Lego House: Right Next To Denmark’s Legoland, But Way Cooler

If there is one thing that most Hackaday readers will know about Denmark, it is that it’s the home of the Lego brick. The toy first appeared at the end of the 1940s from the factory of Ole Kirk Christiansen‘s Lego company in Billund, central Denmark, and has remained inseparable from both the town and the country ever since.

When spending a week in Denmark for the BornHack hacker camp it made absolute sense to take a day out to drive up to Billund and visit the famous Legoland theme park. All those childhood dreams of seeing the fabled attraction would be satisfied, making the visit a day to remember.

Your first view of the Lego House, in the centre of Billund.
Your first view of the Lego House, in the centre of Billund.

The Danes at Bornhack however had other ideas. By all means go to Legoland they said, but also take in Lego House. As a Brit I’d never heard of it, so was quickly educated. It seems that while Legoland is a kid’s theme park, Lego House is a far more Lego-brick-focused experience, and in the view of the Danish hackers, much better.

In The Company Town, You’re Sitting On The Mother Lode

Billund is a small town surrounded by farmland, that would probably have remained a sleepy backwater were it not the Lego company town. The visitor attractions are dwarfed by the extent of the Lego factories and warehouses, and it boasts the country’s second largest international airport also owned by the company.

You are in no doubt as to Lego’s influence on the place as you drive in, the city limits are marked by car-sized Lego bricks at the side of the road. Lego House is right in the centre of town, a modernist structure designed to resemble a huge pile of Lego bricks. From across the square you can’t miss seeing more of those monster bricks. (I looked close — turns out they’re fibreglass, and I unaccountably want to own one.)

Once inside, the central atrium is dominated by a life-size tree over several stories, made of course from Lego. The furniture and fittings are all beautifully designed but retain a Lego theme, and you are never far from Lego bricks with most seating having a bin full of them for you to idly play with. This is the temple of the brick in every sense, and it is clear that a huge quantity of thought has gone into its creation. It is no budget visitor attraction but the premium statement of thanks by a multinational company to the fans of its product, and as a visitor you are welcome to immerse yourself in it rather than be a spectator.

The Brick Has A Fascinating History

Spent Lego moulds, under the museum floor

The museum in the basement takes the visitor through the formation and early years of the Lego business from its origins in a family carpenter’s shop through its diversification into wooden toys and then its embrace of plastic moulding. First though, you walk above a series of worn-out Lego brick moulds unearthed from the foundations of a Lego factory, fascinatingly we learn that the company used to bury moulds in this way to avoid their falling into the hands of competitors. It’s interesting to see the moulds up-close, and there’s something slightly eerie about the exhibit.

We see the succession of the company’s wooden toys from the 1930s through to the ’50s, which incidentally provide a snapshot of the toy fashions of the day. There was a yo-yo craze in the 1930s, for instance, and later a craze for fake motorcycle engines to attach to bicycles. To eyes that associate the name with plastic bricks it’s very odd indeed to see the word “Lego” on a wooden truck or train. These were high-quality toys, and dare I say it there were a few I’d definitely snap up were I lucky enough to encounter one in a second-hand store.

The company diversified into plastic mouldings in the late 1940s, and there follows a series of exhibitions charting the decline of the wooden toy business and the rise of the plastic. It began with Lego bricks, evolving into the innumerable shapes we know today. The quantity of design work that went into ensuring that the bricks grip each other enough for the models to not fall apart, while remaining easy to dismantle is a fascinating story.

This is the point at which you’ll see the sets you had as a child, for example for me it was the blue railway tracks and large gear sets of the early 1970s that triggered the most nostalgia. It’s notable that the sets from that era were much more “Here are a load of parts, go and build anything you want” rather than “Here is a set to make this spaceship, go and build that”, and I at least am left with the feeling that our kids have lost some creative opportunity along the way.

Plenty Of Lego Activities For All Ages

The museum alone would make for a worthy destination, but this building offers so much more. Upstairs there are a series of zones, from an art gallery of pieces done in the medium of Lego bricks through interactive Lego challenges and games involving making real items in Lego and mating them to virtual worlds, to more traditional Lego activities. If you wish to build a Lego house and have it in a virtual cityscape you can do it here.

The Hackaday shark. It seems the Lego scanning algorithm doesn’t identify grey bricks very well.

You can also see your Lego fish swimming in a virtual sea. My effort was a shark.

A Rare Chance To See The Bricks Being Made

Emerging from the riot of coloured plastic bricks back into the atrium, there is a final treat. The Danish mathematician Søren Eilers and a team computed the maximum number of combinations in which six eight-stud Lego bricks could be combined as 915,103,765, and the Lego company are setting out to have every one of them built. You can scan your RFID pass and receive your personalised combination, but the special treat is that on your way out you receive a pack of six red Lego bricks made by a working Lego production line there in front of you. We’re told it’s the same as the plant used in the Lego factories, but hugely slowed down to the rate at which visitors pass through the attraction.

There is a machine processing raw plastic pellets, feeding the hydraulic injection moulding machine that makes the bricks, and then a series of sorting machinery that extract six bricks and then a packager that bags them up in the exclusive Lego House packaging, before being weighed and dispensed. It’s interesting to note that the weighing process rejects a few bags of bricks, there must be quite a fine tolerance on a finished brick. It’s a rare opportunity to see close-up an industrial production line, and that it’s creating the iconic Lego bricks is a bonus.

There’s Another Attraction In Billund, Too

With bricks in hand, we left Lego House past the Lego shop in which almost anything Lego could be found. A festival of Lego bricks, but of course it’s not the only game in Billund. The Legoland theme park is on the outskirts of town, so on a second day we made the trip there. It’s not worthy of a Hackaday write-up as much as Lego House because we are not a theme park review site, but it’s worth a quick mention as there are a few points of technical interest there.

Most of the rides are Lego-themed versions of traditional park fare, but it’s worth taking the time to try the Ice Pilot ride in which you sit on the end of an industrial robot following a path you can program yourself. Then there are the extensive Lego model cities, which have plenty of automation to marvel at. Otherwise have the usual fun with monorails and trains and water rides, but don’t expect much accessible tech. And a word to the wise: by all means try the Lego brick fries in the burger joint, but order a portion between more than one person. Danes must have HUGE appetites.

So then, Lego House and Legoland. Both as Danish as a smørrebrød, and definitely something you should put on your itineraries should you find yourself in the country. How about making time for BornHack next year so you can follow in our footsteps?

31 thoughts on “Lego House: Right Next To Denmark’s Legoland, But Way Cooler

  1. > …sets from that era we’re more “Here are a load of parts, go and build anything you want” rather than “Here is a set to make this spaceship, go and build that”, and I at least am left with the feeling that our kids have lost some creative opportunity along the way.

    I was pretty shocked by the LEGO choices available to my kid at the local toy shop: all co-branded and with specific design goals. He never really became a lego fan, preferring toys that didn’t tell you what to do.

    I only learned that LEGO came with instructions when I started buying it for myself in my 20s. Apparently my parents would open the box and remove any instructions before giving it to me.

    1. I don’t understand why in every Lego thread on the internet someone has to rush in to point out instructions or the so-specific pieces upset them. I can’t see how you can be so in need of creativity when you’re concerned with pedantical aspects of how other people use this toy.

      1. There’s a very good reason (and the “other people” is typically the commenters’ children, as in my case).

        40+ years ago play was quite unstructured. Over the last 30 years, and more agressively over the last 20 years, play has become highly structured. In addition IP “rights” have become significantly more intrusive in parallel with commercial space intruding into home life.

        There are many ways to observe this and complain about it or celebrate it. However when a highly open-ended toy like Lego bricks no longer emphasizes unstructured play it’s a shock. It’s a symptom, not a cause, and in fact it’s the strategy that kept lego from going out of business. But it’s a symptom of a trend that’s antithetical to the attitude of this web site in particular.

        1. I have spent thousands of hours building with Lego in my lifetime, most of that when I was a child. “Expert Builder” (now called Lego Technic) had just become a thing back then, and I followed the instructions when building a new kit for the first time, learning the various relationships between parts along the way. After I had built and played with a new model for a while, I would then take it back apart and build something completely new with the new parts (along with my growing collection) to take advantage of some new thing I had learned or new type of brick I now had. I built things like model planes where all control surfaces worked from cockpit controls, 4 wheel drive cars with full suspension and steering, long before Lego had created special parts to do that with, and lots of other things from my imagination and experience.

          In other words, the Lego instructions are just the starting point. Kids will always use their imaginations if given a chance. The instructions teach valuable skills and do not hold a child’s imagination back.

    2. Look around this site. Damn near everything posted would not be possible if everyone simply folowed the instructions. If some wants to be creative, they will find a way. If not, then not including instructions discourages those that are satisfied with the illusion of creativity. I’m no expert but it seems like that illusion is a gateway toward genuine creativity.

      1. Nobody is an expert in these things (how life works :-). Some of us think a completely blank canvas leads to creativity; others that it’s useful to have some examples that can be extended, discarded, ignored, etc. I don’t think either is right or wrong in a general sense; each of us, each situation, and each kid is different.

        In the case of Lego, the affordances are so strict and of such a relatively small number that I (personally) think the “blank canvas” one was the right one for me and my wife and I thought for my kid.

        I do think there is too much “rule following” today, though the reasons are many and complex (e.g. it’s a lot simpler to make a “no user maintainable parts inside” device).

    3. When I was a kid, I had a few of the themed sets (a castle and a pirate ship, I think) and these had instructions on how to build the item that was pictured on the front of the box, if memory serves me the castle could be built several different ways. But I remember getting a big set that was just a set of Legos, and it didn’t have any instructions or anything, save for a small booklet with several ideas to get you started but the booklet left a lot to the imagination – it would just have a picture of an animal or a house or a car or something, but didn’t show you step-by-step how to build it.

  2. ” …sets from that era we’re more “Here are a load of parts, go and build anything you want” rather than “Here is a set to make this spaceship, go and build that”, and I at least am left with the feeling that our kids have lost some creative opportunity along the way.”

    I dunno. When I was young, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have followed any instructions that came with a Lego set. Not sure if that’s due to creativity or a protest against authority.

    (And actually, I preferred Tinkertoys.)

    1. We (family) did a comparision of old instructions vs new instructions for similar sets (size of model and type, car, building, etc) for town theme.

      Found that old instructions would have 4-8 new bricks per image and just the two images for reference.
      New instructions would have maybe 1-3 new bricks and ones hard to see would have guide lines showing where to fit them.

      Or simply, old instructions for a similar set and a similar age range were appreciably harder to put together.
      Thus lego is indeed dumbing down the instructions to make it easier.

      1) Do they really need to? Is this market feedback? – the lowest skill arguement
      2) Is this helping kids discovery when they just follow a production line vs getting it wrong and 4 steps later having to figure out why and go back and correct?

  3. My kids weren’t interested in building according to the plans, so I’d put it together for them according to the instructions, show them how the designers planned on it being played with, and cringe as they disassembled it and created their own design…

    1. Yes, fortunately or unfortunately I still do the same :)
      I’ve owned over a half dozen Volkswagens from 83-98 models, the first one got a GTi motor, brakes and Scirocco seats, the last one got 4th gen shift tower, linkage and shifter box.
      now I have a Lenovo T430 (x3) and a W530, all but one running i7 processors.
      Subaru Forester first gen on 2nd gen front brakes with FRS wheels.
      The golf cart already has front wheels discarded from a log splitter (easier to steer, gotta teach the children to drive), and the LiFePO4 batteries from a hybrid Canadian bus.
      Lego will stick with you for life, Technic is my favorite from mid 90s

      1. Almost forgot, most of my vaguely sporty cars get hockey pucks for engine mounts, cheap, and really don’t vibrate much more except at idle or certain rpm. I much prefer that to the engine heaving around over rough roads and shifting itself when trying to accelerate or decelerate.

        Don’t get me wrong, I apppreaciate well designed mounts, but 300 will buy an engine and gearbox from the salvage yard, no need to waste it on some specialized polyurethane when it comes in $2 cylinders 3~5 will work for most cars.

        1. A stack of Belleville washers also does a pretty good job. You can tune the compliance, although it doesn’t damp well. But it’s done well in my engine swaps/custom engine mounts.

  4. Brag: I worked on this project with the Exhibition team, helping to design a lot of the technology & media systems. Getting to go to the ‘Mother Ship’ (and get put up in LEGOland!) was like a childhood dream come true. I also have a few of the LEGO sets of the actual building, only available in Billund. Occasionally, my job kicks ass.

  5. My feet still hurt… despite my son being over 30 now. Every single last one of them foot assassins has been imprisoned in one of several bankers boxes… and either they are escaping, or some eluded capture and have been hiding for years.

  6. As a dane, having lived less than 30 minutes from Billund and whom visited legoland less than a month ago, i have never heard of the Lego House, and now i want to go there. I would love to see the injection moulding machine up close AND RUNNING?(excited child noises). One of the big reasons i visit legoland is to admire the lego-city with all the cars, planes, boats and other things moving around autonomously. It just never gets old, even though i’ve visited it almost every year the last 15 years

  7. > …sets from that era we’re more “Here are a load of parts, go and build anything you want” rather than “Here is a set to make this spaceship, go and build that”, and I at least am left with the feeling that our kids have lost some creative opportunity along the way.

    Most kits had instructions when we were kids.

    Instruction-less collections of bricks are still available. But all the instructions in the world don’t stop kids building what they want. Very few of my kids’ models bear any relationship to what’s on the box. Ninja-shark-submarines seem to be popular this week.

  8. There are definitely pros and cons to both ways of playing with Lego. Following the instructions with pieces specific to a certain model teaches attention to detail and creates an nicer end result. Free form with plain bricks teaches creativity. It’s great when kids can do both. My 7 year old son has found a third way – design your own models, hand draw instructions, put them in a box and present them to me to follow.

  9. There’s plenty of Lego sets which are made of mostly universal bricks. If you don’t like the ones that are branded, or have parts with only one use then just don’t buy those ones (for yourself or others).
    Eg, I just bought a monster truck (6209745) for my friend’s kid (he LOVED it!) and pretty much every brick in there can be used for something else (except maybe the wheels, but more wheels are always handy). It’s no difference to one of the really old space sets (eg 452) in that respect.
    Lego still do boxes of bricks with no specific model as well (eg 10696).

    1. And if you do buy “just a box of bricks”, you probably won’t get the cool tank treads!
      B^)

      Also following your comment, when visiting a LEGO store that has a wall of bins in which you can fill up a cup with any parts for the same price, probably the best bargain is to fill it with wheels and axles.

      (I’m still considering buying a set of 100 Storm/Clonetroopers!)

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