THE red brick Victorian architectural gem that is St Pancras Station, with its gothic clock tower, tiers of intricate stonework and extravagant spires, is packed into half a dozen white boxes underneath Warren Elsmore’s cluttered desk.
Not all of it, of course, because that would be simply ridiculous. Instead, as he explains, there are many more boxes containing the London railway station, and he indicates vaguely towards the back of his Newhaven workshop to somewhere between the Venetian landmark of St Mark’s Basilica and Kuala Lumpur’s famous Petronas Towers.
Indeed, there is box after box, each filled to the brim, each ready to be emptied and the contents laboriously put back together again.
For anyone who’s sweated over their child’s Lego set, constructing and then furiously deconstructing when they’ve realised a brick wrongly inserted 150 bricks earlier has distorted their entire day’s work, those many boxes containing St Pancras Station probably define the true meaning of purgatory.
Certainly for anyone who has ever finally reached the end of their painful building session, stood back and proudly admired the fruits of their labour – a self-congratulatory “see that, I did that” smile on their face – the idea of it being smashed to rubble and shoved in a white box under a table would be more than they can take.
Because surely if you’d just spent two years building one of the world’s great railway stations using 180,000 mostly red building bricks, creating a model that is almost five feet wide, 11 and a half feet long and with six working platforms on which tiny passengers carrying suitcases and newspapers jostle for space, the last thing you’d really want to do is smash it up again?
Warren, who built the sprawling station for a bit of fun, looks slightly baffled. “But that’s what Lego is for,” he gently points out, as if explaining something painfully obvious to a four-year-old who’s just built their first Duplo fire station. “Many Lego sets look fantastic and some people might want to keep them, but the point is you take them apart and do it again.”
Perhaps that’s why Warren, 36, is a master of the art, a Legomaniac whose waking hours revolve around building all manner of curiosities with his vast collection of building bricks.
In fact, he’s an AFOL – no, it’s not rude, it stands for Adult Fan of Lego, of which there are a growing number. And now he’s just compiled Brick City: Lego for Grown Ups, a manual of ideas and mega projects for anyone who’s ever felt the overwhelming urge to recreate New York’s Chrysler Building, the royal wedding Buckingham Palace balcony scene, the Coliseum in Rome, the Taj Mahal or even an Edinburgh tenement and Mons Meg, all using the contents of junior’s Lego box.
There’s even a replica of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue, 13ins high, made of mostly 1500 pale grey bricks, a 1-91 scale copy of the statue that overlooks Sugarloaf Mountain, the genteel features of Christ recreated as best Warren could while using two bricks with single “studs” for what turn out to be slightly unsettling, peering eyes.
For the very keen, there’s Warren’s stunning 180,000 brick replica of Westminster Abbey to aim at, built to commemorate the royal wedding in 2011, featuring 400 Minifigure guests – some wearing pith helmets, as so far Lego do not produce Philip Treacy fascinator bricks – stained glass windows, statues, a black and white tiled floor and Union Flag. All that seems to be missing is BBC newsman Huw Edwards leading the commentary, Beatrice’s satellite dish hat and Pippa’s perky posterior.
“I don’t know why I ended up getting into Lego like this,” Warren shrugs, casting his gaze around his surprisingly neat studio which sits on a quiet cobbled Newhaven street. “I’ve always had Lego as far back as I can remember and like most kids, Father Christmas brought me sets. I built a big town in my bedroom, cars and fire stations – same as any kid.
“To a certain extent I still do buy sets and build them, but now if I buy a fire station, I’ll build it and also build a house that’s on fire. I just like it.”
Propped up on a nearby easel is a mini masterpiece. From a distance it looks like a kind of pixelated painting, the outlines slightly blurry at first, but screw up your eyes and the image, while hardly likely to be mistaken for the real Mona Lisa, is unmistakable.
On the worktop in front of him is something much simpler, a few bricks which he’s making into a 3D Lego take on a company’s name, for having quit his original day job working as an IT architect, Warren now makes a career out of taking corporate commissions for his Lego skills.
“Lego is very popular just now,” he explains. “It’s had a couple of really good lines recently. There’s the girls’ Friends line, Lego is opening stores, so buying sets is a proper shopping experience with play areas and the chance to buy whatever and how many bricks you want.
“It’s huge on the internet and YouTube, in particular, with people making little films using Lego characters. And there are increasing numbers of adult Lego fan clubs. There’s a lot of people out there who are Lego fans,” insists Warren. He has built in-store displays and exhibition pieces for Lego and staged a massive Lego fair in Manchester which he’d love to bring to Scotland – Edinburgh preferably, if he can secure a decent venue – and is the force behind AFOLCON, Lego’s grown-up fan club.
And incredibly, it’s been a case of “love Lego see the world”, his models have travelled in boxes all over the world then built on location, while his quick fire ability to knock out an impressive “freehand” Lego structure to a strict timescale, has put him in demand at international conventions and conferences, including one trip to a trade fair in Florida in which he created Lego “iPads” for competition winners.
It’s also paying the bills, for a Lego commission can command anything from £500 to £50,000 depending on the scale, complexity and, perhaps, hours spent swearing at the thing while trying to figure out where the last bit goes.
“What I like about Lego is that there are no rules or limits on what you can do,” explains Warren.
“The only restriction is your imagination, time and money. I like that it’s open ended and up to you to work out how to do it. It’s very like puzzle solving.”
His models have included the Forth Bridge, the Olympic Park in London with the river alone using up an incredible 250,000 blue bricks, the Coliseum which turned out to be among the hardest of all models because of its circular design, and the distinctive bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica in the Piazza San Marco in Venice.
But some structures closer to home elude even him.
“I thought about doing Edinburgh Castle. The problem is that it’s not that recognisable.
“In situ, on the hill with the Royal Mile, it’s obviously Edinburgh Castle, but if I take it to Copenhagen, people there need to be able to see straight away what it is. And I’d love to do a working model of the Falkirk Wheel, but so far I haven’t worked out how to.
“I’ll get it eventually,” he adds with a grin, “nothing’s impossible.”
n Brick City by Warren Elsmore is published on May 6 by Mitchell Beazley and costs £12.99.
TOYING WITH SUCCESS
• Carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen began making wooden toys in his workshop in Billund, Denmark, in 1932. He named his business Lego, from the Danish leg godt which means play well.
• The company began producing plastic toys in 1947, two years later introducing its first plastic interlocking bricks, based partly on UK-based Kiddicraft’s Self-Locking Bricks.
• The modern Lego brick was patented in 1958 – the same basic brick in use today.
• Lego sets have been at the top of the toy market for decades. Minifigures were introduced in 1978 and the sets on offer have expanded through the years, often linking in with cartoon and movie characters such as Star Wars (above), Spongebob Squarepants, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean.
• The brand has also evolved into its own mini movies and hugely popular video games, theme parks, clothes and books.