The jewel in the crown of Lego City
There are cities whose fates are inextricably bound up with that of the main local employers, and this is can even be seen in the very fabric of the city itself. Take Wolfsburg, for example, the center of which is dominated by the huge sprawling mass of the Volkswagen factory, or Leverkusen, over which hovers an enormous Bayer cross. The same goes for the Danish municipality of Billund. Since the early 20th century, the entrepreneurial ambitions of the Christiansen family have played a crucial part in determining the town’s fate, initially in the form of a furniture factory, which then later, in the 1930s, developed into one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world – Lego. Now this connection is manifested in the face of the city, too. On the site of the former town hall, the “Lego House” has been under construction since 2014. Thus, it is no longer the community itself that is represented in the town center, but rather its most important taxpayer – a clear statement about the balance of power.
The new focal point of the town was designed by Bjarke Ingels and his team at BIG. The Copenhagen-based architecture firm is known for proposals that create numerous and original public spaces. Hence, with this commission, the idea was to kill two birds with one stone: On the one hand to bask in the glow of the young and charismatic star architects, and at the same time dispel the suspicion that the general public is being driven out of the town center. Instead, it’s all sunshine and roses: A new “town square” has been developed, supposedly for everyone to enjoy, and that includes not only the town’s residents but also the tourists, who will now be drawn not only to “Legoland” outside the town gates, but also to the town center. The latter will make their way from the new plaza to the other areas of the “Lego House”: the four “Play Zones”, dedicated to creative, cognitive, social and emotional learning, the “Masterpiece Gallery”, and the company’s historical collection.
As expected, the architecture bears all the hallmarks of a BIG design, and it’s also no surprise that the building looks like it has been made from one of the kits in the “Lego Architecture” series. (Naturally, the house is also available in miniature as a building kit.) It’s no wonder, says the team at BIG, that it seems almost as if their firm was created for the sole purpose of designing this building. Buildings as toys, toys as buildings: Architettura parlante is what art historians call it – speaking architecture. The only remaining question is whether the people of Billund really wanted their town center to morph into a playroom.