Alec Posta needs people to understand about the word “LEGO.”
“Whenever we are talking about LEGO and building with it, we never want to use the term ‘LEGOs,’” he said.
“LEGO is a company, and they make plastic bricks. We never say ‘LEGOs,’ plural.”
As the master model builder at Tempe’s LEGOLAND Discovery Center, Posta sometimes receives angry letters about this from adult LEGO fans, he said last week from his office at Arizona Mills Mall.
“I am the LEGO person for our LEGOLAND,” said Posta, who’s been with the company five years. “But it’s more than LEGO blocks out here. We have rides and a movie theater. Also a jungle gym.”
When he’s not answering indignant emails from LEGO purists, Posta keeps busy creating and maintaining custom models of buildings and skylines, like the miniature cityscape of Phoenix now on display at LEGOLAND.
It was originally made from about 800,000 bricks, though Posta has overseen the addition of 1 million more brightly colored blocks in recent months.
He wanted to be clear that he’s had some help. “I didn’t personally build all the Phoenix buildings. There’s a team.”
Buildings are rendered in both 1:72 scale and 1:48 scale, depending on how prominent the creative team wants the structure to be.
“Like all LEGO projects, we like to play a little make-believe,” Posta said in defense of the model’s varying scale. “We shifted the city around to create an area where different downtown landmarks might be on the same street. So we might have the Orpheum on the same road as the baseball stadium.”
Some of the larger buildings, like Chase Tower, dwarf other structures like St. Mary’s Basilica to punch up a building’s prominence and make the landmark more recognizable.
But there are realistic details in Posta’s downtown diorama, too. “We do have quite a few construction scenes,” he said in reference to Phoenix’s perpetually torn-up streets. “One of the little yellow LEGO men is standing on a jackhammer, going up and down making the noisiest racket. We didn’t tear up too many streets, though. LEGOLAND is a paradise with minimal construction.”
The Phoenix diorama extends into Tempe and beyond. “We have the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook and the Cardinals Stadium,” said Posta, “so we’re drawing from the whole state.”
People are rarely surprised to learn that playing with LEGO was Posta’s favorite thing to do as a child. “Blocks, Lincoln logs — I had all the classic building toys,” he said. “I got away from it as I grew older but got back into LEGO in a big way as an adult. Now I’m LEGO, full-time.”
He spends a certain amount of that time explaining the history of LEGO, a Danish company founded in 1932. “They were big in Denmark for a long time. In the U.S., things started to really ramp up in the 1980s. Now LEGO is a big deal with parents, too. They’ve started making nostalgia sets for adults, like Seinfeld LEGO and Minnie Mouse LEGO.”
There are 14 LEGOLAND Discovery Centers across the U.S., Posta boasted. The LEGOLAND in Michigan has a downtown Detroit diorama; the one in San Jose is planning one of San Francisco.
There’s real research involved in creating a city out of little plastic bricks. “First there’s location scouting. We get pictures of the façade and the most iconic angle, but we also photograph the back of the building and the alleys behind it. And then those are rendered out of LEGO as well.”
The photographs are then used to create computer prototypes, though Posta prefers to work with LEGO bricks in real-time. “I like the trial and error of, you know, ‘How can I make that window frame?’”
He hasn’t heard from local historians about the LEGOLAND Phoenix project. “I’d love to have the luxury of speaking to one of them, to have them come visit and get their opinion,” he said.
While he waits, Posta is preparing for the Troll World Tour event coming up at LEGOLAND’s amusement park. After that, he plans to make a prototype of the Mill Avenue Bridge for the LEGOLAND Tempe Town Lake already on display.
“I just need to order some more parts, pop it down, and put some cars on the bridge,” he said. “I might build a kayak or two. Or a rowboat. You never know.”