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Civil engineers share how Lego shaped their childhood 

22 January 2021

ICE members recall Harry Potter castles and Star Wars spaceships to mark National Lego Day.

Civil engineers share how Lego shaped their childhood 
Looking through the lens. Image credit: Daniel Cheung/Unsplash

OK, it might be a cliché that all engineers love Lego, but the fact that constructing something out of the famous interlocking blocks usually involves some basic engineering skills can’t be denied.

To celebrate National Lego Day on 28 January - on this very day in 1958, Danish carpenter Godtfred Kirk Christiansen filed the first patent for the Lego brick - we’ve rounded up ways that the toy has contributed to civil engineers’ career paths (or not!).

We asked our engineers: what’s the biggest or most complex thing you made out of Lego?

Their responses put them into one of the following camps:

Themed Lego engineers

For Rachel Hopson, the Star Wars Millennium Falcon Lego set with over 7,000 pieces was a family affair.

The Lego Millennium Falcon. Image credit: Shutterstock
The Lego Millennium Falcon. Image credit: Shutterstock

“It took from Christmas to New Year’s Day for my brother, Dad and I to build – but it looked incredible! We still have it put together now on top of my brother’s wardrobe, as we didn’t dare take it apart.”

Even engineers who claimed to not be great with Lego have been able to magic up something.

“I’ve never been a huge whizz with Lego as a kid, or adult for that matter,” says Kaye Pollard. “But I have made a Lego Harry Potter castle or two in my time.”

Vehicle Lego engineers

Lego was the basis of the first group university project for Micheala Chan: “My team built a Lego lorry (complete with a trailer, of course), which used a PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative) controller to self-correct when reversing and parking.”

Meanwhile, it’s a years-old mechanically functioning Lego Technic Formula One car that still has pride of place in Kishore Ramdeen’s home.

Lego Formula 1 car. Image credit: Shutterstock
Lego Formula 1 car. Image credit: Shutterstock

“It probably took me a few evenings,” says Ramdeen. “It made my parents happy, as it kept me away from the PlayStation for a few hours, and in fact it’s still proudly on display on a cabinet shelf.”

And some engineers have lost entire days to their constructions:

“I’ve made a tank out of Lego. It took me a day to complete and was quite satisfying,” says Ashkan Amiri.

Structural Lego engineers

One of the great things about Lego is how you can build whatever you can think of.

“I once made a castle out of Lego,” says Bianca Wheeler. “But I couldn’t just stop at the building, I also created its own moat and bridge.”

“I used to make little Lego cities in my bedroom and create stories in them,” says Musa Chunge. “Nothing compared to the size of the replicas in Legoland, but big enough for my imagination.”

While Emma Watkins tried to build the tallest tower she possibly could as a child.

“We had an entire toy chest filled with Lego and I used all of it,” she says. “It [the tower] was bigger than me, and I’m proud to say even at that age the limiting factor was the number of bricks, not anything to do with it being unstable.”

A number of ICE members have also had the grown-up joy of constructing ICE’s travelling exhibition, the world’s longest-span Lego bridge (see below).

The 33m-long suspension bridge uses over 260,000 Lego bricks. It set a Guinness World Record and was designed by my supervisor at Aecom, Dr Robin Sham,” explains Eric Shut Wai Leung.

Robotics Lego engineers

Lego got even more exciting when robotics came into play. Though for some engineers, they’re a source of regret even today.

“I was a huge fan of when Lego first came up with sensors and motor units. I spent hours programming and configuring my robots to navigate my house,” says Aaron Matthew.

“The stairs were my biggest and unfulfilled challenge.”

Talking about challenging, Natalie Cheung used Lego to inspire the next generation of engineers.

"When I first started volunteering as a STEM Ambassador, I taught female pupils to build and programme Lego Mindstorms robots!”

Lego Mindstorms robots. Image credit: Shutterstock
Lego Mindstorms robots. Image credit: Shutterstock

Anti-Lego engineers

However, not all civil engineers are fans of the ubiquitous multi-studded cuboids.

“You’d think that as an engineer I would be all over Lego, but in all honesty, my four-year-old son is already showing me up!” admits Cliff Francis

So, which Lego engineer are you?

  • Anh Nguyen, digital content lead at ICE