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OSU professor builds Lego replica of the ‘Shoe

Lego is abbreviated from the Danish words “leg godt,” which mean to “play well,” according to Lego’s website.

Paul Janssen has taken his play with Legos to the next level. In fact, he has taken it to about every level of Ohio Stadium.

Janssen is an OSU associate professor of physiology and cell biology and an associate professor in cardiovascular medicine. He finished two years of construction on his Lego replica of Ohio Stadium on Jan. 1.

The 8-foot-by-6.5-foot replica will be composed of more than one million Legos after the finishing touches are put on the stadium. And yes, it is and will be composed of only Legos.

“I really tried to build the whole thing as a Lego purist,” Janssen told The Lantern. “It becomes less of a challenge if you modify the pieces.”

Janssen began collecting Lego pieces for the project in 2005 using pieces of his own collection, borrowing from others and buying new sets in bulk. He estimated the entire structure would have cost more than $50,000 if he would have bought all new pieces for the project.

“Lego products range from $1.99 to $499.99, and average sets are between $29.99 and $49.99,” said Julie Stern, Lego Brand relations manager.

Janssen took about 20 pictures of Ohio Stadium to create his own blueprint for the build. His construction started in May 2009.

He built the stadium in his basement and “worked on it in spurts,” he said. He did most of the building on Saturday and Sunday mornings between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., he said, because his wife and three kids were still sleeping and he could have more time with them later in the day. He built the replica entirely on his own without help or bothering his family, he said.

Janssen played with Legos until he was 13, and then went through a period in high school and college when he put the hobby on hold because he was too busy with school. Lego builders call this period “the dark ages,” he said.

After earning his doctorate in his homeland, the Netherlands, Janssen moved to the U.S. and brought his childhood Legos with him. He came out of “the dark ages” and began building again 10 years ago, he said.

Lego building is a common hobby among many ages, Stern said. Most Lego purchases are made for children ages 5 to 12, however, many Lego customers are avid adult builders and artists.

“We have fans from 2 years old all the way to 102. You’re never too old to play with Lego bricks,” Stern said.

In accordance with his hobby, Janssen co-founded the Central Ohio LEGO Train Club (COLTC) in 2003 with four other adult Lego fans. The COLTC is a non-profit organization for adults that have “(re)discovered the joy of building creations out of LEGO brand building blocks,” according to the club’s website.

Janssen is the club’s president.

“We get together about once per month to either talk about our latest creations, newly released sets or pieces, sales, trade Lego elements, or we get together to participate in public showings of our creations,” he said.

Janssen has built Lego trains and Columbus skyscrapers reaching 5 to 6 feet tall.

“I have also built fantasy buildings. I built a medieval village with a town hall and some farms,” he said.

Ben Coifman, OSU associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, met Janssen though COLTC six years ago. Coifman favors building Lego train sets.

Janssen and Coifman have since paired up to teach a freshman seminar called the “Art and Science of Lego Bricks.” New topics are covered each week regarding the history of Lego Group, building techniques, design and marketing of Lego, adult fan websites and how professional artists use Lego as an art medium, Janssen said.

“The required text for the class is a Lego set. We still haven’t gotten the bookstore to stock it though,” Coifman said.

During Spring Quarter, the seminar will be offered for its third year.

Janssen said he enjoys Lego building because it’s challenging, relaxing and he has always enjoyed counting and sorting pieces.

“After a long session of build it actually feels like you accomplished something,” he said.

Janssen contrasted Lego building to video gaming where there is no physical evidence of completing something.

On Jan. 4, Janssen posted images of his Ohio Stadium replica on mocpages.com, a site designed to post and share Lego creations. As of Tuesday night, the post had received 42,788 views since its upload.

“I really just built it (Ohio Stadium) to build. It’s my hobby. It’s very relaxing,” Janssen said. “I thought the shape of the stadium was such an enormous challenge. Round things are easy to build, but the Horseshoe is more difficult. It’s an extremely challenging shape to do, that’s what drew me to it.”

Coifman said he hasn’t seen the completed replica yet, but “it is a fantastic model and is sure to be a crowd pleaser, easily recognizable and the thing is huge. The details are incredible.”

The replica has 10 sections, each weighing between 30 to 60 pounds, plus the football field.

“It is a very sturdy structure,” said Janssen. “I could put my feet on the A deck and jump and it wouldn’t budge.”

Janssen plans to add the marching band doing “Script Ohio” and more scenery on the outskirts of the stadium, which would put the count of Legos used on the project more than one million.

He has brainstormed doing a fundraiser with the replica to allow people to purchase Lego people to put in the stands with their name on them. Proceeds would go to the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, he said, but it is not a confirmed plan. The replica has a capacity of 6,000 Lego people.

He would like to display the replica at the Ohio Union or the Wexner Center, he said, but has not yet looked into the request.

Janssen said he has no future building ideas or projects at the time and has no plans to build a structure as big as Ohio Stadium anytime soon.

“We might be playing with a children’s toy,” Coifman said, “but we build complicated and realistic-looking models.”

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