Architecture in a LEGO key: Keith Olsen’s brick work
by Keith Loria — By day, Keith Olsen is a licensed architect, helping to design community facilities in the tri-state area; but by night, the Ridgefield resident has been using his talents to create something even more extraordinary — a model of Grand Central Terminal made entirely out of LEGOs.
“It’s one of my favorite buildings in New York City; I’ve always loved the building, having grown up in New York, and I have lots of memories of coming in and seeing it,” Olsen said. “It’s such a beautiful building that was hidden under layers of dirt and soot for many years, and seeing it in more recent years and how it was restored to its former glory, has been wonderful.”
The idea to create a LEGO model came to him after he received a LEGO architecture studio set from his parents last Christmas, even though he hadn’t played with LEGOs since he was a child.
“My three kids all loved LEGOs so when I received this set, my kids also had gotten LEGOs as gifts and we were sitting around the table, putting pieces together, and I noticed that some of the pieces looked like the large windows on Grand Central,” Olsen said. “I took that little piece and started building a corner of the building, and I kept the model going from there.”
Olsen worked on his miniature version of Grand Central Terminal over the course of a year, when he could find time from his busy work and family life, which includes spending time with his wife, Janine, and three children, Kaleigh, 10, Benjamin, 8, and Miles, 5.
“There were times I was more focused on it and could put many hours in during the evenings, either with my kids by my side building their own LEGOs, or after they went to bed and I would stay up late and work on it,” he said. “There were points I even took the whole model apart and rebuilt it because I had a new idea on how I could make something look better or more like the actual building.”
Thanks to his job as an architect, Olsen fortuitously was able to get up on the roof of Grand Central for a project and took some mental pictures that he would integrate into his creation.
“I knew I had to find a way to capture the skylights and the ways that light gets into the interior of the building, so at that point, I did a major reconstruction of the model, really working on the interiors of the actual terminal,” he said.
The finished model has an intentional opening in the roof to reveal the interior of Grand Central Terminal, which replicates ticket booths, the information kiosk and the grand stairways leading to the balconies. Other elements include ramps, escalators and the arched entry of the famous Oyster Bar.
The exterior features classical columns, soaring arched windows and a statue of the Winged Mercury perched at the top of the roof. Also included is a tiny statue of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt in the center arch, the man who originally built the New York City landmark.
Olsen estimates that he used somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 bricks overall, from his original gift set and borrowed pieces from his kids. His son Miles liked to help by finding bricks in his own set that he thought would work.
“There were other points where I had this one perfect brick, but I would need 20 of them, so at that point, I started finding places online where you could purchase individual LEGO bricks of different shapes and sizes,” Olsen said. “I intentionally used white and clear bricks, because that’s what the set I got was, so I decided to continue making it all white, so it would look like an actual architectural model.”
The project was completed in late 2016 and Olsen now has a chance to have his creation manufactured by the LEGO Group, thanks to a contest in which fans get to vote on models displayed on the website, ideas.LEGO.com/projects/161535. Any entry that gets 10,000 votes will be up for consideration to become an actual LEGO playset.
“I had seen other people’s proposals and thought it was interesting, so I checked out the site myself and supported some others I thought were great,” he said. “Once I got my model to the point where I thought it could be submitted, I worked towards that personal goal.”
If Olsen’s design is chosen, he would receive 1 percent of the total net sales of the product, 10 complimentary copies of the set, plus credit and his bio in set materials as the LEGO Ideas set creator.
In its first month, Olsen has surpassed 500 votes, and he’s doing all he can to ensure that he gets to the magic number threshold. He appreciates any support that comes his way.
“There are lots of groups on Flickr that are dedicated to LEGOs, and I have also posted on Facebook, including the Ridgefield town page and my local college group,” he said. “I’ve gotten great feedback and support and it’s definitely helped to spread the word through various forms of social media.”
Olsen’s already planning his next LEGO-based project, although he doesn’t want to reveal anything too soon, and is enjoying just building LEGOs with his kids.
“My 8-year-old is now building a rather complex technical set with a motor and moving pieces so it’s definitely excited my kids to not only build things from their own sets, but to come up with their own creations, too,” he said. “It’s been a fun activity to share with my kids.”
To see the Grand Central Terminal model in person, visit the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk’s LEGO Weekend, Feb. 18-20 (maritimeaquarium.org).