There may be 7 billion humans on the planet, but by 2019 a species of tiny plastic people will outnumber even us: Lego figurines. Randall Munroe, the physics grad behind the webcomic xkcd, has compared Lego production forecasts with human population predictions to determine that by 2019, there will be nearly 8 billion tiny, yellow people around - up from 4 billion in 2006 - a number that will outstrip the human population. It's all the more impressive considering Lego figurines have only been on sale since 1978
(That was a fan composition, but The Simpson's 550th episode was a homage to lego
When you open the Lego Architecture Studio set you'll find 1,200 white and translucent bricks. What you won't find are instructions for what to do with them. Instead, the set includes a 200-page guidebook filled with architectural concepts, Lego exercises, and insights from several renowned firms - all intended to give budding builders a resource for developing their understanding of real world architecture. It's a brilliant concept - a Lego product that doesn't just encourage imagination but demands it. But it got us wondering: What if we put all those bricks in the hands of actual architects? We sent fresh sets to three leading firms - here's what they came up with.
Gregg Pasquarelli, co-founder and partner at SHoP Architects in New York, has been a Lego fanatic all his life. "It's why I became an architect, quite frankly," he says. "I grew up in the boroughs of New York, and I could see the Manhattan skyline from my window as a child, and I literally sat there and mimicked all the buildings I could see in Lego. It made me fall in love with building and architecture."
Pasquarelli jumped at the chance to do something with the new Studio set, ultimately piecing together a complex, futuristic cityscape inspired by Metabolism, a postwar movement from Japan that looked at architecture through the lens of organic growth and biological systems. In the process, he realized a lifelong dream: making his own custom curved Lego pieces.
As a kid, his attempts at forging his own pieces were primitive. "I tried melting them on the stove to bend the parts. I used to saw the blocks apart. I did everything to try to push the limits," he says. Working on this project some 40 years later, he took an easier route: the architect fabricated pieces with one of his studio's 3-D printers. In no time, he'd made a series of wiggling blocks that stack to create the undulating, wave-like walls in his final design.
Gregg Pasquarelli realized a childhood dream by 3-D printing his own curved pieces. Wow. Those elements are very much in step with SHoP's real world work - many of their buildings include supple, curving forms. But as Pasquarelli points out, oftentimes those curves are created from a multitude of straight, segmented pieces - something he thinks can be traced back to those childhood afternoons spent playing with his favorite toys. "That DNA - that you can take a straight line, or a basic block, or a simple element, and if you're really clever about how you deploy it, you can make anything - I think that DNA and the way I think about buildings comes from playing with those Legos back in the late '60s and early '70s before they got all the specialized pieces. If you look at the Barclay's Center, it looks like Lego blocks stacked up around each other, even as it makes that big curve. There's no question."
Probably the greatest Lego project ever:
The Lego Illustrated Bible
Which Is Why ....
David Beckham says Lego calms him down. Britney Spears builds Lego models with her children. Brad Pitt is so obsessed by it that he works on models long after his and Angelina Jolie's children have got bored and have dropped off to sleep. "Angelina finds it adorable," according to a friend of the couple.
Elton John once rang fellow singer Ed Sheeran to find he was in the middle of building a Lego model. Sheeran loves the plastic bricks so much that he wrote a song called Lego House. It turned out that Elton lived near Legoland in Windsor, Berkshire, and is a fan too. "He was saying how he can't wait to take the kids to Legoland," Sheeran said.
So a trip to see The Lego Movie - set to be the half-term sensation - could well involve a bit of celeb-spotting. The film, released last week, is a subversive tale of a modern-day David and Goliath.
The town of Bricksburg is ruled over by President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), who likes buildings built and lives lived according to instructions and is prepared to glue everyone in place rather than allow any creativity. Emmet, a Bricksburg construction worker, unwittingly finds himself the leader of an underground resistance movement.
One of the first people in Britain to see the film - at a special preview - was Warren Elsmore, who must count as one of our greatest Lego obsessives. Before he turned professional (he now designs Lego models for a living) he spent two years creating a model of the London St Pancras railway station from 120,000 bricks. It was the size of a small car.
To him, Lego's enduring appeal lies in its ingenious blend of old and new. “The bricks are still the same bricks they were 50 years ago so pretty much everybody has a collection somewhere that has been passed down from father to son, or children to younger children," Elsmore said.
Lego gets its name from the Danish phrase 'leg godt', meaning 'play well'. The company was founded by Ole Kirk Kristiansen, a Danish carpenter, whose story perfectly fits its image of earnest Scandinavian endeavour.
Born in 1891, one of 10 children in a poor family, he was apprenticed at 14 and built up a successful business making farm buildings but was hit by a series of setbacks. His workshop burnt down, his wife died - leaving him with four young sons to raise - and the Great Depression ravaged Denmark's export-led agricultural economy in 1930, crippling his customers. To feed his family he diversified into making affordable ladders, furniture, ironing boards - and wooden toys that are immensely collectable today.
His third son, Godtfred, started working for him, aged 12, in 1932 and was the inspiration behind the modern Lego empire. Both were perfectionists: as a teenager Godtfred carved out his father's motto - 'Det bedste er ikke for gotte' or 'Only the best is good enough' - on a piece of wood, painted it red and gold and hung it in the workshop.
By 1940, when Denmark was occupied by Germany, the two Kristiansens had 10 employees. Wartime, and another devastating workshop fire, did not hinder their expansion as toy-makers and by 1943 they had 40 employees.
They emerged from the war with enough revenue to import Denmark's first plastic injection machine for toy-making. By 1949 they had about 200 product lines, ranging from tiddlywinks to 'automatic binding bricks' - the forerunner of modern Lego. These were a step forward from traditional wooden bricks because they interlocked: rounded studs on the top of one brick slotted into the hollow base of another.
The bricks were sold only in Denmark initially and had little impact until in 1954 - on a North Sea ferry to England, according to company legend - Godtfred discussed them with a toy salesman who gave him a lesson in marketing. If the bricks were sold in kits with ready-made designs - 'systems' in Lego-speak - children would know what to do with them.
The Lego system of play was launched within a year and by the end of the 1950s the company had expanded to Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium and Britain. The first generation of Lego children was hooked.
Today there are estimated to be some 560bn Lego parts in circulation. There are Lego video and online games, Lego stores, six Legoland amusement parks spread around the globe from Denmark to Malaysia, and Lego factories in Mexico, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Overambitious expansion led to financial problems and redundancies a decade ago but, after restructuring and disposals, Lego now vies with Mattel as the world's most valuable toy company.
Lego is one of the few plastic toys to be approved of by even the most politically correct parents. It is seen as educational (although one American blogger did wonder last year whether her son's addiction to Lego indicated a future addiction to alcohol or drugs). Only last month Elizabeth Truss, the education minister, said girls should be given Lego and science kits to stop them drifting off towards the arts.
Imperial College London, home to aspiring scientists and engineers, has a student Lego society, currently building a model of the Queen's Tower, one of the features of the college campus.
Daniel Hertz, the society's president, said: "I remember my family making huge Lego structures across the living room, which was always good fun. I can take out Lego that was manufactured in 1950 and it will perfectly interlock with the Lego Superman set or whatever I buy today. The longevity is a big part of it. I could go to the attic and get my dad's Lego set out and it will work with all of mine."
This appeal across the generations is key to Lego's success. "It cuts across age difference," said Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University and the author of Paranoid Parenting.
"At two years old a kid can mess about with it, as teenagers they may love it and as adults they'll regard it with nostalgia. I can't think of anything that includes so many people: uncles, visitors, anyone who comes along will be down on the floor clicking bricks together with the children. Grandfathers remember themselves playing with Lego: it's a way of connecting with kids."
To introduce new generations, Duplo, its younger, chunkier sibling aimed at toddlers - with bricks measuring twice the standard width, length and height of Lego blocks - was introduced in 1969.
Lego was named toy of the century in 1999 by the British Association of Toy Retailers. After the company had recovered from its financial blip in 2004 it has not looked back.
In May 2011 the space shuttle Endeavour's mission STS-134 took 13 Lego kits to the International Space Station where astronauts built models to see how they would react in microgravity. A few months later three Lego figurines representing the astronomer Galileo and the Roman gods Jupiter and Juno took off on a five-year mission to Jupiter aboard the spacecraft Juno. Instead of plastic they are made of aluminium to make sure they are robust enough for space and will not interfere with the scientific instruments.
A host of successful new businesses have sprung up catering to Lego addicts. A couple in Sheffield who set up the website Minifigs.me make personalised Lego figurines to match photographs supplied by their customers. BrickLink, a sort of eBay for those seeking or selling something as small as a single missing brick from an out-of-production set, has 300,000 users.
Wayne Hussey, one of the organisers of BrickCon, the most notable annual Lego event - this year it will be held in Seattle and expects to show the work of 450 Lego builders - believes it is the creative side of Lego that appeals across the years.
"Considered a toy by most outsiders, it is really more like an art medium to adults, more similar to paint from an adult viewpoint. The results achieved by adult builders clearly demonstrate its ability to be used beyond that which an ordinary toy could be," he said.
Yet despite its phenomenal success there is one thing everyone hates about Lego - the searing pain when you think you have cleared it all away and then tread on the last brick hidden in the carpet.
Making A Living From Lego
Sixty-five years ago, deep in the basement of a Billund, Denmark carpentry workshop, Ole Kirk Christiansen conceived Lego; 560 billion pieces later, the company has defined childhood for millions of kids across the globe.
But for some, the fun doesn't stop at puberty. Adult fans of Lego -- or AFOL (pronounced 'awful') -- is a small but passionate confederacy of builders who refuse to believe Lego is just for kids. One AFOL we spoke with says most in the community are 'educated and/or intelligent, and have some sort of technical background.' Many are engineers, computer programmers, and hackers who have no reservation about shelling out $2,000 on EBay for an 'Ultimate Collector's' Millennium Falcon, or a rare limited-edition set. As Jamie Berard, Lego's senior product designer, says, 'Dad's gotta have his toy room too!'
For the select few in the AFOL community, playing with Lego bricks has become more than a mere hobby: the best of the best have made a career out of it. But how much can you expect to earn as a Lego maestro, and what exactly does the job entail? We've explored three jobs -- model master builders, Lego Certified Professionals, and industry 'renegades' -- to answer these questions.
Lego Master Model Builders
The road to becoming a master model builder for Lego is excruciating and arduous -- and the monetary payoff is less than exciting. To give you an idea of how selective this group is, there are only 40 Lego master builders in the world, 7 of whom are Americans.
These builders are hand-picked by Lego, and are employed at the company's Discovery centers, and its seven LEGOLAND theme park locations (Billund, Denmark; Windsor, England; Gunzburg, Germany; Nusajaya, Malaysia; Florida, California). But in most cases, they have to start from the bottom and work their way up: only the most skilled Lego artisans achieve the honor of master builder.
Typically, a new hire starts as an apprentice builder -- essentially a 'glue minion,' according to a young 'peon' who works at LEGOLAND Florida. They spend long hours adhering thousands of individual pieces together and work on maintaining the parks' various sculptures and exhibits. From there, a promising apprentice builder is promoted to a senior builder, where the pay may bump from $10 to $12 an hour, and additional duties are assumed: constructing models, overseeing daily procedures, and shadowing the master builders.
If you're lucky enough to be selected as a master model builder, Here's the job description directly from Lego's website:
'This exciting role will have you designing, building, removing, installing, and repairing all models at the attraction. As the resident LEGO building expert, you will help teach others by running workshops, speaking with media and participate in events. We are looking for someone with flair who has the ability to create a wide range of models. Must follow design briefs to build LEGO models for displays and marketing promotions.'
However cool building Lego sculptures all day may seem, these duties come with a few caveats. For one, the pay -- $37,500 a year -- isn't stellar for a highly selective post that requires a tremendous amount of practice, energy, and time to secure. For those who wish to have true creative freedom, the master model builder position also often proves to be constricting: the majority of projects fall within premeditated or corporate-affiliated themes (Superman, Spiderman, Star Wars, etc).
To boot, all Lego-sanctioned creations must be kid-friendly (after all, that's the company's main constituency); custom builders wishing to create more controversial or experimental works (ie. zombie villages) simply aren't amused for long.
In a candidate, Lego typically looks for someone with a bachelor's degree in either an art-related field (architecture, design), or engineering (mechanical, aeronautical, structural). They also expect a candidate to have some level of 3D modeling experience with programs like Maya, 3ds, AutoCad, and SolidWorks; this prepares them for the work they'll be doing on Lego's custom-built computer-aided design platform. Lastly, a strong portfolio showing off a variance of Lego skills is a must.
At 23 years old, Andrew Johnson, a DePaul University History major, was the youngest master model builder ever hired by Lego. Here's his application video:
He was selected to participate in the interview cycle, an 'intense, three-round' process in which competitors are not told what they'll be constructing in advance. Over three rounds, Andrew re-created a Picasso sculpture, built a small-scale model of Dr. Seuss' Lorax with a mere 20 bricks, and, in the final 45-minute phase, whipped together a violin and harmonica, securing his dream job. He shares one of the methods he used to prepare:
'I don't buy the kits that come with instructions. I would just buy several of those big tubs, dump them out and start with a picture of something in my head. I can't remember the last time I used instructions for anything.'
For those who seek more intensive preparation, Lego also offers an MBA program -- Master Builder Academy, that is -- that provides the 'skills, design secrets, and advanced building techniques used by the pros.' Disclaimer: graduating from this academy does not guarantee you a job at Lego. Paul Chrzan, a 40-year-old master builder from Connecticut, offers advice to aspiring students:
"I tell people just build, build, build. Just keep playing with the bricks. Don't build the house and the spaceship. Build your family pet. Build a family portrait. Go beyond what people usually do with the bricks. Because that's what we do."
Lego also employs several in-house designers, who visualize sets and new blocks, and it's fiercely competitive to get hired. When a position opened up in Denmark, people flocked from around the world to compete for it -- a 46-year-old entertainment executive from Australia, a military veteran from Los Angeles, a furniture designer from Indonesia, a Scottish medical engineer -- and all agreed the process was brutal.
Lego Certified Professionals
An even more selective crew, Lego certified professionals (LCPs) are full-time, freelance Lego artists who are officially recognized by the Lego group as trusted business partners. Currently, there are twelve of them in the world.
Essentially, these twelve are international Lego ambassadors; they are not Lego employees, and don't get paid by the company, but enjoy a business to business relationship with them. Lego endorses their skills and gives them access to buy bricks in bulk; in return, they get to advertise the incredible works of art these individuals produce. As freelancers, LCPs are hired by corporations, brands, and private individuals to make custom sculptures, but a few are also highly respected artists who display their work in galleries across the world. Generally, they can make better money than master model builders, and have more freedom in their project selection, but since they are freelancers, this is contingent on how much work they put into it.
The concept of independent builders being endorsed by Lego was the brainchild of Sean Kenney. Once a disgruntled web designer for Lehman Brothers, Kenney left his job in 2003 to become a master builder; two years in, he pitched the LCP idea to Lego corporate, and they gave him a shot. Today, he's a successful freelancer, having received commissioned work with the likes of Mazda and Google.
Kenney says there's really no standard process for becoming an LCP, but admits the best approach is to first spend some time as a master builder at LEGOLAND; about a quarter of all current LCPs went this route. Lego is extremely secretive about what they look for in an LCP candidate, and has released no information about how to become certified. One hobbyist surmises that 'if you aren't already a well-known Lego builder with years of experience,' the company likely won't consider you.
Before becoming a Lego Certified Professional, Nathan Sawaya worked as a Wall Street lawyer and pulled in a salary in the mid-six figures. To de-stress after intense days, he'd return to his apartment and fiddle around with Lego bricks; in time, he got pretty damn good. He started a website, Brick Artist, where his friends could submit requests of things for him to Lego-fy: portraits of children, movie characters, animals.
In 2004, on a whim, he entered a contest held by Lego to find the best builder in the U.S.; he won, and was subsequently hired as a master builder. He tucked away $13 an hour -- about what he made in two minutes as a corporate attorney. After a few years mastering his craft, he embarked on an independent career with the endorsement of Lego.
Today, Sawaya has two studios -- one in Los Angeles, and one in New York. His work has been featured in Times Square's Discovery Museum, Time Warner Center, and a slew of other exhibits in 17 U.S. states. Routinely, he'll have three or four concurrent builds going on, and his shops contain over 1.5 million bricks in every color, shape, and size imaginable.
Sawaya with a life-size Lego Conan O'Brien; Brick Artist
Notably, Sawaya has built a 10-foot-tall replica of the Trump Tower in Dubai for Donald himself, and a 4-foot bumblebee for pop star, Ashlee Simpson. He'll charge anywhere from $2,000 to $100,000+ for his commissioned work, depending on the scope of the project; sculptures may take him two days, or two months. Incredibly, Sawaya claims he makes more money as a Lego artist than he did as a corporate lawyer; equally surprising, he also says his hours are longer.
Other LCPs see similar success. Dirk Denoyelle, a 47-year-old who was once a stand-up comic, says there is real money to be earned in the Lego business. He recently sold a commissioned village for $20,000, and routinely has projects lined up.
Robin Sather, Canada's only Lego Certified Professional, runs Brickville Design Works and sees a steady stream of business and museums: his works include a giant Egyptian sphinx, dinosaurs, fantastic castles and more. He attributes his success as a Lego builder to his unorthodox development:
'If your peculiarities can survive your adolescent years, you're going to be okay. By the time I got out of college into early adulthood -- yeah -- I was Lego guy, and everyone knew it. I'm a businessman and a Lego builder; my relationships with clients are mostly b2b [business to business].'
Sean Kenney, who the New York Times touts among the 'artistic elite' of Lego builders, commissions portraits and sculptures as well, but has expanded in home-ware as well. He's recently released a series of functional Lego lamps that make IKEA look like child's play, and has been widely praised for his innovation by Good Morning America, NPR, and The Wall Street Journal.
Larry Pieniazek is a Technical Architect at IBM by day, and a Lego architect by night. He is neither a master builder nor a Lego Certified Professional, but operates Milton Train Works, a company that produces custom Lego train kits, out of his basement. He's part of a small but faithful contingency of people who run unaffiliated freelance businesses on the side. Many of these folks have day jobs, but consider Lego building more than just a hobby.
Pieniazek is a wealth of knowledge; he knows everything there is to know about Lego, it's major players, and it's history -- and also, it's secondary market underbelly. When he was part of a team contracted by Kellogg to produce a lifesize Tony the Tiger, he found himself in need of 100,000 bricks -- many of which would need to be bright orange. Without the wholesale brick access of an LCP, he had to seek out an alternative option.
He turned to an community of online 'brick brokers,' a group of about 3,000 sellers who buy sets and part them out, capitalizing on builders' independent needs. Pieniazek estimates 'about 10%' of these sellers make a full-time living this way.
He also says there is a customized market for just about anything Lego: pieces, sets, printed designs, and paints. One custom set, Brickmania, even raised a $53,000 Kickstarter fund to produce tank accessories, artillery, and customized 'Minifigs' (the little Lego men) who don camouflage and enviable mustaches.
These are likely pieces PC-friendly Lego would never produce, but have developed a considerable demand from adult fans of Lego. Lego Certified Professionals would never be able to do things like this, says Pieniazek:
'Part of their agreement with Lego stipulates that they can't produce any competing sets that may be at odds with the company. As unaffiliated builders, we have a little more freedom to make the stuff Lego wouldn't dare to, which is fun.'
On the fringe of the Lego frontier are the speculators -- those who anticipate the desirability of a new set, buy a few dozen, hoard them, then sell them off at a considerable profit when they go out of production.
These speculators, like other toy profiteers, sell their stock online or at conventions; good ones are particularly apt at predicting which sets will be hot years down the line. Pieniazek tells us Star Wars sets always 'appreciate nicely,' and he should know: he recently flipped a '10030 Imperial Star Destroyer,' originally a $300 set, for $999. His set could've gone for as much as $1,500, he says, had it not been water-damaged.
Pieniazek insists that's nothing: 'Cafe Corner,' a highly desirable set produced in 2007, originally sold for $139.99; today, a pristine, sealed set can fetch $1,500 -- nearly a 10x profit. 'There are dozens of sets, if not hundreds, that are good for 2x-3x; most any Star Wars set 5 years or more old is good for at least 2x,' he adds.
Brickpicker.com is a Lego investment site, specifically crafted for brick brokers to navigate the market. The site offers pertinent financial advice -- 'Lego Disney Princess Part 2: Will the Clock Strike Midnight on Your Investment?' -- and provides an intricate ranking system that 'utilizes licensed eBay Terapeak data to show the LEGO investor popular trends in the secondary market.'
A variety of other sites (bricklink, brickset) exist, which catalogue every existing Lego set from the early 1960s to present, and dole out standard market rates for collectors and sellers. Bricklink alone lists 279 million items, ranging from Indiana Jones mini figures to tiny door hinges.
Lego as an Art Medium
For those who've made a living with Lego bricks, money isn't paramount: it's more about pushing the limits of creation and pursuing something they love. True fans recognize that Lego transcends far beyond a mere toy, into the realm of art, says Pieniazek:
'Lego is a medium: we have a palette - it's shapes, arrangement of shapes, the colors they come in. It's as pure of an art form as can be. And like any art, the key to good building is having a system in place, knowing how elements interact. Lego is truly the best building system ever invented; everything works together in so many serendipitous, unintended ways.'
Upon viewing Nathan Sawaya's 'Art of the Brick' installation at Discovery Times Museum, New York Times art critic Edward Rothstein shares a similar opinion:
'In its pure form...the Lego block is at once the least technological toy around. But in another way, it is also one of the most technological, technological in the original sense of the word, alluding to craft and mastery - techne - the art of making.'
In the end, Pieniazek supposes we're all makers piecing together the bricks of life. Some take this more literally than others.
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The Lego Movie
WITH its infuriatingly catchy 'Everything is Awesome' anthem, The Lego Movie is taking the box office by storm.
It raked in about £40m during its first three days in America, the second-best debut for a February movie release.
The film should be equally popular on this side of Atlantic. It opened on Friday and will probably prove the perfect half-term treat - for parents rather than their children. In America, adults made up 59% of the audience over the opening weekend.
Lego has a huge worldwide following among grown-up model makers, known as Afols - Adult Fans of Lego.
Some see the interlocking toy bricks as art. Psychologists talk about the way they help to educate even the brightest minds. And they have even inspired a slew of entrepreneurs, who have built businesses out of the bricks. The Sunday Times profiles five below, but there are many more.
Take Caroline and Nick Savage, the husband and wife behind the website Minifigs.me. They gave up careers as a biologist and a marketer to make customised Lego people at their Sheffield home.
For about £25 the Savages will convert one of the distinctive yellow Lego figures into a version of you, one of your friends or someone famous. There are also topical special editions, such as the Winter Olympics and BBC1's Sherlock.
The couple work on 70 to 120 orders a week. 'We don't have a life any more,' said Nick, 31. 'We have to do this all the time. But it's the best job I could think of.'
The business began in 2011 when Caroline, 34, a long-standing Lego fan, began making figures for fun for friends in her roller derby team. It took off when she crafted figures as a tribute to Britain's 2012 Olympics heroes. These led to a flood of requests from people wanting her to make bespoke characters. After a year, the Savages went full-time.
They get through so many Lego parts - they estimate they have 250,000 at home - that they no longer buy from a local toy shop.
A valuable source of bricks and figures is Bricklink, arguably the best known of Lego start-ups. It was launched in 2000 by Daniel Jezek, whose family had emigrated to Hawaii from Czechoslovakia. It is eBay for Lego.
Jezek got his first Lego at the age of 3 and was hooked. He built the website, originally called Brickbay, to allow other devoted fans to buy and sell parts. It quickly took off.
Today there are nearly 300,000 users. Many are in America, but 5% of the buyers and 4% of sellers live in Britain. Though many of the products can be bought for a few pence, rare items cost considerably more. A chrome-plated minifigure of the Star Wars character C-3PO sells for up to $1,200.
Jezek died in 2010, aged just 33. Keen to maintain his legacy, his mother Eliska took over the site. She ran it for three years with the help of many volunteers. When hackers struck last year, it was a sign that change was needed. In June she sold up to Kim Jung-Ju, a Korean computer games tycoon.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed but Kim, a Lego aficionado and Bricklink user, insists he is not interested in making money from the site. He told The Sunday Times: 'Bricklink is my way of saying how much I appreciate being a long-time member of this community, not a means to profit from it.'
It is operated separately from Nexon, his Tokyo-listed software business, and Kim has a team working on improvements to the site. A sister site, which will offer Lego models created by top designers, is under development.
The upheaval at Bricklink last year prompted attempts to create rival trading platforms. Lawrence James was already selling Lego on a site called the Daily Brick, which he started while still a computer science student. He decided to set up a sister site, Brickowl.com. Like Bricklink, it is a marketplace that allows users to buy and sell parts and sets.
James, who gave up a job as a programmer because of repetitive strain injury, runs the websites from his home in Lewes, East Sussex. It is full of the plastic bricks. 'It's quite a big house and I live in only a small part of it,' the 24-year-old confessed.
Like many others who are making money from Lego, James played with the toy as a child and rediscovered it as an adult. Afols refer to the years between the two as the Dark Ages.
Denmark-based Lego has left the door wide open to entrepreneurs such as Jezek and James. Although it has a website where customers can buy extra parts from sets in production, it does not sell spares from discontinued lines.
It is surprisingly tolerant of other companies making money from its products. Of Bricklink, for example, Lego said it 'appreciates' that the site 'fulfils the need' of many collectors. And as long as nobody is abusing its intellectual property, the toy giant is happy for them to continue. Nick Savage said: 'They know that businesses like ours add to Lego's cult value.'
There seems to be no shortage of people doing just that. Other family-run enterprises include Brickarms, an American online store that makes toy weapons to fit minifigures.
Closer to home, Huw Millington, 50, has been running his Brickset website since 1997. It started as a service cataloguing the promotional Lego sets produced for retailers such as Shell petrol stations, and then set out to record every kit produced since the 1960s.
In 2012, Millington left his job at National Air Traffic Services to run the site full-time from his home in Fareham, Hampshire. It makes money from commission when users click through from the database to sellers such as eBay.
Brickset attracts nearly 800,000 visitors a month. It is a labour of love for Millington. 'Lego produces 400 or 500 new sets a year so it's a lot of work keeping the database up to date,' he said.
Perhaps the most striking relationship between the toy company and those who have turned the hobby into a money maker is its programme for 'Lego certified professionals'. There are only 12 in the world and the only one in Britain is Duncan Titmarsh, who gave up a job as a kitchen fitter in 2010 to build Lego for a living.
His company, Bright Bricks, has six full-time staff who build giant models, sometimes for Legoland theme parks but often for companies that want them for promotional events. Among his most notable creations is a replica jet engine for Rolls-Royce.
Titmarsh, 43, of Bordon, Hampshire, said the official partnership with Lego allows him to bulk-buy bricks directly. There are, though, restrictions on jobs he can accept. He cannot make models for alcoholic drink brands, for example.
Lego arranges an annual gettogether for the 12 professional builders, who are from countries including America, Australia and Japan. This is far from the only time that experts congregate, of course. Warren Elsmore, author of two Lego books, is organising a convention at London's O2 Arena in May.
The most notable annual event is BrickCon, which began in 2002. This year it will be held in October in Seattle, and it is expected to showcase the work of 450 builders.
Wayne Hussey, one of the organisers, believes the reason for Lego's appeal is simple. 'Although considered a toy by most outsiders, it is really more like an art medium to adults,' he said.
'The results achieved by adult builders clearly demonstrate its ability to be used beyond that which an ordinary toy could be.'
Psychologists have also attempted to explain the appeal of the little plastic bricks, which were invented in 1957. David Whitebread, a lecturer at Cambridge University, said: 'Lego is very enjoyable, whatever your skill level. Three- and four-year-olds can get satisfaction from it, right up to people who are qualified engineers - you can set yourself challenges with the bricks.'
After more than 50 years, Lego shows no sign of losing its appeal.
And The Guardians