At Brick World, Lego-loving grown-ups reignite a passion that never really died

This is an article about AFOLs, for AFOLs.  Found it off google and thought you may enjoy reading. 😉

Link to original article from The Washington Post here.


At Brick World, Lego-loving grown-ups reignite a passion that never really died

At the LEGO convention in Chantilly, Va., the nation’s largest, devotees from around the country come together to share their colorful constructions.

 First they came out in the hundreds, then by the thousands.

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 9, 2010; 11:19 AM

‘It’s not coming out of the closet, it’s more like coming out of the basement,” Arthur Gugick, 50, confessed to me this weekend in Chantilly, as he stood before the elaborate, plastic manifestation of a lifelong obsession he hid for many years — his Legos.

Gugick is a rock star in this world of middle-aged man-children who are embracing and celebrating their boyhood love of the iconic little brick.

Before him was a display of some of the world’s most amazing landmarks, from Cambodia’s Angkor Wat to England’s Big Ben, recreated by Gugick in painstaking detail with Lego bricks. The math teacher from Cleveland has custom-built platforms to transport the structures in a van bought specifically for his Lego expeditions. (He and his wife have agreements hammered out — he gets a $50 a week allowance and Lego conventions, she gets a two-week ski trip in the winter.)

He told me about the calculus used to create the Roman Coliseum and the algebra that went into the leaning tower of Pisa.

On the other side of the display, a guy from North Carolina interrupted us. “Did you see my clown?” he called over to me, and I decided to run away from the looming, leering crank he created from thousands of Lego pieces.

It was cool, but eww, clowns.

These are men, I learned, who have emerged from an allegedly larval state they call “The Dark Ages,” the years between childhood and adulthood when they didn’t Lego.

“Well, I guess mine were really the dim ages, because I never really stopped playing. I just did it in secret,” Gugick said. I watched as he answered questions from the 19,000 people who descended on the Dulles Expo Center last weekend to admire works such as his at Brick Fair , the largest Lego fan convention in the country. And it was madness.

There were 20-foot-tall cranes, spinning Ferris wheels, moving robots, the Stay Puft marshmallow man, cathedrals, space stations, train yards and mosaic murals of photographic quality.

Little boys (yes, of course there were girls, but they were vastly outnumbered) walked around the convention center in a daze, mouths opened in silent, reverent awe.

Caldwell Butler, 13, of Cumberland, wore a shirt depicting a long-haired, robed man building a Lego structure and the words: “What Would Jesus Build?”

There was a shopping section, where Legos could be laser-printed with photos, tiny circuits were sold that can light up teeny bricks, Lego jewelry was made (I got a cool pair of dangly earrings made of lime green brick) and books of patterns like Forbidden Lego (“Is it okay to bring this?” a seller asked before the gathering, worried about breaking some of the unspoken rules of this society.)

They call themselves AFOLs, Adult Fans of Lego, and encourage you to go ahead, pronounce it like the bad word.

The first two days of the convention were all business for the AFOLs. This wasn’t about kids plopping down and clicking bricks. The adults held serious seminars on architecture, technique and brick innovations.

These were for registered guests only. And it used to be that kids could attend if they registered with an adult. But starting next year, new participants must be 18 and older.

Then on Saturday and Sunday, they opened the doors to the public to show off their MOCs, Lego-speak for My Own Creation.

This was when it got wild. There were signs and reminders everywhere not to touch the elaborate MOCs. There was even a curtained, cordoned-off quiet space, the AFOL chill-out room, for adults who need a break from the sticky, squealing, chatterbox kids who swarmed around their toys.

In a line that snaked two spirals deep around a 90-degree suburban parking lot, there were an awful lot of father-son pairs. Moms were in short supply.

There are some girl geeks who Lego. Don’t forget the woman with a car emblazoned with Lego images, the Brick Chick. But for the most part, Legos make moms shudder, because we see them and conjure instantly the rattling sound they make in the vacuum, or that spike of pain as Lego meets bare foot in a dark room.

Stupidly, I and about seven other moms didn’t realize that Lego Day was also apparently the nation’s official “Smart mom gets a mani-pedi day.” So we looked at each other, shrugged, and soldiered on, waiting with thousands of others to see the Lego creations.

When Gugick did his first convention in 2005, there were about 125 AFOLS. This year, they capped registration at 745.

So it’s grown a little. Why?

Partly, I believe, because the first wave of Lego builders are old enough to have kids. So naturally, they are rediscovering their love of the Danish wonder with their offspring.

“Oh, it’s a cardinal rule. You never, ever sell or give away your Legos. No yard sale. I handed them down to my kids,” said Jeff Head, 41, of Burke, who prowled the convention floor wearing a Lego shirt and a giant camera around his neck to document really cool things that he would build later with his kids.

It’s not just his old bricks from the 1970s that fill the house. Lego has gone out of control these past few years in the marketing department, releasing hundreds of new kits tied to movies, television shows and children’s books.

So buying some of these jazzy new Legos for his 12-year-old son, Joshua, is sort of like buying them for his own, 12-year-old self, Head said.

And of course, there’s the Internet. In the past few years, Lego fan sites have also grown, and builders share their creations, techniques and ideas. On his Web page, Gugick shows off the software program he created to make a dome out of bricks.

Adult fans also believe that being able to buy individual bricks online has radically changed the way AFOLs build. Suddenly, the future of a leaning tower of Pisa that requires thousands of one, specific, white brick, isn’t hinging on that builder’s ability, determination and wallet to keep buying hundreds of kits that happen to contain a few of those pieces.

Perhaps the best example of the Lego renaissance is Washington’s smash exhibit of the summer at the National Building Museum, an architect’s towering re-creation of 15 of the world’s famous buildings in concrete and putty-colored Legos.

For me, the most profound moment of the Legofest came not at the elaborate, mechanized creations or the delicate beauty of a Lego Arc de Triomphe. It was at the stay-and-play, an empty room filled with nothing but piles of bricks. I counted 72 kids in one room, on the floor, their brains hopped up on the remarkable, whimsical things they’d seen, feverishly working out the creative explosions popping in their heads.

Anywhere else, 72 kids in one room would generate an unholy cacophony. Here, the room was almost completely silent, filled with the quiet spectacle of imaginations ablaze.

Have you come out of the basement recently? E-mail me at

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