North East landmarks recreated in Lego as resurgence goes from strength to strength

It's always been a family favourite but now serious builders are giving Lego a new lease of life

More than 65 years since the first bricks rolled off a Danish production line Lego is enjoying a resurgence with parents and children alike.

The firm has opened its biggest store in the North East at the Metrocentre and an array of landmarks have been lovingly recreated at the Woodhorn Museum, in Northumberland.

From the Angel of the North to the Baltic the plastic bricks have created colourful snapshots of the north.

Added to the ongoing fundraiser at Durham Cathedral it seems the plastic bricks are more popular than ever but why is it? From the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchised sets to the standard red, yellow and blue bricks - there’s a lot of life left in Lego.

Warren Elsmore, who is behind much of the Brick Planet exhibition was commissioned to build a selection of North East icons including the Angel of the North, the Tyne Bridge, Bamburgh Castle and the museum itself.

Warren, 38, has also written two books on Lego and manages to make a living travelling around the world constructing replicas of some of the UK’s best-loved landmarks - including St Pancras Station.

Ilsa O'Brian, 5 from Cramlington looking at a model of St Pancras station
Ilsa O'Brian, 5 from Cramlington looking at a model of St Pancras station

He said: “I started with Lego before I was three, my parents can’t remember when but I got it every birthday and every Christmas from then.

“I stopped but then in my early 20s I came back to it.

“Everything I do is made from standard bricks.

“Some of them take longer than others, Bamburgh for example - it looks straight forward but it took the longest [of the North East pieces].

“There is the landscape.”

Warren says he watches his son build and dismantle models, before styling his own creations - something that inspires the builder to this day.

Having taken on the North East he will soon be flying out to Berlin to carry out some Lego workshops.

He said perhaps the biggest appeal to using the toy as a modelling medium is the simplicity.

Macy's NYC created in Lego at the exhibition at Woodhorn Museum
Macy's NYC created in Lego at the exhibition at Woodhorn Museum

“All the things I make are from standard bricks, I don’t have anything specially made and I don’t stick things together,” he added.

“Things like the Harry Potter sets - some people have criticised them but I find things like the goblins make very good gargoyles for when I’m building.”

The idea of working professionally with Lego at one time would have been stuck to designing or selling the Danish-born brand but now its a growing industry.

Inspired by his recent experiences Steve Mayes, a North Shields based architectural photographer, has spotted what could be a gap in the market.

He revived a childhood passion in recent years after first fashioning a replica of his family home before creating a replica of the iconic Baltic Mill building - which also features in the exhibition.

He said: “I used to play with it as a kid but I didn’t continue to play with it.

“About two years ago I had a hankering to build something, I’d kept my Lego and my wife said don’t just mess about - build our house or something.

“So that’s what I did.

“The Baltic took six months, originally I had wanted to do the Sage but it would be very difficult.

Woodhorn Museum created with Lego
Woodhorn Museum created with Lego

“If there’s one thing about Lego it’s it doesn’t render into round buildings very well.”

Steve said the model took so long to build as he road tested the design using software on the Lego website before building it in real time.

Despite appearing to be an indulgence of the inner child, Steve believes there could be some mileage in building scale models from Lego commercially.

He added: “This will definitely not be a one off.

“I work as an architectural photographer - I think it’d be interesting to see if I could get some commissions.

“It would be great in the lobby of a business or a hotel.”

He said part of the appeal is the childhood connection with the toy - almost everybody has played with Lego and the fact, despite some sets being complicated, it’s accessible to anyone over the age of 18 months.

His first real piece created a buzz after appearing on Twitter and after a few messages its set to go on show at the Quayside gallery this summer.

Steve said: “At first they didn’t know anything about it but now they want to show it.

“I heard about the exhibition and rang and asked if they had a Baltic, they said they didn’t so they put it on show.

“There’s something about Lego that seems to really appeal to people - I don’t know if it’s something to do with people who were kids in the 80s now being parents themselves and getting back into it.”

It has its celebrity fans, comedian Johnny Vegas is a self-confessed fan and now there are spin-offs including the Lego Movie and a series of themed videogames taking in big name franchises including Batman, Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

But it’s not just men at home getting involved.

Members of St Paul's Church in Spennymoor visited Durham Cathedral on Saturday November 23 to add two completed sections to a Lego replica of the Cathedral
Members of St Paul's Church in Spennymoor visited Durham Cathedral on Saturday November 23 to add two completed sections to a Lego replica of the Cathedral

Durham Cathedral has found an innovative way to raise money for its Open Treasure program, by charging punters £1 a brick it will raise more than £350,000 towards the project to make the celebrated structure more accessible with fresh exhibits.

The scheme was launched in July 2013 and television presenter and architectural historian Jonathan Foyle placed the first brick.

In the following 22 months organisations including the DLI Association, cathedral organ repairers and countless visitors who can buy the bricks in the cathedral shop.

The model a staggering 12ft in length is becoming an attraction in its own right with a map charting all the locations people have travelled from to take part in the production.

Gaye Kirby, head of development at Durham Cathedral, said: “We always hoped that the Lego model would prove to be an eye-catching and popular way for us to raise money towards our £1 million public appeal, but we continue to be overwhelmed by the generous donations coming in from both members of the public as well as businesses.”

Due to the project’s popularity the Cathedral commissioned a series of miniature models which were sold in the run up to Christmas in the cathedral shop.

Ruth Robson, head of marketing and events, said: “The Lego Cathedral project has attracted interest from far and wide, and right from the start, we’ve had people coming into the shop to see if we sold a mini version they could take home with them.

“We decided to look into the possibility of getting a mini-model and managed to secure a limited edition range of 500, designed by Bright Bricks, certified from Lego.”

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