Joshua Bohn kicks off his loafers and vaults over the Plexiglas shield to upright an overturned police car in Miniland, the modular exhibit of Atlanta’s jagged skyline at the Legoland Discovery Center.
“We try to combine authenticity with humor, entertainment, and education,” says Bohn, the master model builder at the center, which opened in March inside Phipps Plaza. He towers like a grinning Gulliver over this acrylic, crayon-colored Lilliput, which looks strangely familiar with its small-scale copies of the Fox Theatre, Westin Peachtree Plaza, the Varsity, Stone Mountain, the “King and Queen” buildings, Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Olympic torch tower, and other recognizably local buildings and scenes, all rendered in the hard right angles of interlocking Lego bricks. “This will be an ever-changing creation to reflect as closely as possible what is going on in the real-life cityscape at the moment, from local sports victories to art exhibits at the High,” says Bohn. “The idea is that visitors shouldn’t have the same experience twice.”
Nearby, the siren of a little yellow HERO truck ding-dings reassuringly, and a construction crane swings into action; just as the city’s boosters have always crowed, this New South boomtown is on the move. The interactive exhibit of 450 models depicts thirty landmarks using 999,706 bricks and 1,300 lights, and it is peopled with Lego’s cartoonish minifigures, some of whom are gulping Coca-Cola at Turner Field. MARTA trains scoot along, and a Lego model of Delta’s Boeing 767 arcs slowly overhead.
The center, part of the old-school European company’s marketing outreach to a new generation of youngsters operating on sensory overload, is the sixth in the world, and the third in the United States (the other two American centers are in Illinois and Texas). Visitors to the 35,000-square-foot discovery center enter what appears to be the “world’s largest box of Legos,” to explore, along with Miniland, a hands-on “4-D cinema,” theme rides, jungle gym with slide, cafe with kiddie finger food, and how-to classes in Lego construction from master model builders. Naturally there is a gift shop.
Originally known as “automatic binding bricks,” the snap-on blocks were invented in 1947 in Billund, Denmark, by toy-maker Ole Christiansen, who coined the word “Lego” from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well.” They have been inspiring would-be engineers and architects ever since. The discovery centers, with their blinking, honking, cacophonous play zones, are designed for kids. Adults must be accompanying someone seventeen or under to enter—except on monthly adults-only nights, when grown-up “Lego geeks” are welcome.
“I had Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs, but it was Legos that truly changed my life,” says Kyle Kirkland, thirty-one, the center’s entertainment manager.
Bohn won his coveted position in the Brick Factor, an American Idol–style competition for Lego building that tests spatial reasoning. “My mind is like a CAD program used in drafting, so I see things like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle,” says Bohn, a genial man-child who describes himself as “twenty-four physically and six mentally—and always hyped up on sugar.” The kids who are pinballing around Miniland look at him worshipfully when he exclaims, “I have the coolest job in the world!”
“One question we hear a lot is, ‘Where is the dad-blasted Krispy Kreme?’” says Kirkland, who majored in Georgia history. “One of my favorite ironic juxtapositions here is the Margaret Mitchell House sitting next to a firehouse. If you know anything about Atlanta, you know that house has burned several times.”
“What we want from this exhibit,” Bohn says, “along with showing that Legos, like your imagination, are limitless, is to inspire people to go out and explore these spots in real life.”
Photograph by Kyle Burdg