With Christmas lists in preparation up and down the country, Lego is likely to feature heavily in Santa's sack. A steady favourite for over 80 years, the Danish building toy has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity in recent years. Last year's Lego movie (with a Batman spin and sequel promised for 2017 and 2018), the popular Lego friends range aimed at girls and the growing number of self-avowed adult fans of Lego (they even have an acronym, AFOLs) have all contributed to the rectangular brick's best-selling toy of all times status.
Fans of all ages should enjoy a visit to Brick 2014, a huge celebration of all things Lego taking place at London's Excel Centre from November 27- 30. The exhibition will feature intricate and large scale creations by top builders, demonstrations of Lego robotics, talks by set designers, a museum of vintage Lego from the toy's past, lots of workshops and hands on building areas and – parents be warned – a huge shop.
The show has been organised by lifelong Lego fan and professional builder (yes, there is such a job), Warren Elsmore. After nearly 20 years working in IT he turned a part-time income stream into a full-time business in 2012 and "hasn't stopped since".
His models are in demand from commercial and private clients and he also writes books on Lego architecture, runs building events, workshops and corporate events. His Edinburgh workshop houses his collection of well over a million bricks, and his home is also heavily accessorised with favourite kits. (Thankfully his wife is also a big Lego fan.)
"As a child Lego was all I wanted every Christmas and birthday. Then I got to my mid-teens and everyone stops playing with toys," he says."
In his early 20s a girlfriend bought him a kit of the Statue of Liberty. "Little did she know," he laughs.
His most memorable creations have included replicas of Westminster Cathedral to commemorate the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the London 2012 Olympic site, as well as a model of St Pancras Station. The station project – his personal favourite - took 18 months and 120,000 bricks and stretches about five foot by five foot.
It will be on display at the exhibition alongside other architectural and fantastical models by some of the world's top Lego builders.
Elsmore hopes the displays will encourage visitors to let their own building imagination and ambition run wild. "Everyone has a connection to Lego. That is the special thing. You can look at an amazing Lego model and you might not be able to replicate it exactly but anyone can have a go at building something."
Lego is, he believes, a uniquely accessible medium for creativity. "It doesn't have to take an inordinate amount of skill – it is about thought and concentration about what you are trying to do."
Children might even leave a trip to the exhibition with career ambitions as well as a Christmas wish list. "This is the kind of job every kid dreams of," says Elsmore. "I get a huge kick out of coming up with ideas, designing, problem solving and building. It may not be what everyone who fancies it ends up doing but enjoying building will certainly help with other careers in science, IT, engineering and all sorts of other fields."Warren's top tips for would-be master builders and their parents:
- The Lego Creator or Juniors ranges are good starter kits as they have lots of useful bricks, but follow interests. A Star Wars fan will particularly enjoy that range.
- Don't be prescriptive about how you build. Some people follow the instructions and some make it up as they go along. It's all good!
- If you want to gain confidence with your own ideas, a good starting point is to take a set and then modify it to make it better in your own eyes. Maybe change the colours, add more wheels.
- Challenge games are fun, especially in a group. Build the tallest tower, complete a set in the shortest time possible, or build blindfolded, being told what to do by another fan. That always has some interesting results!
- Try different techniques – borrowing bits from themed kits, using bricks upside down for instance.
- Think big but break the project up into individual parts. I never thought I could build something as complex as St Pancras Station until I started solving the problems one by one, then putting them all together.
- Share your creations on fan websites – with parental permission of course. Getting reactions from other people can often lead to lots of new ideas.
- There is no perfect storage solution but as all pieces work with each other there's no need to keep different themes separate. Don't store by colour though. Finding the right piece in a huge box of black parts is a nightmare!
Brick 2014 is at Excel London from November 27- 30. For information see www.brick2014.com