North East pupils learn of planning thanks to Great North Build project

PUPILS learned the principles of planning as they began to build a model city out of Lego at the Great North Museum.

PUPILS learned the principles of planning as they began to build a model city out of Lego at the Great North Museum.

The five-week Great North Build project, which officially kicks off on Monday, marks the launch of Newcastle University’s new Institute for Social Reform.

With 110,000 bricks to play with, experts hope that over time the miniature township will grow and evolve to try to deal with a host of testing questions about how to build a sustainable community – as well as the odd natural disaster.

Lewis Hall, a pupil at Highfield School, Sunderland, said though he had a lot of Lego at home and enjoyed building towns with the colourful blocks, he’d never really thought about why certain buildings go where they do.

The seven-year-old said: “When I build I do put all the houses together and the shops, but that’s not as good as this. This is really cool – it’s a proper city.”

Fellow pupil Jordan-Lee Holden, 8, was similarly impressed.

“In school we’ve built buildings before but I’ve never thought about why they are where they are,” he said.

“I’ve learnt something new and built a dog house, as they had houses for people, but the dogs needed somewhere to go.”

Professor Mark Shucksmith, who is heading up the new institute, said it had been great to see the youngsters learning while enjoying themselves.

“It’s was amazing when the kids came in,” he said.

“The university has been doing excellent research for years but we were keen to reach out to the community and try to address the big issues in society.

“In terms of this exercise we are looking at the places people live in and how they should change.

“Change is happening all the time – we’ve seen this week the closure of Lynemouth, but also the growth of Nissan. And over a longer period with the loss of coal mines and ship building and other industries taking their place.

“In that context, how do we shape out the city and decide what happens where?

“People can come here and think about that and how different groups require different things. How can we design a city for all of them? That’s the challenge of social renewal.”

Great North Museum senior manager Steve McLean said he was very excited by the project.

“It’s getting the general public to interact with some quite difficult concepts of urban design, planning and architecture,” he said. “And it’s probably one of the most innovative approaches to it that I’ve seen. It’s fun but you learn something too. I’ve not built a building yet myself but if I did I think I’d want to create a glazed botanical garden, like they have in Sheffield or even a miniature version of the Eden Project.

“But it will be very interesting to see what people do and how it develops.”


Lego began in 1932 when Ole Kirk Christiansen, a Danish carpenter, almost went bankrupt. During the depression, he had lost so much carpentry business that he started making wooden toys and selling them from his workshop.

The name comes from the Danish words “leg godt” meaning “play well”.

It wasn’t until 1947 that Lego began producing blocks – they were almost exact copies of the “Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Brick” patented by British inventor Hilary Fisher Page years earlier.

After Page committed suicide over business troubles, Lego bought all the rights to the Kiddicraft block.

Today around 19 billion pieces of Lego are produced per year. 2.16 million are moulded every hour - that’s 36,000 every minute - but only 18 out of every million bricks produced is considered defective.

More than 400 billion Lego bricks have been produced since 1958 and there are currently about 62 Lego bricks for every person on Earth.

Lego is most successful in Germany, where it is the number one toy.

Since 1997, computer and video games featuring Lego figures have become increasingly popular.

42 have now been brought out, based on the likes of the Harry Potter, Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.


David Whetstone
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