Legos are one of 9-year-old Natalie Hill’s favorite things. She plays with them in her bedroom or “sometimes at the dentist’s office.”
But Wednesday, Natalie, who lives in Washington, was in her element at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, helping hundreds of other lovers of the colorful plastic snap-on blocks to build the world’s largest Lego-made American flag.
“My favorite part was learning to put it together,” she said of the portion of the flag she worked on, a white stripe. “Then I was doing it really fast.”
The flag, which measures 9 ½ feet by 13 feet, was a collaboration with Lego and the museum to celebrate the grand opening of a new wing dedicated to American innovation. Lego, it should be noted, is actually a Danish company whose name is a combination of the words “leg godt” – “play well.”
There’s something special about building the American flag in the capital.
Lego master builder Chris Steininger
And so they did. Museum-goers of all ages were invited to take part, with everyone from toddlers to grandparents pitching in to form the Stars and Stripes.
But building the flag required much more than just snapping blocks together, under the supervision of two of Lego’s “master builders.” The project was carefully orchestrated through months of planning, and several models were constructed for practice before the moment in the spotlight.
“We actually did multiple prototypes to make sure we got the dimensions of the flag right,” said master builder Chris Steininger. “We’re not just free-handing it.”
The master builders, made famous by last year’s “The Lego Movie,” are an elite group. There are just seven in the world, handpicked by the company as the most talented and creative Lego architects around. In his years as a master builder, Steininger has used Legos to make a more than 20-foot-tall Statue of Liberty and a Star Wars Millennium Falcon ship stretching 18 feet across.
But building the record-breaking flag “ranks pretty high” on his list of all-time projects.
“There’s something special about building the American flag in the capital,” Steineger said.
Also making the project unique was the fact that it was a group experience, with Lego lovers of all skill levels pausing their trip through the museum to snap some blocks onto the flag. For many, it was a family affair, with parents stepping in to lend their children a hand and some volunteering to work on sections of the flag themselves.
It was a family project for Steininger as well; his father, Dan, is also a master builder, and the flag is one of several creations the two have worked on together. Of the seven master builders employed by Lego, they are the only parent-child pair. But it wasn’t a matter of Chris following his father into the business. In fact, it was the other way around.
“I actually got him involved with Lego by playing as a kid,” the younger Steininger said. “I’d be playing after school, and he’d come home from work and he’d build stuff with me.”
Now, the two travel across the globe, recreating in bright blues, reds, yellows and greens, as well as black and white, detailed plastic renditions of iconic examples of design.
Or, as Amanda Santoro, a Lego brand relations manager put it: “It’s really inspiring to kids, and to parents, to see that you can actually get paid to play with Legos.”