos and thousands of Lego pieces left over from the Millyard Project.
 
Collaborative art
Lots of NELUGgers have their own designated Lego studios in their homes. NELUG married couple Linda and Jonathan Dallas share theirs — it’s in their house’s master bedroom. They sleep in their smaller second bedroom.
The Massachusetts couple met through NELUG and spent their first date building the Jefferson Building for the Millyard Project at SEE. It was supposed to end with a nice meal, but they spent so much time building, they picked up fast food on the way home instead.
When they fell in love and decided to marry in 2007, they held a Lego-themed wedding at the site of their first date. It’s still the only wedding ever held at the museum. 
Their florist created Lego displays and their place cards contained Lego designs. The wedding included a “mixing ceremony” in which the pair took Lego pieces from their own collections and joined them together.
Linda Dallas agrees that Lego is an artistic medium, but what she likes best is that it’s a collaborative one. She and her husband can create together.
“You can’t really work on a painting with another person, but with Lego, it’s kind of easy to have two people giving input on how something should look, or the best way to make something work,” she said. 





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