At Lego Festival, It's All About Connections
Enthusiasts Gather in Va. to Show What Can Become of a Few Thousand Bits of Plastic

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 15, 2005

Arthur Guglick took on a part-time job two months ago to pay for his hobby. To build a model of the Taj Mahal, he calculated that he would spend about $1,000. The creamy ceiling tiles and onion-shaped domes of the Islamic tomb would be pricey, after all.

The 45-year-old Ohio high school math teacher spent eight painstaking weeks replicating one of the world's seven wonders. But unlike the original made in the 17th century of masonry and marble, Guglick built his Taj Mahal with 50,000 Lego pieces -- well, about 50,000. He stopped counting along the way.

Why the Taj Mahal? Guglick, who's been building with Legos since the 1960s, explained yesterday that he had scads of white pieces lying around the house. "I considered the White House, the Capitol. But when the Taj Mahal came up, I just fell in love with it."

Guglick was one of 300 attendees at BrickFest, the nation's largest Lego convention held annually at the Arlington campus of George Mason University. He also was one of 40 builders who entered BrickFest's building contest, considered the world series of Lego modeling.

This weekend, Lego enthusiasts celebrated the 50th anniversary of the interlocking plastic blocks, first introduced in Denmark and now one of the world's most recognizable children's toys.

But it was adult fans who converged in Arlington, carrying with them replicas they made of the world's historical sites, architectural gems and cultural icons -- all built from colorful Legos.

There were models of Frank Lloyd Wright houses, a McDonald's drive-through and World War II vessels. There were 3,000 fans in the stands of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Superman clutching the spire of New York's Chrysler Building. And there was Homer Simpson holding a bottle of Deer Park spring water, in lieu of his characteristic can of Duff beer.

Yesterday, about 2,500 adults and children came to see the Lego models on display at George Mason, BrickFest organizers said.

"It's amazing what unlimited Legos and a lot of attention to detail will do," Mike Mattei, 43, of Sterling said as he viewed the speedway replica with his wife and three children.

The speedway took 18 months to construct, and its builder, Brian Darrow, 48, a chiropractor from Indianapolis, rebuilt the model five times before he was satisfied. He attended the Indy 500 and took a behind-the-scenes tour to capture every detail, from the flags atop the stands to the pit in the center of the racetrack.

"Anybody from Indy and race fans know these little details," he said. "It's just mind-boggling. It staggers the imagination, the whole speedway."

A few steps down the hall, Lindsay Braun also was drawing a crowd. Folks flocked to see his 13-foot replica of a Japanese Takao heavy cruiser ship used in World War II. Braun, 34, a history professor from Detroit, constructed the ship using about 100,000 Lego pieces. (He, too, lost count.)

"Instead of taking a vacation like a normal human being, I go down to my basement and do this," he said, explaining that he spent five solid weeks building the model ship.

In honor of Lego's 50th anniversary, the National Trust for Historic Preservation helped judge the building competition. The winning model was an intricate replica of Drayton Hall, the only plantation home on the Ashley River in South Carolina to survive the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

Erik Varszegi, a master builder who works at Lego's U.S. headquarters in Enfield, Conn., said the judges were impressed with the creativity of the entries.

"It's a toy. They came in expecting to see houses with four walls and a roof and that's it," he said. "But they were totally blown away by the level of detail."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company