Billund is the town that Lego built. The Danish toy company, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, was founded in this little town by a humble carpenter called Ole Kirk Christiansen, who started out making wooden toys in 1932 (on Aug 10, 1932 to be exact, according to Google) under the name “Lego”, an abbreviation of the Danish phrase “leg godt”, meaning “play well”.
Take a stroll around this little town in Denmark, and you’ll see the influence of the iconic toy company all over the place, from the first ever Legoland in the world, to Lego-themed hotels, and a Lego Campus. Even one of the few non-Lego attractions here has ties to the group – the Teddy Bear Art Museum at the centre of the town, housed in the former home of Edith and Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, who were also members of the Lego’s founding family.
However, during our visit to Billund for the 90 Years Of Play media event recently, two of the sites we visited stood out in the way they provided an intriguing and contrasting look at the past and the present of the Lego group – The Lego Idea House and The Lego House.
The Lego Idea House is where Lego was founded. The former house of Lego founder Christiansen was perfectly preserved and now serves as an archive and museum of sorts for guests of the Lego Group.
As part of the Lego Group’s Historical Department, historian Signe Wiese works with the documentation and celebration of Lego’s heritage and the substance and meaning of family ownership.
“My job is to make sure that everyone who works within the company or with the company understands the history of Lego, and why it is such an important thing for us,” she said.
Part of her job is providing guided tours in the Lego Group’s private museum within the Lego Idea House (which is not open to the public), hosting podcasts and videos about the company’s history, writing articles, and much more.
We got the rare chance to visit it as part of the media event, and it was a fascinating trip through Lego’s 90-year history.
The site is actually made up of three buildings, all of which have historical significance to the company, said Signe.
“The first building is the old family home of Ole Kirk Christiansen, and was built in 1924. Then we move into a second building called the System House, which is the first Lego headquarters built in the late 1950s, early 1960s,” she said.
“And then we also have the old woodworking factory that was built in 1942, where we first started to have a more modern kind of mass production process going on.”
The museum took us from Christiansen’s humble beginnings as a carpenter, who pivoted from making furniture to making beautiful wooden toys, many of which are on display in the museum. We also saw the creation of his patented Lego “System”, which ensures that “all elements fit together, can be used in multiple ways, can be built together”.
One part of the exhibition that will truly excite fans of Lego is a gallery that houses a veritable treasure trove of Lego products. Here’s where you’ll get to see the very first Lego bricks, how the iconic Minifigures came about, and even older, discontinued sets and themes like Fabuland, and the very popular Castle and Space sets, which Lego recently released “rebooted” sets of.
The contrast between these early sets and the newer, more sophisticated and complex sets serves to show just how far the Lego Group has come in these 90 years, and just how much they value their history.
This begs the question though – if its history is so important, then why is the Idea House not open to the public? According to Wiese, that is because presenting the history of the company to the public is very different from doing so to corporate guests.
“Here, it’s a very sort of business history. It’s very corporate, and there are a lot of things you need to read on the walls. It’s all about how the company evolved.
“If you want a more public-friendly Lego history, you can actually visit Lego House, just across from here. There is also a sort of museum there, but it focuses more on the product itself,” she said.
“In the Lego House, you can see all of those super cool products. Of course, you can also see a couple of them here, but there’s way more at the Lego House!”
And so, on to The Lego House we went. Situated in the very heart of Billund, the “Home of the Brick” is an architectural marvel in its own right, with a design by the Bjarke Ingels Group that incorporates 21 staggered blocks that resemble Lego bricks.
Officially opened in 2017, the building is wholly dedicated to the magic of play. It is said to house over 25 million Lego bricks, with nine rooftop play areas, and four “Zones” inside where children and adults alike can immerse themselves in various activities and games designed to stimulate different sorts of interaction.
The Blue Zone, for instance, is designed to enhance cognitive competence. Here, children can build and learn how to perfect their own Lego cars, and also participate in a Robo Lab where they control a robot using coding commands.
The Green Zone (social competence) has a couple of massive Lego dioramas where you can spend hours just poring over the little details, and also the Story Lab, which lets you write and direct your own stop-motion movie; while the Yellow Zone (emotional competence) has a “Fish Designer” activity where you can build your own Lego fish and release it into a digital fish tank.
The Red Zone, meant to enhance creative competence, is arguably the most striking of all the zones, as you are greeted by a large Lego waterfall, and also giant tubs of Lego bricks where you can build to your heart’s content.
As you would expect of a building entirely dedicated to play, the Lego house is a constant buzz of activity, the total opposite of the quaint, almost studious museum-like atmosphere in the Lego Ideas House. But despite the contrasting atmospheres, these two buildings were the perfect representation of just how Lego has managed to last 90 years – by staying true to its past history of promising quality and values, while looking towards the future at the same time.